Our final full day of the trip had arrived, how on earth did that happen already? There was no time to dwell however, as we were checking out and heading to one of the 7 new wonders of the world. There are lots of different ways of visiting the wall which is so huge it can be seen from space, as part of a tour to one of the main tourist points or even going solo using public transport. We however, had decided that rather than just going to one single section, we would instead hike for 12km along the wall from the old unrestored section at Jiankou and then hiking along the unrestored section until reaching the restored tourist stop of Mutianyu. So we met our guide Henry at 8a.m in the lobby and after a bit of a dodgy start (the hotpot of the night before did not have positive effects on everyone resulting in more than usual toilet stops along the route) we drove out to a rural farming village surrounded by mountains and some fantastic views to begin our walk.
As the wall was used historically as a defence weapon building it in a flat valley would have been pretty useless and so instead it is built up high to provide the best vantage point to see any attackers. Therefore, getting onto the wall is a steep one hour climb up the mountainside to actually arrive at the wall itself. This part of the hike was tough, especially for my dad and Gillian who were expecting to arrive at a wall rather than a forest, and pretty vertical but the forest provided shade and as we climbed the final steepest section small glimpses of the wall started to be seen through the canopy which really spurred us on. As we finally came out of the canopy and caught our first view of the spectacular watchtower and snaking wall I was honestly completely mesmerised. Even after seeing pictures of the wall a hundred times in movies and photographs nothing really compares with the moment of finally being there and seeing the scale in person, what a feet of engineering to construct something so mammoth all those years ago.
After hiking for an hour we managed to climb onto the watchtower and spent some time resting here giving us some amazing views of the wall snaking away to the horizon in each direction. We also took the opportunity to explore the deserted watchtower which was really interesting. The wall today dates mainly from the Ming dynasty which was when they started construction using bricks which can still be seen today. They also expanded the wall out much further than previous dynasties. The section of wall we arrived at was very uneven and had clearly visible sections where people had taken the bricks for construction of their own houses, needs must. Luckily after the long, steep climb to get onto the wall most of the next section was downhill which made for a beautiful walk giving us fantastic views across the countryside and surrounding mountains. It reminded me a lot of Sichuan province which has some beautiful mountains and because of the lack of people was a really peaceful hike. You definitely had to be on alert though, as the wall was completely overgrown in parts with vegetation and so meant squeezing around the edges of the vegetation while trying not to fall off the incredibly high wall since the old side sections had deteriorated in some parts and in others were just completely missing.
The change into the Mutianyu restored section was really noticeable. It is a shame that they only care about the few sections that tourists visit for restoration but then again the more rugged section was beautiful and peaceful and if it had also been restored then the chance of it remaining that way is highly unlikely. At this point the wall started to go down in a really steep way with thousands of stairs. My dad’s face was slightly green at one section where the steps were almost vertical. As we walked on through the Mutianyu section the tourists grew in number but the wall became pretty and shiny which made walking a lot less treacherous. There were a lot of watchtowers in this section 2 in comparison to the 2 we had seen in Jiankou which provided shade and some nice resting points throughout the hike. We had decided that since we had done the hard hike up we would take the slide down to the bottom (there is also a cable car option for those wanting a more sedate option). So Henry left us at the cable car promising to meet us again at the slide section which added an extra 2km onto the original 10km hike. After the cable car the wall starts to veer upwards again and the last few stair sections were tough after already hiking for 4 hours in 30 degree heat. He met us in the final watchtower of the Mutianyu section before taking us to the slide. I had been really looking forward to this part and luckily there was only a very small queue so we headed straight for the slide and off we went. Unfortunately, the people in front of us had a very safe view to the slide and kept slowing their carts to an almost standstill creating a kind of traffic jam and meaning any chance of speed was impossible. It was fun though, and it only took us around 3 minutes to get right to the bottom which was definitely nice after our long hike.
We took a bus at the bottom which took us back to the main car park where our driving was waiting. After purchasing our obligatory Great Wall t-shirts we drove around 5 minutes from the main tourist eating section to a local restaurant used a lot by private tour guides. Here Henry ordered us an absolute feast which (considering it was the first thing I had eaten that day) we absolutely devoured. We had some make your own glass noodle spring rolls, chilli green beans, some really tasty caramelised aubergine, Beijing spicy chicken and rice. The food just kept on coming and it was really tasty. My dad and Gillian had a beer and I treated myself to an ice tea (living the dream). After the massive feast we made our way back to Beijing in around 2 hours managing to dodge the traffic. We didn’t have any rooms to go to given that we had already checked out but our hotel had a spa and so I spent the next 3 hours in the sauna, relaxation room and having the best 2 hour full body massage. It was divine and the perfect end to one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me. After feeling refreshed and relaxed we waited in the lobby with the specialist tea lady drinking all the Chinese tea before catching our taxi to the airport just before midnight.