OK, speechless, what can I possibly have to say about the chance to stand on THE Great Wall of China. Actually heaps but this is only a short report so I must limit myself. We got up nice and early to avoid the traffic, everyone was up on time this time, nothing wasted and it worked. A few back roads to avoid traffic jams and we made the wall within an hour and a half. To the top of the wall was by cable car, ‘thank you’ said my knees at least. Bringing us to Fortress number 6 of the fabulous Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The views from here are stunning, as evidenced by the number of stunned kids I could see looking at them. One quick group photo and then off for a couple of hours trek on the Wall. 

At this point I would like to say that both guides told us –‘go left for the short but steep section, turn right for the longer but less steep section.”. I and some others opted to get the hard bit done while energy lasted, then see how far we could get along the other section before time forced us back. ‘Tough work’ would be putting it mildly, those Ancient builders certainly knew how to build a defence system, small wonder that only those stationed on the Wall for a period of time got used to it, any attacker getting to the top of that structure would have felt like he had reached purgatory. Let’s also face it, we didn’t have some mad Mongol army chasing us either. Never the less it was a lot of fun, while catching breath we got to meet an amazing array of people from all over the world, Germany, France, Israel and Turkey featured among the people I spoke to while ‘taking in the views’ (ie catching my progressively more ragged breath).  

After walking to the next cable car tower we realised that the short section of the wall we were on did actually keep going, I believe for quite a few miles, but the cable car tower seemed a good goal to have made, now the walk back and the easier section to finish off. 

Getting back to the Tower 6 we got an idea the guides may have steered us a bit wrong, just looking at the steepness of the section to be covered by turning right made my knees hurt. Being a particularly vulnerable part of the Wall this section was deliberately fortified more and made more difficult to traverse. Part’s of it looked about as vertical as a step ladder with 2 foot risers. Ben and I contemplated piking it but the sight of a number of our students, competing with a number of 5 year olds and people of significantly advanced years managing the trip, and living, pricked our conscience. So along with several kids (especially Sophie, the one student we have with more fragile ankles than mine) we decided to use our remaining half hour to get as far as we could at least. With half the time gone the idea was to turn back but by then the end was apparently in sight so we pressed on anyway (surely we could return faster than we got there), managed the last visible tower, and found there was another behind it. Sod it, we had come too far, Sophie, Ben and I were going to do the job properly, and we did. Making it back only a few minutes late we held our head up high on that one.  

Turns out our feat wasn’t actually unique, most of the group had pushed themselves just as hard and made the entire walk, fantastic effort all round. 

Lunch followed, very animated given the buzz that was still going around ‘we had walked on the wall you know’. Have to be honest though, most of us didn’t stand up as well after half an hour sitting down, but all agreed it was well worth it. I asked how many thought it was as good as they had expected, all said no, it was fantastically better. Definitely a memory that will live for a long time. 

OK, I obviously lied, not speechless. Talk to the kids about it, if anything I assure you I have not done the great experience justice. 

Bus trip back, 2 hours shopping in the Art District 798. Back to hotel, great night sleep.  All great, but truth be told, the Wall truly dominated today. 

More tomorrow as we learn to make Beijing Opera masks, visit the Silk Road shopping centre and enjoy a short show over dinner. 

Regards, Martin Keen