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People moan about Badaling – the crowds, the commercialism – but few realise that just a short way away from the tourist site is a long stretch of isolated, and very interesting, tamped earth Great Wall. Finding it is easy enough, and even if there are 10,000 people at Badaling, you’ll have this place to yourself.

This beautiful, isolated place is less than half an hour's walk from the teeming masses at Badaling.

This beautiful, isolated place is less than half an hour’s walk from the teeming masses at Badaling.

We visited this area in February 2016, when the winter still gripped the mountains northwest of Beijing. Snow lay on the northern face of every hillside, and the rest of the land was brown and dusty. Mulberry thorns were having a bumper year, which made some of the sections of this walk a prickly experience.

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Rammed earth wall section showing the construction layers. Bricks lying around indicated these towers and walls would have been clad in brick.

Rammed earth wall section showing the construction layers. Bricks lying around indicated these towers and walls would have been clad in brick.

Much of this wall would have been clad in brick – we found many typical Ming Dynasty bricks lying around. It forms part of an older, outer defensive line that includes numerous large forts and runs in front of the mountains, “up-threat” from Badaling. This wall seems to have been the first protective line an enemy would need to cross before trying to pass the mountains and the the main wall that guards their peaks and valleys. I visited part of this wall some years ago, but until this year I hadn’t hiked it at any length.

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According to this Chinese hiker’s account, this part of the wall was built in 1573 during the Ming Dynasty’s efforts to really go nuts on Great Wall construction. Whether that’s accurate is hard to say.

Hiking here in late winter was cold and windy, but it was really the thorns that made it a bit unpleasant. Also, the flat area between the two main stretches of wall was hard to navigate, because there were so many erosion channels, some of them ten to 15 meters deep. Getting around these took a bit of detouring.

Still, the fantastic views of the mountains all around were worth it. And above all, the absence of Badaling crowds!

Those trees look harmless enough but a lot of them were incredibly thorny.

Those trees look harmless enough but a lot of them were incredibly thorny.

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