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“Wah!” she exclaimed, on every hairpin. “Wah! So beautiful!” And not for nothing did Mrs Liu, a new driver I found in Changping, nearly run us off the twisting mountain road about ten times last Sunday. She was looking at the hillside, not the way ahead. “Wah! Even more beautiful than just back there!”

Climbing the road over the pass at Longquanyu was like flying through clouds – clouds of pink and white cherry blossoms covering the steep slopes, at first shining in the bright sun, then, as the car turned (narrowly avoiding yet another crash!), backlit in pink and white glory.


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Spring is notoriously short in Beijing. You really have to be lucky to catch the blossoms in full song, because they come at a different time every year and last just days. As my friend said: “It was Spring yesterday. Now it’s summer”. It was the most beautiful display we’ve seen in our eight years here, and a lovely prelude to the next phase of my Great Wall Quest.

It’s been a while since I wrote about this quest but it has been continuing steadily since then. The goal is to cover all the primary Great Wall in Beijing, and those stretches that continue unbroken into Hebei Province (which surrounds Beijing Municipality). As many smaller sections as possible are an added bonus. Back in December 2012 I completed the first stage – covering the 50+km between the high wall at Shuitoucun in Hebei province and the (in)famous tourist zone at Badaling. Since then, I’ve attacked it in pieces, rather than sequentially.

Racking up the k’s in iPhone selfies

At Spring Festival last year, I added the six kilometer Lianhuachi to Shentangyu stretch, just northeast of the other famous tourist zone at Mutianyu. There was still snow on the ground, unlike this Spring Festival. In late winter and then in the summer, I finished two excellent secondary routes along much more obscure walls, totaling nine kilometers and picking up a couple of mud wall forts on the way.

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Preparing to bivvy in a fort, June 2013

In Autumn, I also added a short (seven kilometers) but important section of the legendary “Northern Loop”, finishing at the equally-legendary Nine Eye Tower. Those are all good stories, yet to be written.

I gave some focus to the northeast, too, with a pretty comprehensive coverage of 16 kilometers of the Gubeikou walls over a few weekends, though there’s a bit more to be done there.

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High above Gubeikou on a smoggy October afternoon

A big one at Huangyukou is another story, also worth telling, that picked up eight kilometers but seemed longer.

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Above Gubeikou (west) on a smoggy December day, 2013

And out east, beyond the town of Miyun and right up against the border with Hebei, I picked up another 7 or 8 kilometers. The low-hanging fruit, you might say. The toughest parts are still to come. That area has some of Beijing’s most remote walls and hard (I mean really hard) to reach free-standing towers.

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Out east near Huangmenzi/Qiangzilu, March 2014

Longquanyu to Xishuiyu

But back to this weekend: Yon joined me and we walked through the glorious pink-and-white blossoms on the gentle ridge above Longquanyu village (Dragon Spring Gorge Village, where “spring” means a source of water, not the season).

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The sun shone down through a sub-100 sky (I refer to the “Air Quality Index”: 35 is considered safe by the WHO but sub-100 is considered glorious by Beijing residents more used to 200 or 300+). At 65 or so, and with lots of sun, it was probably the best day of the year so far.

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I’ve now covered all of the wall you can see in this image, right up to the high mountain in the far distance – Jiugongshan

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We finished at Xishuiyu, a popular picnic spot which has seen a lot of development since I last visited in 2008. The once-wild wall is now heavily restored. From here eastwards, I’ve covered the majority of the wall to Shentangyu, with just the tricky and largely unrecorded section between Jiugongshan and Moyashike still to do. That’s on the itinerary for the 2014 Easter long weekend.

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Xishuiyu, all renovated since summer 2008…

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…but still very pretty in the late afternoon light

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We picked up some street snacks on our journey back to town

Since the last instalment, then, I’ve added another 54km to the list (which entailed nearly double that in actual hiking). The Quest continues!

The Bad Egg

The last word on Sunday’s hike goes to the two bus passengers whose argument over whether one’s handbag had bumped the other led to the driver stopping the bus and refusing to proceed unless they both shut up:

“You’re a bad egg!”你是个坏蛋
“You are the bad egg!”
“You’re the bad egg!”
“No, you’re the bad egg!”

It went on like that for ten minutes before the driver intervened, and another few thereafter.

(I asked my Chinese colleagues: 坏蛋 is rude, but not fantastically so. One, a born-and-bred Beijinger, said “that’s how Shanghai men fight”. This, judging from everyone else’s laughter, is something of an insult itself).