Stepping out across the peaceful semi-ruin of a section of the Great Wall is like walking in the footsteps of the past. Far from the tourist crowds we are able to get a great sense of the scale and the majesty of this remarkable piece of engineering without rushing through in a big group. Some of the main attractions on this itinerary are in the smaller places we walk through, places that the vast majority of other tourists do not see. As we trek along various contrasting sections of the wall, we get closer to day-to-day life in rural China before returning to Beijing, a city steeped in history yet plunging headlong into modernity.
We leave the capital and head into the countryside to the Great Wall, a 3 hour journey to the north east of the city. We go to the less visited section at Mutian Yu where the Wall is an impressive sight, snaking off across mountains and valleys into the distance. As one of the best preserved parts of the Great Wall, the Mutian Yu section used to serve as the northern barrier defending the capital and the imperial tombs. There are 22 watchtowers on this 2,250-metre-long section. Approx walking time 5-6 hours. In Jiankou we stay at a guesthouse/homestay.
Today we trek to a section of the wall constructed of large white rocks, very noticeable from a distance, built in 1368 during the Ming dynasty. Due to its steep mountains and beautiful scenery Jiankou is a photographers dream, and is where most photos of the Wall are taken. This part of the Wall is unpreserved and wild and we will walk for approx 2-4 hours on a few sections of the Wall; we will bypass a few sections, as they are steep and difficult underfoot. In the afternoon we return to the road and are picked up by our vehicle and transferred to Gubeikou, approx 2.5 hours drive away, where we spend the night. In Gubeikou there will be the option to walk to a nearby section of the wall for sunset.
This section of the Wall stretches for more than 25 miles. There are 14 beacon towers, 143 watchtowers, 16 strategic passes and 3 citadels. Gubeikou has long been a town of military significance. Approx walking time 3-5 hours before returning to Gubeikou.
Today's walk involves scrambling and steep ascents to the top of ridges. The views from the top of these ridges are spectacular as we walk past numerous watchtowers and beacon towers. Parts of today's walk are on a broken section of the Wall, and during one section of today's walk we will descend from the Wall, in order to bypass a restricted military area, before rejoining the wall and carrying onto Jinshanling. Approx walking time 5-7 hours.
The Wall here was rebuilt in 1572, during the Ming dynasty, and has been restored but is still reasonably quiet if we start early; it is the starting point for our walk. There are many watchtowers on this stretch looking out across the gullies and ravines of the rugged landscape. The Wall is steep in places and its condition worsens in the middle section - you need to be happy walking on uneven and stony surfaces with some drops off to the side. The section at Simitai is sealed from Jinshanling, and currently not accessible. The views are excellent, watching the Wall stretch away across the rugged hills. After lunch we take a 3 hr transfer to the East Qing Tombs where we walk the impressive Sacred Way apon arrival. The Qing Royalty spent their living summers in Chengde, and it seems that they chose this spot for their 'final' journey. Altogether there are five Emperors, 14 Empresses and 136 imperial concubines/princesses buried in the main site, with further tombs in the surrounding mountains. The infamous Empress Dowager Cixi is one of those buried here. We will stay in Qingfeng Hotel for the night near East Qing Tomb. Approx walking time 4-5 hours.
In the morning we will visit the famous East Qing Tombs themselves. We will then take a 2 hour transfer to Taipingzhai, where we walk past various forms of watch towers, and the largest tower of the Great Wall 'Phoenix Tower'. The most unusual feature here is the street of eight diagrams, a labyrinth set up to stop invaders. Huangyaguan Great Wall also holds an annual international marathon race. Approx walking time 3-4 hours. We spend tonight at a local farmer's guesthouse/homestay and have the opportunity to see how families live in this area.
Today we transfer by road back to to Beijing (approx 4 hours). In the afternoon we will enjoy the sights and sounds of China's capital. Todays sightseeing will include the Forbidden City with its innumerable courtyards and temples, and Tianamen square, the largest square in the world able to hold over a million people, the cities hutongs (narrow alleys) to see what is left of old Beijing and its traditions.