As a CCF Adventurous Training officer, and Mountain leader, I was privileged to have the opportunity to organise to China what would turn out to be a truly unique, challenging and inspiring insight into Chinese History, Culture, Food, and Schooling and Public transport systems.
The Expedition was conceived in October 2017, and came to fruition in October 2018. Prior to departure the selected Cadets and Adult Instructors undertook a series of weekend training exercise’s in preparation for the venture ahead.
Completing the final recce, and all expedition admin complete, the group flew to Beijing via Vienna, followed by a 90 minute bus journey to the Red Lantern Hostel, situated in the old narrow ‘Hutongs’ streets, for the start of our venture, and which would serve as our base during our stay in Beijing.
After the formalities were completed (which was common through-out) we sorted our personal admin, and made contact with the China Rail Service, to have our Rail Tickets delivered. Followed by lunch in one of the local eateries, and met our guide ‘Oliver’ who spoke excellent English, and was an asset to the group.
Oliver, then briefed the group on the intricate ‘Do’s and Don’t’ for the visit, which seemed strange at first, but made sense as the venture progressed, after which we visited the Beijing Drum Tower, and took part in the ancient tea ceremony, to welcome us to China, followed to a visit to the Beijing Olympic Village.
With admin and acclimatisation complete, we made our way to the Great Wall of China on the Hebei Province Border, which is located north of the ‘Yellow River’ close to the ‘Taihing Mountains, some 4hrs drive from Beijing, and then quickly sorted ourselves out, and set off along the trail, from ‘Guberkou’ towards ‘Crouching Tiger Mountain’ some distance away. Leaving Gukerkou we encountered the first of our many Block Houses, where Oliver stopped and gave the group a short History lesson on the building of the wall, and its surroundings.
After orientation, we continued our journey along our track which meandered in the shadow of the mighty wall, causing the group to cross the wall several times before breaching the wall to reach our evening refuge, under the watchful eye of Crouching Tiger Mountain, which stood like a sentinel against the sky overlooking our nights resting place.
After a good nights rest, we headed out to continue our journey, which was interrupted by a visit to see a ‘Touring Chinese Opera’ group – who were celebrating a local festival, which would go on through-out the day and night, what an atmosphere as both young and old, children and our group joined in the celebrations.
Leaving the make shift theatre, we headed towards the ‘West Section of Jingshanling some 6hrs away. By now the group had become captivated and intimated by the sheer beauty and magnitude of the wall, as they stared into infinity, seeing only hazy hills of brown, and all the while the adjacent wall plodding majestically on.
Suitably rested we left the West Section of Jingshanling moving further into the Chinese hinterland towards West Simatai, names which conjure up romantic, mystic and mystery of a country steeped in a rich and ancient tapestry of time. However, we live in the present, and can only wonder at the sheer effort, achievement and magnificence of such a wonderful structure that we have been privileged to have graced, as we wonder of days gone by, and testament to the rigors of time. Sadly part of the West Simatai Wall area is restricted making our journey more exciting, as we came across a long abandoned ‘Old Farmers Cottage’ which though abandoned, has been reclaimed by nature, yet so remote it is unbelievable how the occupants survived, yet evidence suggests from the old wells, dry stone walled fields and crumbling cattle shed, that whoever lived there eked out an existence in this remote lonely valley, which we can hardly imagine.
Day four was the penultimate day of our Great Wall Trek, which led us out from our refuge in West Simatai, to the Summit of the Wanjinglou Tower which was the highest point of our journey at 986m. What a magnificent day with birds singing we again ascended the steep tracks towards the wall, often having to scramble over rocky outcrops, or boulders to reach our objective, and track up and down the uneven, broken or cobbled stretches of the wall, that leave you at a loss for words due to the eye watering beauty of both surrounding landscape which is an everlasting testament to a once proud and wonderous Dynasty.
The trek up to the tower was exciting yet challenging due to the uneven path, leaving the legs on descent like jelly. However, the views and memories of our journey so far will last a life time and hard to describe in such a few short words.
Our final night on the trail was celebrated with a traditional Chinese Country meal, which gave the group time to reflect on our journey so far, and nurse some sore feet, and marvel at the Cadets use of chop sticks.
Leaving our final refuge with heavy hearts, we trekked slowly towards ‘Mutianyu via Jiankou’ and ever closer to Beijing. Unfortunately, towards our journeys end, the trek became more commercialised, and we longed for the remoteness again of Jingshanling and Simatai,, however, this did not detract from what the group had achieved, and the treasured memories etched into our minds, and made even more enjoyable by our amazing Guide Oliver, who made what could have been a long and difficult trek into a fun and exciting adventure, as he explained the History of the Wall, and various Block House constructions and uses, as we walked in awe and wonder of what had gone before, and reflected on how honoured / privileged we had been to walk and visit such a remote rea of the wall, giving us a full appreciation of the walls vastness and magnifiance. Late afternoon we reached Mutianyu, and boarded our pre-arranged transport back to Beijing, which was toasted with a hot shower, dinner and bed.
Suitably refreshed, packed our coach for the day’s visits to the iconic sights of Beijing – visiting Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden Palace, and Imperial Garden, before ending our stay in Beijing at the Temple of Heaven. Early evening we made our way to Beijing West Railway station for the first of our three railway journey’s through China to Xi’an to view the World Heritage ‘Terracotta Warrior’s’ which did not disappoint, taking your breath away as we walked amongs’t clay warriors which had escorted Emperor Qin Shi Hundi into the afterlife, followed by a visit to the ‘Banpo Neolithic Village. Following our whistle stop tour of Xi’an, it was back to the hustle and bustle of Xi’an railway station, which was raucous and loud, yet ordered when our overnight train to Nanjing was announced.
In Nanjing, we gathered our packs, and boarded our transport to the ‘Shuren Middle School’, which was to be our home for the next three days, which saw Cadets attend classes in Mandarin, Traditional Chinese Painting, 3D Printing, Chinese Handicrafts, and sports activities, as well as having to give ‘individual’ presentations to their Chinese peers, thus giving the Cadets a unique insight into the Chinese School system, and Jinling (Nanjing) culture, coupled together with evening visits to the Confucius Temple, Riverside, and Olympic Sports centre, where the Cadets found a picture of their fellow Hulme Students who had taken part in the 2014 summer youth Olympics in Nanjing.
All too soon our visit to Nanjing was over, and sadly we had to say good-bye to our new found friends /Chinese buddies who had helped us understand how their aims to create a more rounded educational system which focuses on creativity as well as academia
Our final journey us by Bullet train to Shanghai, reaching 193 mph as we neared our journeys end. Shanghai situated on the Huangpu River was our final stop on our Chinese Adventure. Visiting the Bund – which was the Old British trading quarters, and soaking up the atmosphere, whilst reflecting on our Chinese Odyssey was a fitting end to our exciting, challenging, rewarding and memorable journey, making the Cadets eager and wanting more.
“This visit has opened my eyes to a new way of life that I won’t forget any time soon.”
FC/CSgt Imogen Perry
“This was one of the most memorable trips I have been on, and when I look back at the delicious food, amazing and interesting people, and fascinating culture, we tasted and enjoyed – China: I’ll be back.”
MC/Cpl Charlie Chadwick
“My impression of China is that it is very diverse, from religion to the city and rural areas. The history is amazing, and I will certainly go back again to see and discover more.”
FC/CSgt Emma Wrigley
However, it is without doubt that the expedition was a great success, and made more so by the generous help and support given by the Ulysses Trust and NW RFCA, which was much appreciated. Thank you.
Maj Ian Blackwood