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Great Wall of China Trek 2016

Here is the daily blog from our China trek in 2016.

Thank you to all our amazing trekkers who together have raised over £100,000! We are truly in your debt.

And now to the blog…


final words from sue…

We spent our last day and a half in and around Beijing. We walked around Tienanmen square which was an amazing sight to see – it’s vast. The 1st October is national day in China so the square was being prepared for this auspicious occasion. A new image of Chairman Mao is erected every year and the square is filled with the most amazing floral displays – lots of chrysanthemums, peonies and orchids. We then went into The Forbidden City, the home of imperial dynasties from the Ming to the Quing eras. It served as the home to emperors and their households for almost 500 years. The complex consists of nearly 1000 buildings and covers almost 180 acres. Again, it was vast and, as we visited on Sunday, filled with local tourists and just a few westerners.  A couple of our group joined the thousands who queue to file past Chairman Mao who lies in state in one of the most ornate and imposing buildings of all.

On Monday morning, a small group of us visited a hospice in Beijing – thanks to Caroline who had helped with the arrangements for the visit with her expert grasp of Mandarin! We took gifts including our 30th anniversary booklet, some Lancaster blend tea from Atkinson’s and a couple of books about Lancaster and the Lake District.  We were a little concerned about the formality of the visit, but our fears were allayed immediately. The hospice President and his team greeted us warmly, ushering us into a remarkably plush reception area for lots of group photos. We attended a day hospice session – a very interesting Chinese sing a long! Some of the patients were keen to perform for us and it was clear the President knew them well and they were very proud to show off their service to western visitors. We then visited the wards – 260 beds, supported by around 150 hospice staff in total. We spoke to a number of patients who seemed quite prepared for the end of their life, as the vast majority were Buddhists who believe in reincarnation. The President asked one lady what she’d like to come back as in the next life – she said “a man” which amused us all!

The wards were much, much busier than ours and a little more careworn, but the staff were exactly the same; kind, committed people who were patient focused and determined to do a good job despite the financial pressures they faced.

We left Beijing on Monday afternoon and arrived back in Lancaster on Tuesday morning. The long journey gave me time to reflect on the trip. Without exception, the Chinese people we met were warm, welcoming and proud to show us the best of their wonderful country. The landscape was unforgettable, the camaraderie was humbling. The support from the Skyline team – Simon, Russell, Puma, Victoria and Shobana – was excellent and our fundraising team have been great. A special mention for Helen, thanks for everything you’ve done over the past 12 months to keep us all focused and positive.

Just when we thought it was all over, our warm welcome back from the hospice team was great. Seeing all those friendly faces, waving flags and looking so pleased to see us return was another emotional moment. Thank you all for that.

As I write this in the middle of the night – the joy of jet lag! My memory foam mattress and a nice cup of tea seem ridiculously exotic – a long way from the army garrison accommodation. I’ll try to hang onto this feeling of gratitude for the simple things and I’m definitely going to keep walking.

Thanks to everyone who has supported us, financially and emotionally. Here’s to the next challenge in 2018…….!!

where-next

Click on the question mark to register your interest in Trek 2018!

They’re home!

At 9:30am this morning (Tuesday 27/9) the bus rolled into the St John’s Hospice car park holding within some tired but jubilant China Trekkers! A welcoming party of staff, volunteers, friends and family eagerly awaited their arrival. Music, waving flags, cheers and applause greeted them as they made their way off the bus. Everyone enjoyed a glass of fizz and some delicious pastries while they caught up with loved ones. On behalf of everyone at St John’s Hospice, thank you to the 31 trekkers and to the countless people who have generously donated to the cause raising a net profit of over £86,000, every penny of whcih will go towards helping patients and families in our North Lancs and South Lakes communities. Click on the photos below to view full size.

Beijing hospice visit

Before leaving China for the final time the group had arranged to visit a hospice in Beijing. Before leaving the UK Sue said, “There are still very strong emotional ties and heart-felt links between the people of Lancaster and Morecambe and the Chinese people following the terrible tragedy here in 2004 when 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in the perilous waters of The Bay,” explained Sue. “We wanted to develop firm community links with the Chinese during our trek as a mark of respect and a tribute to those who died in our district and felt this would be a strong way to do that.

Sue will update this blog about her experience at the Chinese hospice in the next day or two (once she has had a hot shower and a nap!) but see below a few photos from the visit Click on the photos below to view full size:-

DAY 6

Today we travelled to Mutianyu, getter closer to Beijing each day. Whilst it was still amazing to be back on the wall, (after a 1000 step climb!) it was noticeably more crowded than all the other places we’ve been so far. More Western people too, in Simatei we were constantly being “papped” by Chinese people keen to have a picture taken with someone from the west!

The walk today was crowded, still beautiful, still steep, but not as serene as previous days. We walked to the last tower of our trip and our local guide, Puma, was waiting with bottles of Chinese champagne. It was an emotional moment as we reached the end. Many of us were walking in memory of lost loved ones so it was especially poignant and a few tears were shed. I cried with pride. 31 of us have walked together as a team – apparently very few groups do. We cajoled, consoled and encouraged one another every step of the way. The pictures say it all.

At the end of the walk we had the option to walk, cable car or toboggan down the mountain!! See the pictures below! Great fun. It was a sad moment when we left the wall. Before we left Mutianyu itself, we recreated our celebration photo so that Katie could join in too. She wasn’t allowed to come up to the wall today, even though the boys offered to carry her onto the cable car!

With a mixture of sadness and elation, we headed back towards Beijing, visiting a silk making factory on the way.

This is a fabulous country, full of contrasts. From rural simplicity at the beginning of the trip, to Beijing itself which is an assault on the senses – families riding rickshaws bearing three generations, to the ubiquitous “chains” Macdonald’s, KFC etc. to row after row of glass-fronted modern buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in any modern city.

Tonight’s supper was a Peking duck celebration. We had a short awards ceremony with medals given to notable people – you know who you are!!! We also wished happy birthday to Elspeth, our third birthday of the trip.

A lovely end to a final day’s trekking. Thanks to our guide, Simon ” this is my all day pace, don’t go past me”, Russell “does anyone need water?” from Skyline,  Shebana, “come into my room, I don’t like the look of that” our doctor and Puma ” excuse me, excuse me, this way, this way” our supremely knowledgable guide. Thank you, you’ve all been amazing!!! Click on the photos below to view full size.

day 5

Today’s walk started with a short coach ride to East Jinshanling before a 45 minute climb up steps to join a hazy, humid wall. Today has been the hottest day so far. On the way up, we were reflecting on the fact that, less than a week ago, we had struggled with the first ascent we’d done. Today we were chatting and climbing quite comfortably ‐ perhaps we’re getting used to this trekking lark! Simon had warned us that, although this was a relatively short walk, just 5 hours, it was a series of unrelenting ascents and descents. He was quite correct, we scaled hill after hill ‐ just when we thought we’d reached the top, another slope was waiting round the corner. In the sweltering heat, the watchtowers were a welcome respite from the heat and dust. Again, a couple of enterprising locals climbed the mountain with us, trying to sell us silk purses and colourful chopsticks whilst we did our best to keep our spirits high on another tough stretch of the wall. You’ll see from some of the pictures how steep, rocky and challenging this section was. Towards the end of the walk, we were offered the chance to go down to the village by cable car ‐ nobody did. We walked down the mountain for the last 45 minutes; some of us with injuries and other illnesses but still stoical and determined to work as a team.

As we come towards the end of the trek ﴾last trekking day tomorrow﴿ I took a little time alone at the back of the group. I watched the team from a distance and reflected on how far we’ve come. This time last year, a few of us knew each other, but the vast majority of us were strangers. Today, as I watched people talking, laughing and supporting each other on that wall I can honestly say we’re a group of friends. From different backgrounds, a range of ages, 6 brave boys surrounded by a gaggle of girls! But we have all now got St John’s in common. Today, I saw our hospice values in action. Care for each other, compassion for those that needed it, collaboration because it’s a tough walk and we’ve all needed help from time to time, charity in the form of almost £100,000 raised for our wonderful hospice and, finally, celebration. This walk has been a celebration of all that is good in people ‐ their collective effort and commitment on behalf of the people who are the most vulnerable in our community. I’ve been proud to walk alongside them.

Off for dinner and a quiz now. I’m not looking forward to the “chopstick challenge” round………. Ps you’ll see from the pictures we’ve had an accident. I’m pleased to report that all is well and Katie is hoping for an upgrade on the long flight home!! She slipped on some shale on a really easy stretch – pure accident. She’s fine even though the hospital had no plaster or leg braces…. We’ve strapped her up with a walking pole and a bandage. Still smiling though, she’s a lovely girl and excited to have her photo on the blog! Click on the photos below to view full size.

Day 4

What a emotional day! As I sit and write this blog, it’s hard to put into words what we’ve actually seen. Setting off from Gubeiko at 9am, we took a steep path to the wall to an un-restored section with stupendous views. We were heading for Jinshanling about 8 miles away. 8 miles on the wall is a lot of climbing! There was a section where the army have closed the wall so we headed across agricultural land for about 3 miles and what a treat was in store! In the middle of absolutely nowhere, an entrepreneurial woman was selling Snickers and Sprite in a field!!  We bought everything and she seemed delighted with her day’s work. At the same time, a gang of Chinese farmers came past us with their tools on their backs and trees to be planted in handmade wicker baskets – what a privilege to see them on their way to work with their mules in tow. We then traversed a heady, steep ridge for another couple of miles before we stopped for our packed lunch in the garden of a local lady who also happened to have a vending machine selling Snicker bars! Packed lunches in China are interesting – they involve a lot of boiled eggs…….

After lunch, we headed off through fields of corn and sunflowers before another extremely steep climb to the wall.  Just when you think the views can’t get any better, the Great Wall surprises you. The section down to Jinshanling was breathtaking, we had a few tears of joy in the way over the next few hills – look at the pictures although they can never do it justice. It was uneven, steep and vertiginous though so we saved our mandatory group “selfie” until we descended to the Jinshanling “Muriel” – we are very Northern after all! We walked off the wall, down to a village where we visited a superbly talented paper cutter. This is a traditional art that is dying out, he told us he is the last in his family to follow the tradition so the souvenirs we bought were especially poignant and very, very beautiful. Elspeth is getting married next May, so he made her a beautiful “double happiness” symbol which is traditionally displayed in the house window before the wedding. Our day ended with dinner in a restaurant at the foot of the wall. Tired feet, some tears of joy but a unanimous opinion that today has been the hardest and best day of the trip so far. Click on the photos below to view full size.

 

DAY 3

Today we woke up in the mountain village after a night of incredible hospitality with our Chinese hosts – they were so welcoming! They were keen to share some of their local “firewater” with us; those who politely declined had an easier ascent up the first mountain this morning…..

We climbed steeply out of the village, through beautiful, agricultural land full of familiar looking crops and trees, it’s interesting that so much of the vegetation is the same as at home. We reached a perilously high viewing point perched at the edge of an dilapidated part of the wall – see our group selfie! We were all rather impressed with ourselves after yesterday’s tough trek, our legs were certainly feeling it. Our self-congratulation was short-lived as a Chinese family on a day trip skipped up the hill behind us in their summer clothes and sandals!! However, 5 minutes later, the weather changed and it started to rain. Suddenly, our British weather outdoor gear and waterproofs no longer seemed ridiculous. The next section was very tough. Again, those of us with a fear of heights definitely had a challenge. Group camaraderie and Rescue Remedy pastilles got us to the bottom of a tricky, wet and slippery walk. One last meal in the mountain village with a very warm goodbye from our incredible hosts and we were off to our next stop at Simatai Water Village 2 and a half hours away. It’s an interesting place, a complete re-creation of an ancient Southern Chinese water town – think Beamish or Quarry Bank Mill.

We went to a village for dinner, to the home of a superbly hospitable family. It was too cold to sit outside – Autumn has arrived suddenly here – so they had cleared their house and set our tables in their home. The food was delicious and they were fantastic hosts. Laura and Gill were celebrating their birthdays and, rather than a birthday cake, they were presented with a speciality noodle dish with one extra long noodle to represent long life.

After dinner we headed to the only part of the wall that’s lit at night. A truly magical glimpse at what’s ahead tomorrow – a tough 8 hour trek from Gubeiko to Junshanling. Off to bed now before our early start. Spirits are high, but legs are very tired. Click on the photos below to view full size.

Day 2

We knew today would be tough; “Heaven’s Ladder” is what we’ve all been dreading! We set off from the army garrison at 8.30 and started up the steps. More than you can imagine! By 10am we were at the foot of “Heaven’s Ladder”, 200 huge steps to take us to the top of today’s first mountain. It was really hard, but really rewarding to get to the top. Once there, we took a picture with the angels our fab volunteer, Glenda, had bought us to help another great cause, Tia Taggert’s “Jet Set Angels”. Tia, a 7 year old cancer patient from Lancashire, was on Granada reports a couple of weeks ago. She has been busy making Angels for people to take all over the world to support her fundraising. Glenda came to see me last week, with an angel for each member of Hospice staff and each volunteer. She asked me to take a picture on the Great Wall. Here’s a picture of me, Caroline, Richard, Helen, Shirley, Sheila, Phil and Elspeth proudly wearing our Angels! When we’re back, we’ll be in touch with Tia and her family.

After a brief stop we set off again through a really tough stretch for those of us with a fear of heights. Pictures are attached to show how beautiful the view was, I didn’t look once. We were so high and on a tiny vertiginous ledge. Lunch was bizarre! A picnic we’d brought from the garrison, eaten in a clearing with a solar powered loo and a vending machine selling chicken feet – a local delicacy we understand. After lunch, we had a choice of an easy or challenging route home. Most of us took the challenge, which meant a 3 hour scramble along dilapidated parts of the wall. Fabulous views, amazing company all led us to a charming village in the middle of nowhere where we are staying with a local family in their hostel. Just had an amazing meal, now off to sit by the fire with the rest of the group. We’re all feeling the effects of the wall this evening. More tomorrow, wifi permitting! Click on the photos below to view full size.

DAY 1

Left Beijing at 8.30, 3 hour journey to the wall. Rush hour in Beijing – our first experience of Beijing culture! It’s the first day of Autumn here so the weather is cooler – apparently, last week was sweltering so we timed it well. Our local guide, Puma, gave us lots of information about China, communism and culture on the way. It’s fascinating watching people and children on their way to work. There really are 9 million bicycles in Beijing!!!

After settling into our army garrison accommodation, complete with Daoist maze and peaceful garden of contemplation we went to a short talk about the wall’s 2500 year history. We learned that the wall is a “machine to regulate the rhythm of the transfer of the Mandate of Heaven” basically, whoever controls the wall, controls the land.

Then we set off! It was a tough, warm walk. Lots of steps but some truly unforgettable, amazing views. We celebrated with a cold drink in the garden before heading off for a delicious meal in a local restaurant. Ended the night sitting round the campfire contemplating tomorrow. Double the distance with the ominous “heaven’s ladder” to ascend. More blog if the wifi holds out. Staying in a remote, mountain village tomorrow so fingers crossed. Click on the photos below to view full size.

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