We left the city, and were soon surrounded by flat open country, with withering vegetation left over from the harvest.
The drive there was around 2 hours, and it was some while before the landscape started to rise, and for any semblance of a mountain to form on the horizon.
It did soon enough, and before long we were working our way around the base of a mountain, making the familiar snaking movements necessary for a road to be hewn out of the rocks there.
The climb slowed us down, giving us time to take in the view – a stunning frozen waterfall, a giant-sized bowl of plastic fruit, and restaurants a-plenty locked up for the close of season.
On we went, and we all assumed the quiet that is contemplation, our thoughts moving on ahead to the Wall itself.
I’d spent more than a few hours in the preceding weeks to our visit trying to imagine how I might gain access to the wall with limited mobility.
Some of the time, I imagined like a huge supermarket, that we could park right outside, and climb a dainty few steps up to it – other times I saw myself at its very base looking up, realising that I was never going to be able to climb on to it.
The time for all these ruminations however, was now at an end, and I was soon to find out for myself.
Shortly after, I looked out to my left, and in the brilliant sunshine I could see the Wall, twisting along the top the mountain range into the infinite distance.
In my experience, perception generally seems to offer disappointment in the face of reality – things never quite match up to our dreams.
In the case of the Wall, this was most certainly not the case.
How a pile os stones formed into a long, long wall can become a thing of beauty, is beyond me but this was what lay in front of me now.
We could not have asked for a better day – the sun was beating down, and while is was freezing cold, we were going to be able to see for miles and miles when we got there.
“There” turned out to be a bit of a moveable feast.
We had been climbing up “there” quite seriously in the car, and our vehicle was showing signs of a worn clutch which alarmed me rather.
The incline became severe, and the driver suddenly veered the car to the left, and we swung into a car park and stopped.
I have long given up the notion that these remote spots are far from the madding crowd – they’re not, and here was no exception.
Traders selling everything from tee shirts emblazoned with “I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China!” to crystallized kumquat, plus much more in between, were here, in high-profile – right in our faces in point of fact.
Hassled from the time we left the car, it offered me a momentary distraction as my path was barred every few steps. Countless “No thank you”‘s later we made our way to the ticket office for the lift.
To my profuse relief, there was a cable car service as well as the ski lift.
We therefore decided on a trip up en famille, and the girls opted for the nail-biting toboggan luge to descend.
I politely declined their entreaties to join them.
The walk from the car park to the ticket office was another steep climb, with the roadway in a rough state and quite difficult for me to navigate.
However, as the office was visible from the car, it had spurred me on to get there, as I felt that it was not a big ask to get that far, even for me.
Ticket in hand I looked around, and realised that yet again, we would have to walk even further, ever more steeply on to the entrance to the cable car station, which lay some distance ahead.
Perpendicular roads, steps, more steps, and more and more…….on it went and I began to think that this was all a terrible idea.
Nick and the girls were very supportive and rattled out , yet one more time “not far now”.
Liars, all three of them!
After much ado, we finally arrived at the cable car station and stepped aboard to be hoisted on to the Wall – or so I thought.
The views were fantastic, and as another little added treaT we had inadvertently been held back at the station as there was a query with the girls’tickets, and had to wait for the next car to arrive.
As Nick and I stepped aboard, within a few seconds I saw rather a grand plaque above Nick’s head, which announced that the Dali Lama had in fact used this very cable car to take is ascent to the Wall.
We were walking in hallowed footsteps indeed!
The cable car climb took only a few minutes, and we alighted at the top station.
Incredibly, there was another very steep climb, plus flights and flights of steps , so head down I pushed on.
I was exhausted.
We arrived on a large terraced area which was furnished with a few benches, plus some visitor boards, emblazoned with information about the Wall at this site.
There was also a huge troop of wild ginger cats, working the room, and picking up the scraps that were freely thrown to them.
In front of me, across the terraced area, was a single roughly hewn set of steps with a narrow archway at the top.
Hoping against all odds, I went over, and negotiated the steps, one at a time – they were really flat boulders masquerading as steps to the innocent tourist.
What made this moment just that bit more special was that I was there with my family, and we were all euphoric together – out came the cameras, and we scurried this way and that – watchtower to watchtower, and taking in the whole breathtaking panorama.
I was very surprised at how undulating the walkway on the top of wall was – it rose and fell like the mountain it sat on, giving the entire experience a nautical feel as we rolled from side to side to maintain our balance. The town wall at Xi’an was as flat as a billiard table and bore no correlation to this.
To the west, the wall had been extensively renovated for a considerable distance. To the right, there were a few kilometres of renovation, and then the wall degraded quite markedly, and it seemed to disintegrate in to a long line of stones in the far distance.
We were fortunate, as the wall was not busy, and there were only a handful of tourists there – it was low season, and we had taken up one of the last cable cars of the day.
We stayer a good while for there seemed to be no reason to leave, other than the cold was starting to bite, and the cable cars were due to close for the day, so we reluctantly made our way down towards the station.
We were slowly winched down towards the base station and our descent proved to be as challenging as the climb.
The road was so very steep, that it made my knees lock painfully as the angle was so very severe – it took quite some effort, plus a constant supply of crystallized kumquat to entice me further – this time I wasn’t buying any of the “not far now” mantras from anyone.
Taking tiny steps, I edged down, fending off the hawkers’ attempts at a last-ditch sale, and slipped more than a few times on the footings, worn smooth with the legions that pass over them day on day.
Ironically, a man selling the “Wall” t-shirts spoke to me in clear English asking me to buy one.
I didn’t , even though I wanted to tell the World and his wife that indeed, I had “done” the Great Wall.
Our driver was patiently waiting, as he had done for countless days before and to come.
We enthused about our adventure, and he smiled politely – I wonder how many times he had heard this tale?
He smiled in my direction, for although I hadn’t conferred my concerns on to him, he seemed to sense that it was going to be a difficult day. He joined in my celebration by giving me a bottle of mineral water with a lurid green label to swig while I sat on a wall and dangled my feet over the precarious drop on the the roadway below the car park.
It was time to go, and the celebrations for New Year’s Eve awaited us in the centre of Beijing.
There was more climbing ahead – this time to the top floor of one of Beijing’s many skyscrapers to a bar called Atmosphere which sat 80 stories up, and boasted to be the highest bar in the city.