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Huánghuā Chéng/China

Introducing Huánghuā Chéng

A wilder wall experience close to Běijīng can be unearthed at Huánghuā (Huánghuā Chángchéng; Yellow Flower Fortress), where the Great Wall clings in two sections to hillsides adjacent to a reservoir. Around 60km north of Běijīng, Huánghuā is a classic and well-preserved example of Ming defence, with high and wide ramparts, intact parapets and sturdy beacon towers. The wall here has been partially restored, but much original and overgrown brickwork – and rubble – remains. Note that the wall rears up into steep inclines in parts and sturdy hiking boots are recommended to cope with often hazardous surfaces.

It is said that Lord Cai masterminded this section, employing meticulous quality control. Each cùn (inch) of the masonry represented one labourer’s whole day’s work. When the Ministry of War got wind of the extravagance, Cai was beheaded for his efforts. In spite of the trauma, his decapitated body stood erect for three days before toppling. Years later, a general judged Lord Cai’s wall to be exemplary and he was posthumously rehabilitated.

Accessed across the dam, the eastern section rises abruptly from a solitary watchtower. It’s possible to make it all the way to the Mùtiányù section of the wall, but it’ll take you a few days and some hard clambering (pack a sleeping bag). Locals may make occasional appearances to levy ticket fees of one or two kuài to traverse sections of wall; these are unofficial ticket charges and some travellers have reported being threatened after refusing to pay.

The section immediately to the west rises over the hill in a trail of rubble so you’ll have to clamber up the hillside from the south. Alternatively, walk south and take the first turning (about 500m down) on the right, walk through the village, keep going until the river bends to the right and take the right fork following the river. Keep bearing right all the way (you’ll pass fading Cultural Revolution Chinese characters on a corner that proclaim ‘Long Live Chairman Mao’ and just around the corner ‘The Red Heart Faces the Communist Party’). Soon you’ll see a watchtower ahead – the path leads up to it. The whole jaunt should take 45 minutes, and you can continue along the wall. Be warned that the wall here is narrow and crumbling, so don’t carry on unless you feel confident.

Several places have sprung up offering beds. The shack at the entrance to the eastern section of the wall, Xiaohong’s Shop (6165 1393/2350; damatthewall@hotmail.com) can get you a simple bed for as little as Y10 and you can get something to eat here as well. Jīntāng Shānzhuāng (6165 1134; d Y348) is a more upmarket, resort-style establishment overlooking the reservoir, north of Xiaohong’s Shop.