In 1990 David and I travelled to the UK by train via China and Russia. As it was necessary to get a visa to pass through Mongolia on the train which had to be arranged in Beijing we had a five-day stopover there.
Naturally we were keen to visit the Great Wall of China so we booked ourselves onto a tour which included a visit to the section at Badaling, the nearest point to the city.
Our group was fairly small, it was a Sunday in February and all the other tourists were businessmen taking a day off, most were Americans, one was British and another was Australian. I was the only woman.
When we arrived at Badaling we all followed our guide but at varying speeds. David was never much of a walker and soon lagged behind but encouraged me to go on ahead. This was quite a touristy section of the wall. There were hawkers selling souvenirs and encouraging visitors to have their photos taken with a camel. We came to one of the towers where soldiers were once posted to guard against invaders and I managed to catch up with the group while the guide talked but lost them again as I descended the stairs more slowly than the men. I carried on walking, thinking that I’d catch up with them soon. There were few westerners there that day but many Chinese visitors. I kept walking, carefully as there were traces of ice and snow on the path. As I went on the crowds seemed to thin out but I still didn’t see the rest of the group. I was enjoying myself though. It was much quieter now and I liked the views of the mountains in the distance.
Eventually I reached the point where that section of the wall ended and as I had no idea whether it was possible to go further or where the rest of the group was I turned back and eventually reached the bus.
When I got there everyone was already on board and David asked me where I had been. The others had all returned after viewing the first tower and they had been waiting for me ever since.
I was a little embarrassed but not really sorry as I felt that they had missed the best part of the walk. Standing on the Great Wall of China in the silence without all the crowds and commercialism was for me the high point of that day.