REPORTER Tom Cotterill follows the up and downs of a band of charity trekkers from Sussex as the walk the Great Wall in aid of the county’s only children’s hospice, Chestnut Tree House.
Day three: Birthday, anniversaries and the Great Wall
Any thoughts of getting a good night’s sleep were well and truly obliterated with a 5.30am wake-up call.
This morning was the trekkers’ first on the Great Wall of China and there was a tangible sense of anticipation in the air as they boarded the bus.
We were two down from the very start, after one of our party fell ill and needed a quick check-up at hospital.
However, the rest of us set out on the two and a half hour voyage deep into the Chinese countryside and into Taipingzhai stretch of the historic monument.
The roads and concrete jungle of Beijing soon transformed into a sweeping vista of lush greens and yellows, with peach trees lining the streets and people in orange overalls sweeping the highway verges.
Then, through the distant haze, the jagged peaks of mountains loomed into view.
It was a stunning moment for everyone on the coach - we were only minutes away from our first steps on the wall completing a dream a year in the making.
We passed an enormous reservoir before eventually arriving at the Great Wall at about 11am, local time.
For many of the trekkers the first step onto the Great Wall was a poignant moment.
However, for Julie Jillians it was a real day to remember as she celebrated her 50th birthday.
Julie, of Tripp Hill, Fittleworth, said: “Today has just been indescribable. The views were absolutely amazing.
“This birthday definitely tops all the others.”
She tackled the first day of trekking along side the team of 48 other fundraisers from Sussex.
The trail itself was often steep at times, with many trekkers covering more than 8,000 steps during the three hour adventure.
Midway through the adventure, the team united together to sing happy birthday to Julie.
Speaking of the trail, she said: “It was challenging but it feels great to complete it.
“There’s a great sense of achievement because I have wanted to come here for about 30 years.
“I used to write holiday brochures and I’ve seen how amazing it looked.”
However, it wasn’t just the pictures in the brochures that inspired Julie to walk the wall.
Her late father, Bill, had always told her she should visit the Chinese attraction.
“Today I did it in memory of dad,” she added.
It wasn’t just the daunting set of steps and steep passes which proved a challenge.
For one walker, a new-found sense of vertigo struck at the worst of times when she was hit with an unexpected case of vertigo
But in spite of almost a dozen rest stops to snap photos everyone made good time, arriving at the fort at the end of the trail in the mid afternoon.
There, the team of trekkers were treated to a delicious buffet meal full of range of vegetable dishes as well as a stunning set piece of fish marinated in delicate Chinese spices.
It was truly a feast.
In the evening, the charity cohort arrived at their new lodgings, The Impression Inn.
The motel is set just in front of an enormous wall of an expansive reservoir.
Inside, there is a centre court yard with a pond - which is incidentally where the chef caught our dinner.
There is also a karaoke machine just on the pond’s edge which the trekkers will no doubt be using as the night progresses.
However, for Paul Thomas, of Middleton Road, Middleton, the night was also a chance to celebrate his wedding anniversary - even though his wife Sarah was still at home in the UK.
“Luckily I didn’t miss the big one,” he joked. “It was our 24th wedding anniversary.
“But I sent my wife a huge bunch of flowers.”
Paul spoke to his wife over Skype while at The Impression Inn.
He added: “She is 50 next year and with her big birthday coming up and our 25th anniversary I will have to treat her.”
Tomorrow will be the longest voyage of all, a trek totalling about eight hours.
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