Last month, ICE receptionist, Gabriella Holmes, 19, jetted off to China to climb the Great Wall and raise money for Cancer Research Wales in memory of her grandmother. In this blog, she shares her inspiring journey.
In the early hours of Saturday the 13th May, I began my travels, along with 30 other trekkers, to Beijing, China. We had left the Holiday Inn, Cardiff at around 4:30am to London Heathrow; we would then take our first flight to Helsinki where we would catch a connecting 8 hour flight to Beijing. By the time we had met our tour guides for the week and got to our first of many lodges we had probably spent close 20 hours travelling! So as you can imagine, we were all pretty tired but still managed to go on The Great Wall of China only a couple of hours after landing. This was the Huangyaguan section and was only a taster walk for us to get use to the wall and was the easiest day of the week but at that time of having no sleep and no food, I was not enjoying it at all and was very homesick, but was pretty hyped to be on a piece of ancient history.
Walking up on Monday morning was pretty magical, I can proudly say I woke up to the view of the Great Wall, but was then reminded that I would be trekking across more difficult and demanding sections of the wall. However, I got dressed, managed to get a little bit of breakfast in me and got on the bus for a 10 minute transfer to a different part the Huangyaguan section. This day was a struggle, so many steps! But I was lucky to have such a supportive trekking family and managed to complete the 3- 4 hours trekking. I was amazed to see fridges and freezers along the wall for fellow trekkers to buy cold drinks and ice creams. After the trek we went to a restaurant for lunch and then took a transfer to our next lodge.
Tuesday was an 8 hour trek from Gubeikou to Jinshanling which I was unable to do as I had only learnt on the Monday that I have a fear of heights. This trek was described to be the most challenging and the most ancient part of the wall, with rubbled narrow paths and drop offs either side, I was the only one to not start this walk. Others had started but had to come off as they were unable to do it for similar reasons as me. However I am so proud of everyone who had attempted that day.
Fast-forward to Wednesday morning we began trekking from our lodge in Jinshanling to The Great Wall. A few of us decided to take the cable car up which was a good idea considering it was almost 40 degree heat. Again the Jinshanling section is an ancient part of the wall and hasn’t been reconstructed like the Huangyaguan section and was a bit rugged with a few steps missing. Mix in a fear of heights to this equation and you get an anxious mess walking the Great Wall. I probably cried most of the day but again I had an amazing support system around me and managed to complete the 7 hour trekking day and will never forget the views that day. Thursday saw most of my team tackle a more reconstructed part of the wall, the 1000 steps and heavenly ladder of the Mutianyu section, which definitely wasn’t happening with my ever growing fear of heights. However I did take the cable car up so far just to see the views.
Friday was our last day on the wall and we visited the Juongguan and Badaling sections, both very contrasting sections. Juongguan was a reconstructed section and was very busy with local tourists wanting photos with us, whereas the Badaling section was very secluded and I think cut off from the public as it is under reconstruction. This day was amazing for two reasons. I got to see a temple that the rest of my team didn’t see and we had special permission from the Chinese Government to lay a brick at the Badaling section. After leaving the wall we had a rickshaw tour, saw a traditional Beijing home and had the opportunity to see an acrobat show and/or have a massage.
Saturday was a tour around Beijing, which meant seeing three famous sights, The Heavenly Temple, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. All were so amazing to see and I would definitely return to see them again on a cooler day as again it was close to 40 degrees. At night we had a celebratory meal where we were given medals – my medal was for showing strength.
I feel very lucky and blessed to have been able to experience this at such a young age. A lot of people told me I was crazy for doing this at 19, and maybe I was. It was definitely not easy, I was very home sick in the beginning, struggled to eat and battled some anxiety attacks but I soon came around and was more like myself towards the end. Yes, the heat and the height was a struggle but I still managed to do it, and I can finally look back and say that I’m proud of myself. The whole reason for this trek was not only to challenge myself but to raise money for Cancer Research Wales in memory of my Grandmother, Carol, and so far I have managed to raise just over £5,000.
I would definitely recommend this to everyone I know. It doesn’t have to be for charity but to just experience one of the wonders of the world. China is such a beautiful country full of history and culture and I can’t wait to go back out there and see more of what it has to offer.