If it should snow in springtime in China, particularly after the fruit trees have begun blossoming, it is known as a ‘peach blossom snow’. It’s not very common, but so far this Spring there have already been a few occurrences in China’s north.
We had taken an afternoon walk through the Mutianyu orchards and chestnut groves to the neighbouring village of Yingbeigou, using Eloise Walter and Emily Spear’s descriptive and lovely “Walking Guide to Mutianyu” (they have it for sale at The Schoolhouse). I wish all walking guides were more like this one – it fits perfectly in a pocket, it’s well written and has just enough detail to keep the walk interesting without feeling like you’re on a guided tour.
On the way home, winding back through the chestnuts, it began to rain, cold and hard, and the wind picked up its pace. Looking up. we could see a cloud descending rapidly over the mountaintops. We ran! But before we could find cover the rain became soft flurries of peach blossom snow. It didn’t settle for long but it looked so beautiful!
We stayed in Mutianyu at a wonderful village house, number 101, run by The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu.
The Schoolhouse is like a poster child for sustainable eco-tourism – they have helped turn the village into a destination in its own right with a restaurant, lodgings, a glass-blowing studio, community projects, and a series of traditional village houses which have been carefully restored to protect the original footprint, but now have energy-saving bonuses like double-glazing and under-floor heating.
Outside, village life goes on as usual amidst groves of gnarled chestnut trees and orchards of peach and apricot. Little pathways wind up and down over the hillsides and between the stone houses. Firewood is collected, gardens are tended and children take the bus to school. Higher up the hillsides still, the Great Wall watches silently and protectively over the village, as it has always done.
Chinese women sometimes have a knack for wearing the most incredibly impractical outfits. Every time I have been on top of a mountain in China, there is always someone in skyscraper heels, wobbling over uneven paths and being steadied by the hand of a boyfriend, girlfriend or husband in more sensible shoes. The outfit usually also involves at least one piece of completely weather-inappropriate attire – think sable-trimmed coat in summer, or sparkly miniskirt in winter. Why be practical when you can be outrageous?
(To be completely fair, I have my own wardrobe full of impractical outfits, and shoes – how I love them. But I never wear them to climb a mountain.)
Wow. The Great Wall of China may not be visible from space (that’s a myth, apparently) but it is still bloody amazing. We arrived in Beijing last night to miserable rain and dark grey skies. After leaving Shanghai in the throes of spring and arriving north in the depths of winter, I was ill-disposed towards the city. We headed instead to the little village of Mutianyu, for two nights by the foot of the Great Wall, arriving just on dusk to lovely old houses and steep winding streets, but unable to make out the wall through the heavy rain.
This morning, though, we woke to glorious sunshine and clear blue skies, with that unmistakeable silhouette of the wall visible far above us.
The climb from the village passes through about a thousand roadside stalls selling cold water, cold beer, pyjamas, souvenirs and walking sticks. Should you need a lace parasol, they have those too. Further up the hill stretch rows of ladies calling out to offer you a taste of their dried fruits and candied walnuts.
Just before the Best Great Wall Cable Car entrance a ming dynasty guard in fully authentic plastic helmet was playing Chinese chess (xiang qi) with a worried guy in a suit.
I opted against the cable car, even though it was the Best, and the chair lift (no such impressive title for it), and walked up instead, a steep but not impossible climb. The view from the top is all the more impressive when you have had to puff and pant your way uphill on foot. And what a view – rugged mountain ranges stretch away both north and south of the wall. The steep brown hillside is dotted with the white puffs of the first peach blossoms of spring, a delicate contrast to the solidness of the wall itself stretching like a great stone ribbon unfurled to the horizon. Walking along the top, through the gatehouses and up and down the stone pathways, I am struck by the wall’s absolute magnificence. Don’t ever pass up a chance to see it. Ever.
I’m trialling a new larger size photo format. Let me know if you have problems downloading them.