Feeling small atop The Great Wall

By Jacob Jarvis

Before I headed to the Great Wall, multiple people told me ‘it’s cool, but it’s just a big wall’.

I thought they must be understating its grandeur, but it still meant my expectations weren’t high when I went to tackle the Badaling section of the mighty structure myself. Honestly, I’m glad those I spoke to didn’t appreciate it, as it meant I was all the more overwhelmed.

It’s just a wall, yes, obviously. But no matter how much I explain its vastness, you’ll certainly underestimate it until you actually go and see it. The small stint which I walked across left me completely exhausted. I went to the most popular part, with the least steep walkways and most handrails, and only 2.3 miles of it is walkable.

Now imagine that I, a relatively fit and healthy young man, felt tired from just moving across that. Now imagine it being built, with no modern-day equipment, and that it is in total over 10,000 miles long. That’s something to be appreciated. The magnitude of the work which went in to it is almost confusing.

When you reach the higher points, the views are something else. I was at Badaling the day after a flood, the air still felt heavy, there was the usual smog, and the sun was blocked by clouds and a small pattering of raindrops. And, regardless of those factors, I could still see a daunting expanse of the wall stretching out each way I looked.

The peaks and then descents of the iconic feat of architecture particularly made me appreciate the work which had gone into its construction. Those who designed and built it seem to have realised the gravitas of the job ahead of them, and closely followed the curvature of the ground of the regions it covers. Although something similar built in a more up-to-date style would clearly be an eyesore, it lends itself entirely to its surroundings. Despite its stature, it blends in with the already spectacular expanse of nature around it beautifully.

The perspective it lends to the woodland around it means that mighty trees and colossal branches are left feeling somewhat fragile. This in turn only lends to their appeal, and that of the wall.

Standing on it gave me one of those rare moments which allows you to take note of how little and, in the end, delicate we all are. Despite the thousands of tourists queuing along the walking routes, the Great Wall still manages to remain a tranquil spot. Somewhere that allows you, even if just for the briefest moment, to reflect. And for that, it’s more than just a wall.

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