Journeys, &c

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Tash Rabat: Roadhouse on the Old Silk Road

Local boy running his horses up the alpine meadow

Local boy running his horses up the alpine meadow

High up in the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan, not far from the mountain pass that leads into China, lies Tash Rabat. Precisely the kind of place I really love, it is an old stone fortified “caravanserai“, standing cold in the high, remote mountains, full of ghosts. Not all ghosts are bad, as I would discover. On a cold night, this place takes you back to the Silk Road five or ten centuries ago.

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Great Wall Tower of the Month: August 2016


Sadly, much of the wall near Hefangkou and Qinglongxia has been poorly rebuilt. I lamented this in my recent article “China’s Great Wall will soon be lost“. But back in the late summer of 2014, at least, the towers near the higher, less accessible cliff areas above Hefangkou were still very impressive. This one stands at 40° 27.000′N 116° 39.820′E. See it there on Google Earth, or click through for more photos.

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The Incredible Gate at Black Pass


For only my fourth dayhike without a child on my back in the 16 months since she was born, I headed out to the far northeastern corner of Beijing Municipality. Deep in the forest, beyond an impressive fort, lies this remarkable gate structure. Complete with the stone framework for the gate raising mechanism, and apparently original dragon face decoration, it’s like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else on the Great Wall around Beijing.

Click through for more photos of this remote area.

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Great Wall Tower of the Month: July 2016


Far out to the northeast of Beijing lies a forlorn section of Great Wall – a pass so forgotten it seems not even to have a name. It does have some very impressive towers, though. This one, which I failed to reach in January on a day so cold my eyebrows frosted over (really: it was -25C), was an entirely different proposition in balmy June. It’s probably best understood as part of the defensive line at Dajiaoyou, a little further west over the ridge. Either way, it’s an impressive tower well worth the short climb from the nameless pass at the border with Hebei Province.

Click through for more photos and visit it on Google Earth at 40° 40.500′N 117° 26.160′E.

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The Last Puffins of Gjógv


Last light. Last day of the trip. Despite the rain, it’s been a good one. So why was I running full speed away from the splendid view and back to the hotel? Because of something that happened ten years ago. Or, rather, didn’t. I saw a puffin.

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Great Wall Tower of the Month June 2016


Far at the northeastern corner of Beijing Municipality, near the village of Dajiaoyu, lies the long forgotten pass at … well, it doesn’t even really have a name. We visited on an exceptionally cold day in January.

Find it on Google Earth at 40° 40.433′N 117° 27.214′E, or click through for more photos.

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The Cliffs of Vestmanna and Streymoy Island


I learned a few things about birdwatching on the Faroe Islands. First, it’s actually pretty cool. Second, you don’t need an enormous lens to get some nice photos. I also discovered I can actually go on a boat without instantly getting seasick.

But what was really awesome about this leg of our Faroes trip was the dizzying sea cliffs at Vestmanna – the Vestmannabjørgini. (No, I have no idea how to pronounce that). Hundreds of meters of black volcanic sea cliffs, speckled green with outlandish tufts of bright turf, itself munched on by even more outlandishly surefooted sheep. Though we were late in the season, still scores of seabirds swooped and swirled around the cliffs, our boat, and us. Add a salty fresh sea breeze off the North Atlantic and one of the very few appearances of the sun, and the island of Streymoy gave us a few of our most memorable Faroes days.

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Great Wall Tower of the Month: May 2016


If this was not an impossibly geeky blog, we’d say something witty like “forts are the new towers”. Instead, we’ll just introduce this imposing stone basement fort above the remote village of Shuitoucun in Hebei Province, at the western extreme of the “Inner Wall” which protects the northwest access to the capital. The famous tourist site of Badaling is at the other end of the stretch of wall this fort overlooks.

As you can see from the images after the jump, this fort has a commanding position over the watergate below, the village and access valley to the north, as well as over to the pass to the east. Either as a location for fire support with cannons or a garrison for troops, its tactical advantage seems obvious.

I visited with my friend Tina on an exceptionally windy and quite cold late winter’s day in April 2013. Visit it on Google Earth at 40° 10.770′N 115° 46.460′E or click through for pictures and a short clip showing just how windy it was that day.

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Mystery Wall West of Longquanyu

Two years ago I visited Longquanyu, north of Changping and west of Huanghuacheng. Recently I went back, to see whether the wall extended further westwards.

This was also the first time I took my daughter hiking without her mother. Because it was a test run, I brought my sister along. But the challenge arose from the fact little W is still breast-feeding. My sister’s great, but she couldn’t help with that. Instead, I had a bottle of frozen milk and my PocketRocket…

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Great Wall Tower of the Month April 2016


The word “epic” gets thrown around too much, including by me in reference to the Great Wall. But this month’s Tower of the Month really is pretty epic. It guards a valley on Beijing’s inner wall, not far from the strategically important Beijing Knot where the inner and outer walls intersect, and near the Nine Eye Tower which commanded the whole area. A huge arch allowed troops to access the valley to the north, while steep and substantial wall on either side of the tower prevented intruders sneaking past. Easily reached from the village at Dazhenyu, it’s more fun to come over the wall from Sancha. Whatever you do, don’t try to downclimb that decrepit staircase!

Visit it on Google Earth at 40°27.290′N 116°25.830′E and click through for more photos.

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