Having recently taken part in charity walk of the Great Wall of China, Rita and Dean Wiseman describe their journey.
Last Christmas the Eve Appeal, a charity set up to raise awareness and to fund groundbreaking research into gynaecological cancers, ran an advertisement in a magazine. They were planning a major fund-raising event, namely a trek along the Great Wall of China.
Rita was inspired by this in memory of her mam who died of a gynaecological cancer at the age of 32, so we decided we would take on the challenge. Two weeks later we received a call from a very close friend to say she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Sadly she lost her battle to the disease on 23rd June. The tragic loss of our friend drove us on to do what ever we could to help the Eve Appeal with their aim to halve death rates from ovarian cancer.
We planned a number of fund-raising events; we had a coffee morning in the Town Hall in Lerwick, we ran a charity shop for a week and Rita had an extreme north haircut on the northernmost point of Hermaness. This was as far north as it was possible to go in the UK as we were unable to secure permission to land on Muckle Flugga.
During this time we also had to think of some kind of training so we would be able to trek for six days along the Great Wall, so we decided to walk the length of Shetland. Tracing a route from the lighthouse at Sumburgh to the one at Fethaland, through Yell via Burravoe and finally through Unst ending up at Skaw meant we completed about 110 miles in total. Walking Shetland’s roads was very different to what we faced in China, but by the end of our trek on the Great Wall we were very glad we had trained.
Twenty three people had signed up for the challenge. The organisers enlisted the help of Kuoni for the trek so with the Kuoni guide and a doctor there were 25 in the group. The group was made up of people from as far apart as Shetland and Guernsey and all points in between. A near 12 hour delay due to aircraft technical faults gave the group extra time to bond before reaching China.
Arrival at Simatai lodge much later than planned meant a quick meal and off to bed. The next morning we had a long lie till 8.30am and were eased in with what they called a “gentle stroll”. We soon realised this was a bit tongue-in-cheek and it was pretty much hiking from then on. Although they call it “Walking the Great Wall of China” it is no walk and our training paid off! The fact that we had no blisters or bruised and damaged toenails told us we had tested and broken in our equipment well. Walking poles were an invaluable aid.
The wall itself varied from barely discernible compacted earthworks with some boulders and strewn bricks to the fully renovated (reconstructed) stonework as seen in the brochures and documentaries … and we did the lot! Being built more or less directly onto the terrain means that if the mountain ridge along which the Wall happens to be built goes up or down at 70 degrees then so does the Wall. This meant there was a lot of fairly steep slopes and stairs. Many of the steps were hardly deep enough to set a whole foot on but could be up to 18 inches high. With very few handrails to be seen it meant the consequences of missing a step would be dire indeed.
We were bussed every other day to a new lodge with our luggage and then on to walk the next section of wall, hiking for six days all told. Kuoni pride themselves in getting you off the beaten track and away from the tourist traps and they take this very seriously. One part of the wall, we believed famous for its virtual impossibility to build, is actually on top of a mountain so we climbed Wuzoulou mountain just to see these four towers and some crumbled ruins.
We covered about 55-60 miles all told if measured on the flat but add in all the ups and downs, the stairs and mountains, they were 60 pretty tough miles.
If the star of the event was the scenery, with beautiful craggy peaks and rolling hills dominated by this astonishing feat of human endeavour, the co-star was the group itself which had bonded so well in the face of diversity during our outward journey. There seemed to be more to it than this rather obvious “same-boat-ism”. We had all been fund raising leading up to this finale and this independently shared effort appeared to instill an intrinsic value in what we were doing and tremendous enthusiasm. Every member of the team had their own story to tell. Our efforts, the event, the cause, everything was at face value and it felt really good to be a part of it and has certainly enriched our lives.
Sponsors are still coming in and by the time you are reading this we hope to have reached £10,000. An estimate for the group is more than £70,000 and rising. We would like to thank all our friends and family who took part in the coffee morning, the charity shop and the extreme north haircut. Also everyone who helped with transportation and shelter for our training walk over Shetland but most of all to everyone who gave so generously either through sponsorship or donations of goods or cash.
We knew it would be good for our health to take part in such a brilliant challenge and what a totally worthwhile experience it has been, but we didn’t fully appreciate the other benefits to be gained. It truly does you good to get out there and get involved in this type of event and if anyone’s thinking about it we would strongly recommend it. For more photos see www.justgiving.com/deanwiseman and www.justgiving.com/ritawiseman.