Q: When did you last travel to the Great Wall of China and why were you there?


I travelled there during my three years living and working in China – most notably when I went with my husband and my four little boys – the youngest still a newborn – and also my 80-year-old mother who was visiting us on holiday! We were really concerned how we’d manage but it was so beautiful that we were just caught up in the magic of the place.

Q. Why do you love the location?

Not often in life does a feature that is so incredibly well known both visually and in terms of its story not only live up to the billing but blow you away. The Great Wall does this – it’s beautiful, fascinating, amazingly quiet in places and it takes you through some stunning landscapes.

Q. What top 3 sights would you recommend people to visit when there and why?

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China really does have it all – dramatic scenery, ancient and historic landscapes, urban chic and mega-urban hell. Other than the Great Wall, the other “must see” top three destinations have to be Xi’an for the Terracotta Army, Beijing’s Forbidden City (for the history) and the Summer Palace (for the end of the imperial story and the incredible story of Empress Cixi – now that was a woman who knew how to be in charge!).

Q. During what period of its history would you have most wanted to have visited the Great Wall and why?

I find most of Chinese history fascinating and have loved living there and getting to understand more about the social and political dynamics of the different empires. However, for me, the Ming dynasty is particularly interesting as it’s when China really seems to have projected a strong national identity. Visiting the wall at Mutianyu during its rebuilding in 1569 would have been impressive, to say the least! I can hardly imagine how many workers – and how many bricks and stones – were involved!

Q. Where else in the world would you like to visit and why?

I’m unbelievably lucky to have worked in deserts and jungles, mountains and glaciers, and rivers and oceans on all the seven continents on earth. I’ve even spent a few months in the Antarctic on a research expedition. But I’ve never made it up to the Arctic Circle – my furthest north was Canada’s Nova Scotia and Nootka Sound when filming my TV series on Captain James Cook. To reach this far north would be the snowy, white icing on the cake. Although there’s not much of a built environment there, that’s half the appeal – we so rarely get to experience wilderness these days, yet the Arctic has been so instrumental in shaping our geographical imaginations and its indigenous people and animals are awe inspiring in how they manage their environment.

Next month, Saul David visits the Greek island of Corfu. Share your tips for would-be travellers on Twitter (@HistoryExtra) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/HistoryExtra)


Vanessa Collingridge is a broadcaster and author. You can read her feature on the Great Wall of China in the May 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine – on sale from 23 April