Once upon a time there were two dragons. The dragons were brothers. One was white, the other was black.

As they grew older they decided that their home was too small for them, so they went their separate ways. The black dragon worked hard to make his new home beautiful, a place of lushness with trees, springs, waterfalls and pools, a place that would bring life and goodness to the people who lived there.

The mountain god saw his hard work and gifted him a string of 18 pearls which he threw into the valley that the black dragon was working hard to make into a place of beauty.

These 18 pearls became 18 pools and the legend goes that the black dragon continues to bring life and prosperity to the people living in the valley.

 And today the #standrewstrek fund raisers arrived in the Black Dragon Pool Park.

This is a national park, popular with locals and tourists. The locals visit a temple high in the mountain above the pools to pray to the black dragon to thank him and to ask to be blessed by him. The temple includes colourful statues of the gods, the mountain god in particular. These idols sit in a room decorated with paintings of the black dragon.

The waters we were trekking past flowed from high in the crags above, sweeping their way down into a series of 18 pools, one for each pearl. The route was cluttered with sightseers, as before, whole generations of family with picnics and cameras, taking advantage of the cool temperatures in the valley.

We were struck that no one was swimming in the pools, not even dipping their feet in. That’s because the waters are sacred, considered holy. So when Connor’s Chinese hat fell in, and Matthew Jr ventured in after it, we worried we were bringing many years of bad luck to the locals.

Going was slow for the first few hours, but that didn’t do us any harm, not when considering the short, sharp, shock that was yesterday’s 1000 Steps!

After a while the route got steeper as we snaked up the side of the mountain towards the temple. And as the route got steeper, the herds of sightseers thinned out.

We reached a plateau leading up to the temple that offered incredible views back down valley. Our group stopped for photos, and a group shot holding the Hospice’s Saltire, before heading up a few steps to the temple, breathing in the incense that burned from the altar outside.

From there we were definitely off-piste. The track we worked now was narrow, steep and overgrown. And by now we were out of the shadow of the valley and the sun was doing its best to slow us down. Our pace continued at a slow and steady pace for a while until we hit a road that led back down the other side of the valley. There we stopped for our packed lunch.

Our accommodation until this point had been hotels, tonight was to be our first night in the “rustic lodge”. We’d stopped by the lodge on the way to the park to make up packed lunches and had been warmly greeted by the staff. It bode well for a good evening’s relaxation in the lodge’s courtyard (which had free wifi, something our most recent hotel lacked!).

After lunched we hiked on down the road until Michael stopped us and directed us back up into the brush. He warned us that we had to go slow and keep in touch with the trekker behind us and in front of us. We had to work together as a team.

At this point we were heading back onto the Wall and our final descent back down to the valley and the waiting coach. However, this was unrestored wall – Wild Wall, as it’s known – and after a few minutes climbing up towards a guard tower – we took in what was ahead of us. 

Our trek for the next hour or so was to be downhill, following the Great Wall in it’s wildest, unrestored state, all the way back down to the car park.

The going was slow, tricky, technical, slippery and some of us wondered how this section of the fundraising trip had passed health and safety!

Ann-Marie had volunteered to hang near the back of the group. Her idea was to be on hand to help anyone who was struggling with the descent. However, when she slipped and ended up off the Wall and into the brush it was clear her plan was actually to try and wipe as many of us out as possible…

Another trekker, Ann was very helpful when she started to feel herself slip. She’d cry out “catch me! Catch me!”. That gave her companions either side enough time to grab her. Considerate to the last.

When it comes to this sort of trekking on the Wall, walking poles are almost essential. The idea is to use just one pole and extend it as far you can. You plant it ahead and below your next step, using it to balance you as you descend. This helps you to keep you on the Wall and out of the deep crevices on either side.

It’s hard to describe either the scale and scope of this descent part of the trek or the feelings of relief, achievement and euphoria that swept through everyone as we finally stepped back down onto the carpark.

The local people believe that the black dragon brings them luck, prosperity and blessings. Each of us, it seemed, had received some benevolence from the black dragon, too.

After a celebratory ice cream and a warm down, it was back on the coach for the return leg to the lodge.

At the lodge the tired legs and sweaty backs gave way to beers, jokes and fantastic food as the sun set behind the mountains we’d just returned from. A bonfire was lit, more beers were opened and along with the friendly lodge staff, the group relaxed long into the evening.

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