Friday, 10 June 2016

nothing to see

Following the opening of the section of the former ‘closed area’ between Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau in 2013 (The New Frontier) the Hong Kong government opened up a second section at the start of 2016. And, despite the generally awful weather, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to put together a coherent bike ride through this new area, which lies north and northeast of Fanling. Although I’m currently in the UK, I’ve decided to write this progress report.

My first foray into the area was along Kong Nga Po Road from the west (bottom left corner of the map below). The only reason for this choice was that I’d previously tried to follow this road several years earlier but had been turned back by signs telling me that I was about to enter the closed area, which would have been an arrestable offence.

It wasn’t long before I encountered quite a stiff hill, albeit not one stiff enough to deter me. However, I’d no sooner descended from the top of the first hill than I encountered a second hill. And another. I described this section at the time as a ‘six-hill switchback’, although I’ve since realized that this was an error. The sixth hill, no less gruelling than the previous ones, is separated from the others by more than a kilometre. And what I counted as the third and fourth hills is actually one hill with a slight dip between the two sections that is obviously a single descent when the switchback is tackled in the opposite direction.

Anyway, I followed Kong Nga Po Road until I reached Ping Che Road, which I followed as far as Sha Tau Kok Road. This led back to my starting point at the walled village of Kun Lung Wai. A few days later, I was back for a more detailed look at the area. After checking out a couple of side roads that led nowhere interesting, I decided to go back the way I’d come, which meant tackling the switchback in the opposite direction. It was obvious immediately that it was more fun in this direction: the first hill is the hardest, but the following descent is an absolute screamer where I had no trouble getting up to 50km/hr. This means that the ascent of the second hill, which matches the first in length and steepness, is made easier by the momentum generated on the descent. The second descent is also a screamer, and you might even consider switching to the large chainring, because the third and fourth hills are much shorter from this direction.

The following photograph shows the start of the switchback from the east. I consider this short incline to be part of the first hill, although once around the corner at the top, the road dips before the start of the first hill proper, as shown in the second photo.

The next photograph shows part of the first descent and was taken from near the top.

At this point, I had a basic route worked out, starting and finishing at Kun Lung Wai, but as you would expect, I wanted to add a few embellishments. An immediate problem presented itself: the dotted red line marks the approximate path of what will eventually be a major new road, and this continuous construction site cuts a wide swathe through what would once have been interesting countryside but is now just a mess. I actually cycled all the way from Ping Yeung to the Chinese border, but I would never do it again. The ‘road’ consists of roughly flattened angular blocks of stone, 10–30cm in size, that may have been okay for dump trucks and other construction vehicles but was distinctly uncomfortable on a mountain bike.

As you might expect, I was looking for narrow paths that I could link together to create a contiguous route. However, although the following series of photographs shows narrow paths that are likely to form part of the final route, at present the only way I’ve found to link them together involves riding up and down Ping Che Road, which I’d prefer not to do.

In order to reach the narrow path shown in the next two photos, it is necessary to pass through a village that has ‘keep out: private’ signs along its perimeter. Of course, I take one look at the streetlights and ignore the signs. A bigger problem has been a dog in the village that has already attacked me once. However, it no longer has surprise on its side, and if I get the chance to run it down, I will.

The next narrow path is that described in Ghost Alley, so I do not propose to discuss it further at this time. The next path to be included leads from the eastern edge of Ping Yeung to Wo Keng Shan Road and is shown in the next two photos. Unfortunately, it has been disrupted by the construction work, although it remains possible. However, the last time I followed it, the path was heavily overgrown, so I will have to see whether the vegetation has been cleared away during the summer. It may not be, because I suspect that this path is little used nowadays.

Once I’ve reached Wo Keng Shan Road, I can return by yet another narrow path, one that follows a small watercourse. I’ve included the next photo, of a footbridge over the stream, because it relates to something I do frequently whenever I work out a through route from one point to another—I try to follow it in reverse. Where there are a lot of junctions and turn-offs, this can be surprisingly tricky, and this path is especially complex in this regard. However, I managed to follow this path with no mistakes until I reached this footbridge. Here, I misjudged the steepness of the ramp seen in this photo, lost momentum and would probably have disappeared over the edge if there hadn’t been a safety rail on both sides of the bridge.

The next photo was taken from another footbridge across the same stream. The route comes down a path on the right bank of the stream, crosses the footbridge and follows the narrow path on the left of the picture.

The next two photographs show not a narrow path but what I’ve been referring to as a ‘cart track’. I’d followed a quiet road for a considerable distance before being confronted by a locked gate. I spotted this track as I retraced my steps and wondered whether it led anywhere. It did. The high-rise buildings in the distance are in Shenzhen.

There is another series of narrow paths that allows you to bypass the junction between Ping Che Road and Lin Ma Hang Road, but I currently have no photos of this section. Having worked out a way of linking all these sections together, I decided to ask Paula to check out the route with me. Her verdict?
Nothing to see!
While I admit that the route as it stands is a bit of a curate’s egg (good in parts), I regard this assessment as a little unfair. The next three photos show that there are things to see, although to see these buildings we had to detour from the route. The first photo shows some kind of fortified watchtower and is the only one of its kind that I’m aware of. The second shows what was once a village school; the building appears to be still in use, but I doubt that it is being used for its original purpose. There is also a declared monument, Cheung Shan Monastery, which is a short distance along Wo Keng Shan Road beyond the point where the route follows this road for a short distance. It is shown in the third photo.

The final photograph doesn’t do justice to what is quite a spectacular sight: a huge area of abandoned farmland covered in grass flowers. Of course, I cannot claim that this is ‘something to see’, because it is something to see for no more than ten days each year.

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