Lillian and I were lucky enough to meet ex-Governor Wilson last summer and when I commented that it was really cool to have a walking trail named after oneself he asked if we had walked it. To which the answer was, “Err no, but we are planning to”. Lillian and I had actually walked some but not the entire trail, so it seemed like a good idea to have a go at completing the whole of it the next time we were in Hong Kong.
Fast forward 6 months to January 2018 and Lillian and I had a four day stopover in Hong Kong on our way home from New Zealand. The trail is about 75km long and if one walks the whole thing should take about 30 hours.
More detail here: Wilson Trail Map
With some family commitments and other plans we decided to break it up over 4 days.
The trail runs south to north, starting on HK Island and finishing close to the border with China. It includes an MTR ride from Tai Koo on HK Island to Lam Tin. We were wondering if originally it was meant to be a ferry ride as when we exited the MTR at Lam Tin the first kilometers of the trail involved walking beside a large road – actually not that unpleasant – and passing another MTR station (Lei Yu Mun). From there we started to climb up a steep road until we at last saw a sign that confirmed that we were on the Wilson Trail.
View of the harbour from the road above Lei Yu Mun
An offshoot from the trail led to the top of the ridge above Lei Yu Mun. In World War 2 the British had some gun emplacements here (the Gough Battery) and the concrete fortifications are still visible. After the British withdrew from the position (on 13 December 1941) the Japanese used it to shell HK Island. As well at the history, the views of Victoria Harbour were different from anything we had seen before and it was worth going there just for those.
Lillian on the remains of the Gough Battery
The old concrete ammunition dumps
Higher up the ridge there was another diversion from the trail over Devil’s Peak where there was a redoubt and observation post in WW2 and still lots of concrete remains. As it was a weekday there were also lot of older HK residents doing exercises (twirling hula-hoops seemed popular) or just relaxing.
Looking the rest of rest of Stage 3 and the hills that Stage 4 would cover
The stage continued along the ridge onward to Clearwater Bay Road with a combination of natural trail, concrete path and quiet tarmac road.
This bit of the trail was over a bit of road; it seemed strange as the crash barrier looked quite new
The last section took up through some villages which, although smaller than they probably were in the past, were still alive and inhabited. On the final section we walked by a small irrigation channel up past some smallholdings. It felt distinctly rural and very different from the modern HK cityscape that we had started in. Some ladies told up about a waterfall called Little Hawaii which was below the trail and which we will definitely have to come back to in the summer.
Stages 4 and 5
The following morning we were back at the start of the next stage. There were no signs for the trail in the village at the start of the stage (Tseng Lan Shue) but an old lady set us on the right track.
Blinded by the early morning sun looking for the start of the trail (it’s behind Lillian)
As we left the village we followed a small stream passing some allotments and entering the forest. Unfortunately we had by this point wandered off the trail which we realised when we came to a tarmac road.
If you see this you have gone the wrong way!
It wasn’t a problem to find our way back onto the trail which we rejoined in the Ho Chung Valley but it showed that is is definitely worth having a map (there were a couple of places on stage 3 where this was also the case).
From the village there was a big climb (c.450m ascent) to Tate’s Pass where we were rewarded with a spectacular panorama of the white tower blocks of Kowloon rising out of the haze.
Lots of steps up to Tate’s Pass
Looking back to where we started that morning
Our favourite energy drink, Sweat
The rest of the stage was down a small metalled road to Shatin Pass. (Note for cyclists: This would be a good road to ride up on the bike and one could do a hilly circuit around Kowloon Peak with no cars, following Jat’s Incline and Fei Ngo Shan Road.) Walking and running downhill was hurting our cyclist’s legs; it’s so much nicer going up-hill.
It would have been nice to have a bike here
Kowloon Peak (Fei Ngo Shan) on the left with Kowloon spread out below
I planned to also do Stages 5 and 6, all before lunch, so at Shatin Pass I continued solo. Lots more stone steps led down to a catchment channel that wound its way along the north side of Lion Rock and Beacon Hill. Mean looking monkeys menaced me from the railings beside the channel and, as if I was wandering through a dodgy bit of town, I avoided eye contact and kept running.
Amah Rock seen from the catchment channel
Eventually I reached the end of Stage 5 at Tai Po Road. A lunch date meant I had to call it a day… I jumped on a bus and was home only 5 minutes after Lillian. However, the shorter day meant I had to do the last 5 stages of the trail in one day. Given that my legs were aching after only 15km it was clear that wasn’t going to be easy.
Stages 1 and 2
Day 3. Up early again. Legs stiff. MRT over to Tai Koo Shing to knock off Stages 1 and 2. We were planning on doing them in reverse so that we could finish for lunch in Stanley on the south side of HK Island.
The signage at the start of the trail – never great in the built up areas – was even worse than normal with the map in the MRT giving the wrong start point. Consequently we joined lots of early morning walkers – mainly older people – walking up Mount Parker Road, until we joined the trail higher up in the forest.
Forest shrine just above Mount Parker Road
Some wild pigs
It’s always amazing in HK how quickly one can leave the city and we were soon climbing a steep ridge looking down at the tower blocks and seeing the range of hills we followed over the last two days stretching over the horizon.
Looking towards Kowloon (Stages 3 and 4 follow the hills opposite from right to left)
Looking towards Central and The Peak
Jardine’s Lookout (the second of the two peaks on Stage 2)
There was a sign on the trail down from Jardine’s Lookout that described the events on the hill in WW2. A Victoria Cross was awarded to one of the Canadian troops defending the hill for throwing himself over a hand grenade (Citation).
A leg destroying descent to the Parkview apartment complex and the end of the stage followed. Lillian left me here so she could check out Stanley Market before lunch. I continued on Stage 1 crossing Violet Hill and the Twins.
More ups (like them) and downs (hate them) led to the Twins. I passed a sign saying that there was only 2 km to the end of the trail. Not far perhaps, but this involved climbing 250m and around 1,200 steps and descending the same.
Hopefully I didn’t push things so hard that I will wake up tomorrow barely able to walk. I hope not… I have 5 stages to do in a day… and I am not sure I can finish them.
Stages 6 to 10
Day 4 dawned cloudy and wet. It was the last day before we left HK so at 8.30am I was getting off the bus at the start of Stage 6. It was early enough that the monkeys were not up yet (the area is called Monkey Hill). In the cloud and mist there was just me, the forest and the occasional animal. We could have been anywhere. At least the absence of any sun made it cool though it was very humid.
There are distance posts every 0.5km; I needed to get to number 137 by the end of the day
Most of the monkeys were asleep; these two were not happy to see me
Stage 7 starts with a path that winds around the bank of the Shing Mun Reservoir. As I had followed it before and was worried about completing the route in the daylight I opted for a short-cut along the forest road. Unfortunately this involved an extra 200m of climb so although I saved time I’m not sure if I saved much energy.
Feral cow walking down the road to Lead Mine Pass
I tired to use minimal effort on the next section a lot of which was on forest roads. Midway through Stage 8 the trail crossed the outskirts of Tai Po and I was dreaming of the snacks I would buy for the previous half hour. Ideally I was hoping to find a McDonalds but figured if not there should be at least a 7 Eleven. At around midday I crossed through the built up section. Nothing. I was getting desperate but did not want to waste time diverting off the trail.
Door decoration made of toothbrushes!
Luckily I found a store – not obvious – selling noodles and snacks half way along the straight road before the trail left town to climb to Cloudy Hill (in the Kam Shek New Village). Note that there is nowhere where one can buy food and water from this point to the finish of the trail 20km away.
The Hong Kong classic, instant noodles with egg and ham
956 steps up Cloudy Hill which by strange coincidence was exactly the same number as up the first Twin the day before
Cloudy Hill was cloudy, and from there I descended to the idyllic Hok Tau Reservoir. The climb to the Pat Sin Range began. A rugged trail led onto the ridge which was about 4-5km long. It was a pity it was in the cloud as the views would have been amazing.
At the start of the ridge (the white sign was for the Gurkha Trailblazer race due to take place the following day)
If I had been paying attention I’d have clocked that Pat Sin (八仙) means 8 Immortals. At the end of the ridge there were indeed eight little summits to cross, each making me realise that I was now feeling far from fresh.
On the first immortal I met the tail end of a walking group. Some obligatory photos followed. There were very friendly and it was nice to meet some people as until then I had only seen a bunch of young guys all in matching blue tracksuits and carrying large packs a couple of hours before (who didn’t look like they were enjoying themselves!).
Posing for photos on top of the Shung Yeung Fung
This photo, taken a few weeks previously by a friend Winston, shows how spectacular the view could have been
There were 70 walkers in the group and when I eventually passed the front runners news had spread through their walkie-talkie network that I was coming and I got asked to pose for more photos which was very flattering.
There was a sign on each of the Immortals; this is on the third I crossed, Kao Lao Fung
After the descent from Pat Sin I only had about 5km to the end along a pleasant trail mainly traversing through forest. My knee was starting to hurt though and I was glad when it was over and reached Luk Keng at 4.30pm.
I was not hopeful of find anywhere to eat in Luk Keng
Luckily though there was a restaurant and minibus stop at the end of the road
A quick bowl of noodles, Coke and beer was followed by a minibus bus to Fanling and the train home. A great end to a fantastic day.
I realise now I’ve looked at the map that I missed the final kilometre or so of the trail. However that was no bad thing as the ‘obvious’ way led me to the café and minibus stop.
The Wilson trail has a lot to offer compared to its better known counterpart the Maclehose. In particular the last two stages offer some of the best walking in HK. We’ll have to come back and do them again on a nice day.
It was nice to finish the trial with a San Miguel bringing back lots of memories of greats days in the hills of Hong Kong!