Two Brothers Walk China’s Great Wall End-to-End

This updates and replaces a post from August 8 2022, a few weeks after the journey described here had first begun. The Lindesay brothers, Jim & Tommy, have now completed their 3,260 kilometer traverse along the entire length of the Great Wall of China, walking and jogging the whole way. They documented their journey in 12 videos included here.


My grandfather, Dr. William Edgar Geil, walked the entire length of China’s Great Wall in 1908. He is first person ever documented to have done so. He photographed his journey using the technology of his time. The images are on large heavy glass slides that are viewed with a special lantern. I’ve documented my grandfather’s story — which still continues over a century later — on my website.

In 1987, William Lindesay traced my grandfather’s steps. He documented his journey in photographs as well, often depicting the same scenes and areas showing how they appeared almost 80 years after my grandfather photographed them.

My grandfather appears on the left, William Lindesay on the right.
(Pictures courtesy of William Lindesay.)

William’s sons, Jim and Tommy, took their turn through the latter half of 2022. They set out mid-summer from the far western end of the Great Wall and headed east. They walked and jogged throughout this journey. This distance alone would be impossible for most, but added to that was the heat, the mountains, and arduous challenges along the way. They were aided by a support team that included our dear friend, Piao Tie Jun. The support team was turned away by authorities near Beijing due to lockdowns and COVID restrictions, so the brothers had to complete the journey by themselves lugging along all their clothes, food and equipment.

After completing the journey, the brothers were received by the British Ambassador to China. William Lindesay described the event on his Instagram: “At a celebratory reception held at the British Ambassador’s Residence and hosted by Dame Caroline Wilson, Jimmy and Tommy presented the Ambassador with a photograph taken in Hebei. The event was a superb occasion that brought together 70 international friends of the Great Wall. It was also an important milestone in the Lindesay family’s cultural relations work between the UK and China. On 6th January back in 1988, 35 years ago, I was accorded an ambassadorial reception in London by the then Chinese Ambassador, Ji Chaozhu.”

William Lindesay’s Instagram

The Brothers’ Videos

This time the journey across the Great Wall was documented on video as well as in photographs. Jim & Tommy posted 12 videos altogether. Enjoy!


Media Coverage

The brothers’ journey received wide coverage in the British and Chinese media. The BBC broadcast this report:

The South China Morning Post ran a full-page article on December 22, 2022.

The Shanghai Daily ran an online article — “British brothers hike Great Wall to follow in father’s footsteps” —on December 30, 2022.

Xinhua posted on January 2, 2023: “British brothers hike Great Wall to follow in father’s footsteps“. The article was also posted by South Africa’s Independent Online (IOL).

Earlier this month the brothers were interviewed on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning broadcast: “Lindesay Brothers: Running the Great Wall.”

The Backstory

As mentioned above, the Lindesay brothers came to reside in China and ultimately take on this journey because of their father, William Lindesay. From his early childhood in England, near Liverpool, William developed a deep fascination about the Great Wall. As he grew older, William was a runner and frequently ran with his brother along Hadrian’s Wall in the UK near their home. They stopped to rest one day during their run when his brother suggested out of nowhere, “Will, d’you know what, you should do the same thing on the Great Wall of China.” William later wrote that this passing comment stirred something deep in his subconscious.

Fast forward to 1987, William made his way to China and set out to explore the entire length of the Great Wall. He fought blisters, dysentery, the threat of bubonic plague, stress fractures, a sandstorm, vicious dogs… and police (‘the boys in green’). He was arrested nine times by the police for trespassing China’s “closed areas,” comprising virtually the entire country. And he was deported once. Despite these hardships, William also experienced the kindness of farm families along his journey who provided shelter and food to a tall mysterious foreigner.

William ended up devoting his life to exploration and preservation of the Great Wall. He’s written several books about the Great Wall and participated in several television documentaries. Now he’s written his full story in a powerful two-part memoir that has just been released.

You can read my review of the first volume here in this blog, ‘Review: A Story as Compelling as the Great Wall‘. The books are available at Amazon (Volume 1: The Foundation Years; Volume 2: The Jiankou Years).

Volume 2 of William’s memoir tells the story of the other William who preceded him, my grandfather, Dr. William Edgar Geil. William writes about his search for my family, Geil’s descendants here in the United States, and finally finding us. It’s an exciting story, culminating in an historic international gathering at Geil’s grave in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, marking the centennial of my grandfather’s walk along the Great Wall.

William Lindesay and a delegation from China placed this plaque on my grandfather’s grave in June 2008.

You can read all about my grandfather’s story and that great historic gathering at his grave at my website.

Interview with William Lindesay

I’ll close with this interview with William Lindesay. It was recorded last month by Teacup Media’s China History Project. It marked the 35th year since William walked the Great Wall and was just a few weeks before his sons completed their own journey.

Click image to reach the podcast.

Title image is adapted from the thumbnail of Episode 1 of 2 Brothers Great Wall.


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