Living off the wall

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 March, 2012, 12:00am


Few people are more knowledgeable about the Great Wall than William Lindesay, who once ran more than 2,000 kilometres along China's most famous structure.

That expedition took place 25 years ago and, ultimately, defined the way the Briton would spend his life. Lindesay stayed in China to pursue his wall passion and estimates he has spent something in the region of 1,600 days on, or by, the Great Wall, more than four years of his life.

The father of two has turned his hobby into a career, making an income from wall-related projects that include hosting guided tours from his remote farmhouse. Wild Wall weekend ( takes visitors to parts of the structure that would be hard to access without Lindesay's specialist knowledge.

He also has an income from documentaries and books he has written and created about the wall. The most recent title is The Great Wall Revisited: From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon's Head, a written account of how the explorer retraced the footsteps of William Geil, an American missionary who photographed the wall 100 years ago. Pictures and sketches from the past are juxtaposed with Lindesay's contemporary shots showing how much the wall has changed.

'It is an outdoor museum that collides with modern China, and the developers, head on,' he says. 'It is a unique conservation challenge. That is the main reason I did the book - I wanted to see how much had changed and how much had been destroyed.

'The Great Wall was very time consuming to build. But the Chinese were prepared to go to any lengths to defend their civilisation.'

For his work, Lindesay has been awarded an OBE from Queen Elizabeth and the Great Wall Friendship Award from the mayor of Beijing.