On Sunday, we arranged to meet some friends from Yongin out on Ganghwa Island (the location of my first Korean WWOOF farm) with the intention of exploring a few sites of interest up on the northern side (a far better idea than the original plan for the holiday, which would have involved eight-hour bus journeys). We arrived right on time, only to find that the people coming from Yongin had missed their bus and would be a hour or two late – undeterred, we got ourselves a tourist map and headed out to some attractions near the bus terminal.
First on the list was Seonwonsa – a small temple just around the hill from the centre of town. As we pulled up, the taxi driver asked why we were visiting, said that there was nothing to see and then indicated that he’d wait for us (with the meter running). Slightly puzzled, we went past an outbuilding (and some people ripping up all the lanterns used during the Buddha’s Birthday celebrations) to find that the actual temple had been destroyed centuries ago and the map (despite having a drawing of a temple) was merely showing the location of the temple site. We did see a small collection of farm animals though (three cows, three chickens, a rabbit and a dog), but couldn’t work out why they were living on the temple site.
A little put out, we slunk back to our vindicated taxi driver and allowed him to suggest Gwangseongbo, an old fortification just south of the temple site. The area overlooks the Yeomha River, a spot of immense strategic importance in pre-flight days as it guards one of two entrances to the Han River (and thus Seoul) – here, during the American Disturbance (Shinmiyangyo) of 1871, US naval forces overpowered and occupied the defences in an effort to secure diplomatic and trade agreements with the Daewongun (he refused). These days, the old batteries and lookout points have been restored (with what looks like modern concrete) and trees have grown up around areas that at one time would have given a commanding view of the river for miles in both directions.
After meeting up with the arrivals from Yongin, we dropped by at one of Ganghwa-do’s 150 dolmen sites (around 70 of which are World Heritage Sites) and then headed for the hills. We puffed our way up Bongcheonsan, a mere 291 metres but quite steep towards the top, and (when the cloud we’d walked into cleared) looked out over the Han River to the border mountains of North Korea, perpetually shrouded in mist and atmospheric haze. Once the breeze started to get chilly, we staggered down to the lowlands and fortified ourselves with some ice cream before taking the bus back into the concrete jungles of Seoul.