The Long Walk to Jongno From Seoul Forest


Saturday was hot and humid, the ninja cyclists were out in force as I queued for the 6:35am bus to Dong Seoul.  Today I’d decided to take breakfast and a stroll in Seoul Forest Park before engaging on a trek along the Cheonggyecheon into central Seoul.

On arrival I picked up coffee and croissants from PB and settled down to watch the kids taking roller-blade lessons. The adrenalin made them gyrate full of energy resulting in spontaneous body movements, crashes and screams; also sometimes tears. I wished I was still able to perform with the vitality, confidence and the unbridled joy that kids have but instead a more leisurely hike was on the agenda.

The park (subject of a previous post) is divided into 5 areas but as this was my 4th visit I just wandered without any definite plan. It was pretty early and hence very quiet just a few dog walkers and old folk. Through the pine trees and equine sculptures I could see a volunteer group preparing to do some wood staining in the parks wetland area.  A young couple, engaged in a minor disagreement, strolled with their two tiny pooches. A regular succession of joggers passed by the concrete forms of the outdoor classroom. An old guy was raiding the trash for his breakfast and after collecting what to him was probably a feast he settled down to devour his prize.

A giant turtle’s beady eye and a lexicography sculpture caught my attention as I headed towards the Meshman Statue. The stainless steel twinkled in the morning sun as a few families settled on the concrete for a Korean style picnic. Beyond here the weeks rays had withered the poppies but they still looked attractive flouncing in the light breeze. Next to the butterfly house a turtle found refuge from his young Korean tormentors on a lotus leaf while further long a convoy of perambulators headed along the faux stream. Today it looked less faux because the pumps were switched on.

I stopped on the overhead walkway to observe the shadows cast by the trikes in the strong sun, go-carters mimicked formula one as they peddled furiously by.  In the pine forest a boy wobbled uncontrollably as he was bombarded with the maelström of noise from his father. A number of tandems passed by with one of the riders always doing the most peddling. By the lake old men nodded as they read newspapers and swatted flies, at the equestrian centre horses made a more successful job of swatting with their tails.

I arrived at the wetlands were the majority of the paths had been closed whilst the volunteers went about their volunteering tasks. The smell of wood twain pervaded the area swiftly followed by the familiar stench of rotting algae that reminded me of my childhood and the lodges up Plodder Lane.

I left by the North West entrance stumbling through a dilapidated dong inhabited by small engineering business. Eventually I arrived at a bridge at Wangsimni-ro which gave access to Hanyang University. I used the pedestrian walkway which afforded me access to the opposite bank of the river running parallel to the Dongbu Arterial Road and the Naebu Ringway.

As I took the steps down to the park I doubled back under the bridge which seemed a bizarre spot to have a pop up restaurant, that was of course until I saw the large numbers of cyclists gorging on their spicy mandu breakfasts.  I discovered some stylish graffiti before reaching the Salgoji Bridge, at 76 meters the longest existing bridge from the Joseon Period.  Constructed between 1420, the second year of King Sejong’s reign, and 1483, the 14th year of King Seongjong’s, it linked Seoul to points southeast.  Despite the length of time devoted to its construction it’s a very modest structure; there are no rails or any other decorations.  The bridge’s construction consists of horizontal stone racks placed across rows of four stone pillars set upright in the streambed.  Parts of the bridge washed away in a 1920 flood, but the structure was repaired in 1972.  By that time, however, the Jungnyang Stream had widened so it was necessary to add a concrete extension.  Historical Site No. 160, the bridge bears two names.  According to the plaque near the bridge, the name Salgoji derives from an anecdote about an arrow that King Taejo, founder of the Joseon Dynasty, shot, which hit the pillar of the hut where his son, the future King Taejong was staying ‘while the two were at odds,’ which is a terribly polite way of describing what very nearly amounts to filicide.

Continuing towards Cheonggyecheon I stopped at a Skate Park envious of the talent on display. I watched a kids small-scale football competition an a giant floral clock before passing through an immeasurably dire sculpture park. There were a multitude of sleeperz manning the benches, a couple of kids prompted snarls as they lobbed stones ay them. A number of overdressed visitors through sacks of bread in the direction of the ducks as close by old folk meditated in the shade. I reached the point were the remains of the old overhead highway have been left a reminders of less eco-friendly past. Adjacent to the giant orange steel bridge families traversed the stream carrying bikes while opposite an inquisitive visitor punched the concrete wall of an inactive fountain. I can only assume he’d feasted on spinach that morning and needed to expound some energy. At the children’s tile wall the lolly seller sped past and it was here that nature called so I left at the next available exit.

I decided to take a detour past the DDP to visit the markets near Euljiro 4-ga. Jungbu Market (Exit 7), expands over a number of blocks.  It carries the usual Korean array of market food, but its focus is on seafood. There are stalls selling fresh fish, dried fish, seaweed, dried shrimp, and six-inch fish tied with thick yellow twine into ladders of ten.

I was now in touching distance of my weekend hostel the Yellow Brick, I’d covered around 14 km plus the foray around Seoul Forest and my heals were burning a little. I strolled towards Jongmyo passing a few characters, one fanning himself in a pop-up-chair and another dressed to kill in his summer linen. Skirting Gwangjang Market and took 5 to watch the Badok players and the outdoor sermons. I snapped a line of gentlemen who seemed to be doing nowt but talking to the trees then I stopped at the “hidden” coffee  shop opposite an inebriated character soaked in the history of the area. Around 4 pm I checked in to rescue my feet with ibuprofen gel :-).

Rising early Sunday after a convivial Saturday evening of chicken, Cabernet and chat I took a wander around the dongs of Jongno before rescuing my weary limbs at the Silom Firepot Sauna, needless to say I then slept the who bus journey back to Dullju.

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