It all started with Olle 5 in January 2014 and with the completion of Olle 4 on Sunday, we’ve now walked all the Jeju olle trails, the 21 that make up the circumnavigation of the island and the half dozen that are loops and alternative routes or that are on smaller islands around the coast.
Olle 4 is the longest trail at 22.9 km and Sunday was a scorching hot day to walk, with little shade from the sun. The trail does make an excursion inland but mostly follows the coast – a turquoise sea and waves crashing on the rocks (was that an effect of tropical storm Halola off to the south-east?). We celebrated with a cup of tea once we reached the end in Namwon Pogu, glad of the air conditioning and a place to sit down.
What’s next? Well, there’s a 770km trail that follows the east coast of South Korea between the border with North Korea and Busan, or a series of Olle trails in Kyushu.
You won’t get any sense of Olle 3 from these photos, although food is an important part of a successful and enjoyable walk: those all-important questions of how much to carry, where to get a hot meal along the route or a refreshing drink. Or even, having found somewhere to eat, to be confident about ordering from a menu that’s all in Korean.
We knew that we would get noodles (kuksu) for lunch yesterday but didn’t know that they would be served cold, in ice. Given that it was a hot and humid July day on Jeju, that was an inspired choice.
The route runs over 20 Km from Onpyeong-pogu to Pyoseon. These are the same start and end points as the recently-opened and shorter Olle 3B, but takes in two oreums whereas 3B keeps closely to the coast throughout its entire length. The best part – on a hot day in summer, anyway – is the few hundred metres at the end where you remove walking boots and wade across the shallow water on the beach at Pyoseon.
Anyone who thinks Jeju is too mainstream and cosmopolitan may find Chuja-do to be just what they’re looking for. This small island (rather, four inhabited islands and lots of uninhabited islands and rocks) lies half way between Jeju and the mainland. There are just a few villages dotted around the coast and the population has a high proportion of elderly folk. It’s served by one boat which makes the round trip from Jeju to the mainland and back, stopping on Chuja-do each way.
You can walk around the island in one day – that’s what Olle 18-1 does. The guide book describes the trail as hard and I can vouch for that; it’s no longer than the trails on Jeju but there are a lot of hills to climb.
We met the island’s only English teacher near the top of Mt Dondae-san yesterday evening. Come and visit my school, she said, and this morning we did. We arrived as she was teaching English to eight middle-school students. In Chuja-do’s only middle school, there are only 18 students altogether and around 10 teachers. Anyone wanting to go to high school must go to the mainland.
These photos don’t give an accurate impression of Olle 14-1. Long sections of this trail pass through the gotjawal, Jeju’s forested landscape. Due to the well drained, volcanic soils the vegetation is somewhat scrubby, not able to reach any great height. Still, it’s good to know that extensive areas remain in the face of Jeju’s ongoing development. The trail is narrow and winding and rocky in places and the dappled sunlight make it necessary to watch carefully where you put your feet.
It’s also the trail that passes closest to Global Education City, the closest point being the O’Sulloc tea plantation at around halfway. This attracts huge numbers of visitors, who probably have no idea why less-than-immaculate hikers are passing through their midst.
It’s been far too long since we walked an Olle trail so, yesterday being the first day of the half-term break, we headed off to Olle 3 on the south-east side of the island. We started to realise that something was going on as we approached the start and arrived to find hundreds of other walkers celebrating the opening of Olle 3-B. Just when we thought we had almost completed the full set of trails, we had stumbled on the opening of a new one.
Olle 3-B is just a variant of Olle 3, having the same start and end point but keeping closer to the coast in the first half. Early on, we met two other walkers and spent the rest of the day sharing the trail with them – not to mention their food and hospitality. The people of the village of Sinsan provided noodles as walkers passed through and our new friends ensured we were given some, even though we should have booked in advance. We were also offered makkoli by fellow walkers along the trail (a Korean rice-based alcoholic drink – no picnic is complete without it) and rice cake. Korean people are very hospitable.
We stopped at one point and watched a group of Haenyo, Jeju women divers, emerge from the sea with their catch. This is a tradition that can’t last indefinitely; it’s a hard life and the Haenyo are getting older. It’s good to be able to see them while they’re still active.
I didn’t take my camera with me on Friday so I’ll have to make do with these shots from my iPhone. This is Udo Island, a short ferry ride away from Jeju’s east coast. The name derives from the alleged resemblance of the island to a cow but it doesn’t look like any cow I’ve ever seen.
It’s a popular destination for people on a day out. Many visitors hire a quad bike, scooter or push bike to travel around but we walked the Olle trail. The trail does a clockwise loop, although the trail on the ground cuts out some parts of the trail as shown in the Olle Trail Guidebook. Peanuts are a local product and peanut ice cream is sold in many cafes.
From Olle trail 1 we went straight on to Olle trail 2, covering the first few kilometres as it got dark on Saturday evening. This early part passes through wetlands, a habitat for migrating birds, and significant stretches were diverted to prevent disturbance.
The rest of the trail passes through farmland before reaching the coast at its end point at Onpyeong Pogu. There was the usual scattering of grave sites on the side of the oreum that the trail crosses and in fields.
And here’s a kohlrabi to finish with. There are plenty of fields of radish, carrots and potatoes but fewer kohlrabi.
Agricultural machinery, graves and root vegetables; this is the life!
Seongsan Ilchulbong is never far away on Olle 1. The photo above is taken from the top of Meolmial Oreum, soon after the start of the trail as it makes a large northwards loop before turning back southwards again, following the coast. The peak gets larger and larger before the trail passes beneath it to finish a couple of kilometres further down the coast.
There are a couple of Haenyo restaurants along the way; the photo below shows their floats and nets hung up in a Haenyo house in Seongsan village.
We’ve just completed Olle 21, as far from Global Education City as you can get on Jeju, right in the north east corner of the island. It’s a relatively short trail, joining the end of Olle 20 to a point part way through Olle 1. Given that we started on Olle 5 a year ago, we’ve just got four to go to complete the circuit.
The village in the first two photos is the small port of Hado, a couple of kilometers after the start of the trail. It’s surrounded by a substantial and partly rebuilt wall, defence against the Japanese during the Joeson Dynasty. I assume the rebuilding is cosmetic rather than anything else.
And there are plenty of reminders that the Haenyo, women divers, are a feature of this part of the island. The trail starts at the Haenyo museum and there are several statues on the rocks along the shoreline. We even saw some real ones working in the water in the bay as we ate lunch – noodles with seafood.
This part of Jeju also seems to be carrot country. The soil appears to be sufficiently light and clear of rock for carrot to be a common crop, along with radish and potatoes. The ladies below are packing the harvested carrots into boxes; there also seems to be a real waste, with lots of misshapen and split ones being left behind in the field.
Olle 20 takes the walker past the northern-most point of Jeju, almost as far as you can get from Global Education City. The route follows the coastline closely for much of the 16.5 km. Just like all of the trails, it’s a pleasure to walk through the landscape – the coastline, farmland and oreums. But the trails also take you through villages which start to give a picture of how life is now and has been in recent decades for Jeju people.
The villages aren’t exactly pretty – don’t think Cotswold picture-postcard. There are shared elements of style, with single-story dwellings set behind stone walls and often around a concrete-covered courtyards, but there’s little apparent attempt to achieve a village-wide beauty or aesthetic. The multi-coloured corrugated roofs take some getting used to; the use of breeze blocks in an otherwise volcanic stone wall, or the slapping on of cement with no regard to how it looks, seems so unnecessary. The remains of little bonfires – ashes mixed with tin foil and other non-burnables – and liberal amounts of plastic that probably once had an agricultural purpose all undermine the effect.
But perhaps I should put those cultural values to one side (maybe, I’m not sure). The settlements are honest and organic and changing. Old buildings are left to decay, newer homes are built with new wealth and new materials. I’ll continue to enjoy them on olle 21 and beyond.