When you have been out walking or running in Hong Kong’s rural areas and country parks, you will probably have found yourself on a path made out of boulders laid closely together without any cement or concrete. 

These are what remain of Hong Kong's network of ancient roads and pathways:

Boulder Trackways

Stone Bridges


and Stone Way-markers 


linking the major townships and villages with each other and inter-linking ferry routes.

(Thank you to Peter Keeping for the drawings above)

They are difficult to date but are probably centuries old and have survived because they were so sensibly and practically constructed.

The Hong Kong Archaeological Society Survey of 1982 to 1985 identified nine boulder trackways in particular:

 1. 1111 Ho Chung to Customs Pass Trackway (2Km) – Sai Kung

2. 0711 Pak Kong to Mui Tsz Lam Trackway (1.5Km) – Sai Kung

3. 0712 Shui Ngau Shan Trackway (1Km) – Sai Kung

4. 0307 Sun Leung Tam Trackway – Bride’s Pool, NT NE

5. 0310 Luk Keng to Tsat Muk Kiu Trackway – NT NE

6. 0311 Hok Tau Reservoir to Cheung Uk Trackway – NT NE

7. 0717 Tai Lam Chung to Pat Heung Trackway – NT NW

8. 1319 Ngong Ping to Shek Pik Trackway - Lantau

9. 1321 Yi O to Fan Lau Trackway - Lantau

The Antiquities & Monuments Office identified a further five boulder trackways:

10. Lau Shui Heung to Kat Tsai Shan Au Trackway – NT NE

11. Ho Pui Trackway – Yuen Long, NT NW

12. Hung Shing Ye Trackway - Lamma

13. Lung A Pai to Siu Om Shan Trackway – NT NW

14. Wun Yiu Trackway – Tai Po, NT C

The HKAS report goes on to say:

A number of them are shown on early British military maps of the region dating from the turn of the century. (Ordnance Survey 1904 – surveyed by Major H.S. King, Royal Engineers, 1902-03 – GSS). These maps refer to them as “Chinese roads about 4 feet wide and mostly paved”.

This evidence supports the fact that they mostly predate the British period and, a point not without its significance, perhaps, that their strategic value had been recognised by the military map makers.

The obvious fact that they follow natural lines of communication across passes and along ridges, in an otherwise mountainous and dissected terrain, makes it not unreasonable to assume that at least some of these trackways are of considerable antiquity.

It is perhaps relevant to note that the earliest settled farming communities in the Territory are traditionally dated to the late T’ang and early Song dynasties.

It is at this time that one might expect local social institutions, capable of the organisation required to construct some of the more impressive trackways, to be taking shape.

The development of wet rice agriculture and other intensive farming activities, which also traditionally date from this period, could also have provided an important stimulus for the creation of this network of tracks.

As noted above, the boulder trackways generally follow natural lines of communication through passes, along ridge-ways, or beside stream and river courses.

These routes are the preferred choice for modern paths and minor roads, even in the more remote areas of the Territory where they frequently still link outlying settlements and agricultural land.

As development proceeds and the need is felt to “upgrade” many of the traditional paths, the old paving will give way to concrete and road metal. (Not if we can help it! GSS)

A large number of the boulder trackways are to be found within the Country Parks, where their importance has been realised by the Authorities and their alignments noted; steps have also been taken to maintain them. (Unfortunately, AFCD now say they have no maps of them! GSS)

However, this has not always been successful and occasionally clumsy cement pointing, not found in the traditional paving techniques, has spoilt their appearance.

No doubt a number of the tracks have already been lost under modern secondary roads, or even hidden under access routes to off-road villages and even newly developed housing estates. This will prove to be a significant and growing threat to the continuing preservation of these historically important features.

The network of traditional paved roads provides important evidence as to how and by what routes Hong Kong’s early villages and market towns were interconnected before the development of the modern road and rail system.

They offer a unique insight into a traditional world, whose patterns of communication, following the easiest natural routes, were quite different to what they are today.

The scale of this system of paved trackways, the skill with which the tracks were constructed and the effort needed in the quarrying and transporting of material and in their maintenance, provide eloquent testimony to the socio-economic and administrative institutions of the times.

No firm evidence to date these tracks has been located, but some may conceivably be of very considerable antiquity.

Their significance is greatly enhanced because they are eminently visible and readily appreciated monuments to the Territory’s past in a landscape relatively impoverished of similar historical features.

RECOMMENDATIONS

            ADMINISTRATIVE: It is strongly recommended that a complete study should be made to record all these paved trackways in as definitive a fashion as possible. (See below – GSS)

A firm basis for this study now exists in the Survey’s records and in the maps produced by the Country Parks Division, AFD. There are good reasons, however, to be believe that these records and observations are not yet complete and that other paved tracks await recording.

In view of their importance as visible historical features, very often in open terrain, and often within Country Parks, it is recommended that some of the more important examples be provided with legal protection under the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.

            GENERAL: Liaison with staff of the Country Parks Division, AFD, is recommended to ensure that all future maintenance conforms to standard designed to retain the traditional character of the old paved sections of such major Park routes as, for example, the MacLehose Trail.

References: “Trackways” by Nigel Spry – HKAS Journal Vol 12 Pages 169-172 (1986-88)

Report of HK Archaeological Survey by B.A.V. Peacock & T.J.P Nixon (1985-86)

REQUEST:

When you are out running or walking in the countryside, please take note of any of Hong Kong’s ancient roads or boulder trackways and stone bridges you encounter. These are paths made hundreds of years ago for the movement of people and goods between towns and villages and are surely worth preserving as part of HK’s heritage. A HK wide survey is now being conducted to build a complete record of all that remain. We then hope to get them way-marked and included in The Countryside maps in a distinctive manner.

當你於郊外遠足或跑步時,請留意路上任何由大石砌成的古道。這些道路已有上百年的歷史,是昔日居民往返兩地鄉鎮及運送物資的主要通道,絕對值得保存。我們現正為這些古道進行一項全面的野外調查及紀錄,繼而將其標示於香港的郊區地圖上。請幫忙填寫這份表格,連同相關照片電郵至

Assistance has already been offered in the Sai Kung area by Outward Bound and the Friends of Sai Kung but Guy Shirra is looking for volunteers to assist him initially in locating boulder trackways in Sai Kung District, photographing them and building up a complete map of them.

He is also hoping to find volunteers in every rural district, including Hong Kong Island, who can do the same.

The eventual aim will be to submit the results of the survey to the Secretary for Development/Commissioner for Heritage* and relevant government departments in order to:

1.      have them recognised as the oldest surviving examples of Chinese “built heritage” in Hong Kong and preserved and protected as such

2.       have the best examples declared Monuments, the ultimate form of protection

3.       have them, where necessary, sensitively restored and maintained (without the use of cement or concrete)

4.      have paths, and bridges in particular, which have been unnecessarily concreted over uncovered and restored

5.      have them marked in a distinctive manner on all future editions of the Countryside maps for the benefit of walkers, runners and tourists

6        have them distinctively way-marked on the ground

Further information, Photographs and a Survey Form can be found under Project Documents

GSS 9 February 2008

* PS: Guy in fact had a meeting with the Commissioner for         Heritage on 6 April 2009 but nothing was done: 

(click to enlarge, + to enlarge further)

(C) Many thanks to Peter Keeping for the three drawings above provided in May 2013. OnOn!

  


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