High Rock, Shatin
High Rock is one of those places I originally found out about via the much missed “Things to Do Along the KCR Line booklet. The booklet went missing a few years ago, never to be found again, but in its short time in my possession it introduced me to many of the out-of-the-way sights that spurred me into setting up this blog. Despite this fact I have only just got round to visiting the place – shame on me, because it’s a lovely little building that has a long and varied history in Shatin before its current incarnation as a Christian retreat and hostel.
Okay, so I’m more of a Richard Dawkins fan than anything else these days but that doesn’t really put me off the fact that this religious group (called the “Stewards”) have a fairly nice little set up going here and of course the hostel is open to absolutely anyone – you don’t have to wear leather sandals have a dodgy beard to sleep there (sorry, religious stereotype from my childhood just reared its haloed head).
The building sits on top of a rock promontory (that would be the “High Rock” then) that at one point in its life would have given it a panoramic vantage over the whole surrounding area. Actually, the pre-war architecture reminds me very much of the old Govt clinic in Tai Po.
A quick glimpse of its history should explain the reason for its loft perch because it was originally built in 1924 as a Police Station. Having a decent vantage point I guess is Police Rule #1 (especially considering the trouble that brewed up after the official taking over of the NT in 1899) and therefore it’s no surprise to find out that the other remaining colonial-age police stations in the NT have similar vantage points (the Old Police Station in Tai Po shares a similar vantage point on Flagstaff Hill to the east of Tai Po Market and the Ping Shan Police Station – now an excellent local cultural museum – also has a great view of the surrounding area).
After a stint as a Japanese command centre during the wartime occupation, the building became a sort of disease control centre for people affected by TB – namely a refuge for those who had been exposed at home to the disease but hadn’t developed any symptoms. This was between 1950 – 1952. I have no idea why this was so short-lived – perhaps the TB epidemic that initiated it was quickly dealt with? Anyway, after that the place was taken over by a Christian missionary, Mildred Dibden, who successfully turned the building into an orphanage which ran until the mid-60′s.
At its height it housed 70 children who were either orphans or from broken homes or just plain abandoned and unwanted and to give them all a sense of family she gave them all the surname Yip (葉 – meaning ‘a leaf’). Anyway, if you know any Yips that grew up in Shatin during the 50′s and 60′s then there is a good chance they were brought up by Mrs Dibden at the orphanage.
After the closure of the orphanage (Dibden moved back to the UK with the remnants of her charges), the building then served as a school and was in operation pretty much until the growth of the surrounding town removed the need for such a small school. Since the school closed in the mid-80′s it has been operating as a hostel cum retreat.
Despite its historically prominent position, these days the building is almost lost amongst the development that now surrounds it. I went up the path to the entrance (you can get to it via the intersection of Tai Chung Kiu and Lion Rock Tunnel Roads) and was quite surprised how effective the surrounding trees are acting as a screen from the hustle and bustle. It probably helps that the potential for being completely surrounded by highrises has been preempted by the proximity of Sha Tin Tau village next door.
Anyway, as I was walking around taking snaps I noticed I was being approached by a rather stern looking lady who looked like she was in no mood to humour strangers. I’ve been in this situation many times before and it has several outcomes: either you get told (in no uncertain terms) to go roll an egg (滾蛋) or you are told not to take pictures but can look around (happens a lot at temples) or they welcome you with open arms. In this case I am happy to report that it was the latter outcome. The lady could obviously see I was interested in the building and its history and led me to a room inside where they have a rudimentary display – albeit in Chinese.
Anyway, it was really nice. She took her time to explain some of the history and showed my the displays of old photos. There was a great oblique shot of the building surrounded by nothing but hills and paddy fields. It was pretty much the only building in the valley and quite shocking to think that none of it exists anymore (see the sepia panorama in the picture below)
All in all a very nice experience and one that I feel the need to return the favour, so here is the centre’s website.
I’m not sure how many people it can house at once, something like 90 guests in a variety of rooms from 1 – 2 people sharing bunks and two people sharing a room with two single beds all the way up to larger groups of 8 – 10 in dorms with bunk beds. If you are a big group it may just be worth considering seeing as the 10 bed room costs $1200 (you do the maths) which makes it very affordable to even the most budget conscious, and of course since Ascension House at Tao Fung Shan closed down it is an attractive price for those not wanting or being able to stay at a hotel in town.