A short bus-ride east of Mokpo, WOLCHULSAN NATIONAL PARK (월출산 국립 공원) is the smallest of Korea’s national parks and one of its least visited – the lack of historic temples and its difficult access are a blessing in disguise. Set within the achingly gorgeous Jeollanese countryside, Wolchulsan’s jumble of mazy rocks rises to more than 800m above sea level, casting jagged shadows over the rice paddies.
Just five buses a day make the fifteen-minute trip to the main entrance at Cheonhwangsaji from the small town of Yeong-am; alternatively, it’s an affordable taxi ride, or an easy walk. Yeong-am itself is well connected to Mokpo and Yeosu by bus. From here a short but steep hiking trail heads up to Cheonhwangbong (809m), the park’s main peak; along the way, you’ll have to traverse the “Cloud Bridge”, a steel structure slung between two peaks – not for vertigo sufferers. Views from here, or the peak itself, are magnificent, and with an early enough start it’s possible to make the tough hike to Dogapsa (도갑사), an uninteresting temple on the other side of the park, while heeding the “no shamanism” warning signs along the way. There’s no public transport to or from the temple, but a forty-minute walk south – all downhill – will bring you to Gurim (구림), a small village outside the park, on the main road between Mokpo and Yeong-am. A couple of kilometres south of Gurim is the Yeongam Pottery Centre (daily 9am–6pm; free). Due to the properties of the local soil, this whole area was Korea’s main ceramics hub throughout the Three Kingdoms period, and local artisans enjoyed trade with similarly minded folk in China and Japan. Sadly, the centre is as dull as the clay itself, though the on-site shop is good for souvenirs; you may get a chance to throw your own pot for a small fee, and there’s a decidedly brutalist sculpture outside the main entrance which would look at home in Pyongyang (were it not for the South Korean flag). The downhill walk from Gurim to the centre is much more interesting – the town remains an important base for pottery production, and accordingly many of its houses have eschewed modern-day metals for beautiful, traditional tiled roofs. There are few concessions to modern life here.