The Donkey Sanctuary

Courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary
Courtesy of The Donkey Sanctuary

The less SEO-friendly title of this post should have been “How I found myself in the English countryside wearing a donkey on my head”, but that’s not really very searchable.  In reality, it was actually the opposite – the donkey was using my head as a comfortable chin rest. But it took several hours of persistence on my part to get that stage, starting with a chance meeting in a barnyard.

As a slight fan of donkeys (in actuality – a big fan), I’d been eager to visit The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon for some time. After stellar recommendations by family and friends, it became my only must-visit during the trek to the UK earlier this summer and lived up my expectations – rolling hills, fresh air, lots of good walks and a boatload of friendly donkeys.

The world’s largest donkey and mule charity organization, The Donkey Sanctuary aims to protect and promote the welfare of these animals worldwide, and is open 365 days a year. Since it began, the organization has provided 14,500 donkeys and mules with a sanctuary for life and consists of eight farms in total. Only one is open to the public – Slade House Farm – which is where we found ourselves on a warm May afternoon.

We began our day with stop in the main yard, where donkeys wander freely and meet and greet guests. There were lots of people fussing over the animals, but my eyes wandered to a shy donkey leaning into a corner on the other side of the yard. “This one,” I thought to myself, “needs a hug.”

Teddy

As it turned out, Teddy the donkey initially thought otherwise. He seemed pretty content with standing by himself, away from the crowds. I gave him a little scratch and then left him alone, appreciating that as an introvert he clearly needed some quiet time.

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We wandered the fields, visiting the various donkeys on-site including the delightfully shaggy Poitous. It was a beautifully clear day and you could see and smell the ocean from parts of the trails. As we wandered past fences donkeys would mosey on over, happy to greet us and linger for a hug and some attention (and photos – what photogenic animals! They clearly practice their posing). But in the back of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking about Teddy and was determined to give him a proper hug.

IMG_2824Back in the yard,  I made a beeline for that donkey.  He was tucked away in a barn, but ventured over to see me and was more receptive this time around. He leaned his head in and I gave him a small hug, scratching his ears gently. My Mum, sensing a good photo opportunity, grabbed my camera and I knelt down to ensure that I wasn’t blocking Teddy’s face. As she set the camera up, I suddenly became aware of a large amount of sniffing going on around my head and then suddenly a very warm sensation – and realized that my blonde locks were dangerously close to becoming an afternoon snack for Teddy. Thankfully, he instead chose to plop his chin down and pose for the photo, and that’s how I found myself with a donkey using me as a resting space.

Following our visit, I contacted The Donkey Sanctuary for more information about Teddy the charmer. Public Relations Manager Suzi Cretney shared that he came from a farm with his mum, Clara. His old owner used to take him to Palm Sunday services at their local church and was, said Cretney, “always very well behaved”. When Clara passed away, he was paired with a popular donkey named Nelly but since her passing he’d taken to the single life.

“When his legs are being brushed, he loves nothing more than resting his head on the grooms back – making it difficult for them to stand up!” said Cretney. Which, in retrospect, explained Teddy’s cheeky enjoyment of my head.

Want to bring a little something for the donkeys but aren’t sure what they’d like? Cretney advises guests to bring carrots or ginger biscuits, which you can drop off in a collection bucket at the Visitors’ Centre. If you were as surprised as I was about the biscuits, it’s because they’re helpful for the vets when dishing out some of the “less palatable” medications (they also find them quite tasty!). As tempting as it might be to feed the donkeys your treats, it’s easy to mistake your fingers for snacks – and it also ensures that all the animals get a fair share of the goodies.

Check out their website for more details and to help plan your visit. Special thanks to The Sanctuary for providing the additional information and lovely photograph!

Eating ‘Round the World – English Cream Tea

English food is more than cheese and chutney, despite what this blog might lead you to believe. There is, of course, the ultimate in English fare – the cream tea (there are also numerous other items that are well known, such as fish and chips, bangers, and many pies that contain ingredients I don’t want to talk about). But for this post alone – let’s talk about the cream tea!

A delicious combination of tea with scones, clotted cream and jam, the cream tea is readily available in quaint cafes, restaurants and even pubs across England. For a proper one, however, you must go to Devon and Cornwall. Who “owns” the cream tea remains a bit of a mystery (seriously – there have been battles over which one reigns supreme), and both varieties are certainly very different. You can’t play neutral on this one and declare “Erm, I like both” when asked which is your favourite. Only one can be declared a winner.

In the interest of journalistic fairness, I felt it was important to sample both a Devonshire and Cornish cream tea to present a balanced review. I also enlisted the assistance and taste buds of my parents to weigh in on this important matter. Therefore, I present to you the ultimate test, polarizing opinions everywhere: Devon vs. Cornwall – Which cream tea takes the cake? (scone?)

First, some vital stats:

Cornish Way

  • Traditionally served with a “Cornish split”, a slightly sweet bread roll. While these are now harder to find, the methods in which the scones are to be eaten remains the same – first a healthy spread of jam, followed by a dollop of Cornish clotted cream. Butter can also be involved here, if your arteries are thinking “Let’s really make this interesting!”

Devonshire Way

  • Split the scone in two, topping each side with a spoonful of Devonshire cream followed by jam. No butter allowed!

Taste Tests

Cornish

Cornish Tea
Before…
Cornish Tea
After. As you can see, I clearly didn’t like it.

Location: Hole Foods, Mousehole, Cornwall

The Challenger: Two baked-on-site scones (not warm, although it was nearing the end of the day)
Accessories: Your choice of blackcurrant or raspberry jam with a little side pot of Cornish cream. Oh, and a big pot of tea.
Thoughts:  Generous amounts of both spreads and the scones were golden on top, a bit crispy. Inside, they were dense and able to support a nice glob of cream and jam without falling to pieces. The Cornish cream itself was thick on top with the consistency and colour of a soft butter. Sacrilege alert – I ate mine the Devonshire way as I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of putting cream on top of jam – sorry Cornwall. My Mum, however, prefers the Cornish method and was pretty content with the results of eating it the “traditional” way. We all agreed that the scones are excellent and the tea is perfection. Eaten overlooking the harbour, so bonus ambiance points awarded.

Score: 5 out of 5 cups of tea

Devonshire

Devonshire Cream Tea

Location: The Pea Green Boat Cafe, Sidmouth, Devon

The Challenger: Two warm scones with a dusting of icing sugar
Accessories: A generous pot of Devonshire cream and a prepackaged strawberry jam. And a big pot of a tea.
Thoughts: Warm scones! Big points right there, although they had a taste more like a tea biscuit than the sweetness of a scone that I’m used to.  The cream was a whipped consistency and a bit runnier and paler in texture and colour. I’m familiar with Devonshire cream as that’s all we can get in Canada, but I have to say – the Cornish cream had a more appealing taste. I ate my scones the Cornish way this time (why not do things backwards?) and have to say – jam first may be better (Mum, if you’re reading this, you were right). The tea itself tasted far superior here – whether it was due to our front-row seats to the ocean I’m not sure, but I need to toss in some bonus ambiance points again.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 cups of tea (minus 1/4 cup for the texture of the cream and another 1/4 cup for the scones)

The Winner: Cornish! Apologies to my Devonshire-resident Nan and her love for their clotted cream.

In all seriousness though, they’re both delicious. Try them both out if you’re trekking around England! Perfect for quieting that pesky grumbly tummy between lunch and dinner.

Touring Around in Devon

For the second half of our “tour-of-the-motherland”, my parents and I have been staying with my Nan in south Devon. The weather, although slowly creeping back to the chillier side of the thermometer, has been providing ample sunshine and a nice tan for my Dad. I am, of course, still pale. I think by the end of this trip I will in fact return to Canada even whiter than before I left. And as I’m coming back in June, I will be three shades lighter than the rest of you. Wonderful.

At any rate, Devon has lots to see and do, and we’ve been trying to cram in a lot of activities. Which include:

Continue reading “Touring Around in Devon”