In which we visit The Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth, Devon.
The Donkey Sanctuary believes that supporters should be able to come and see how the money they donate helps them to care for their large family of donkeys, so they don't charge an entry fee to their headquarters at Slade House Farm. Instead you can turn up and amble happily around the farm's rolling acres cuddling all the donkeys - currently 483 - as you go.
We began with a visit to the older residents who live in the barn nearest the yard. Some of these donkeys are over 40, so they require extra special care and love (as all over 40s do!). We began by giving this pretty donkey a gentle scratch. When I stopped scratching he gently took my fingers in his lips and tried to make me scratch him again. Adorable.
After lunch at the Hayloft restaurant - where they make the most delicious paninis (HUGE portions, very reasonable, so take a big appetite) - we headed off on Walk C. This took us on a lovely trek around the farm and its hayfields, meeting hundreds of donkeys along the way. Our aim was to visit the mighty Poitou donkeys - a big, hairy French breed - but we spotted a huddle of other donkeys by a fence and missed the turn to their yard.
This is the world's most beautiful donkey.
I think I've bored it to sleep. One donkey can only take so much of being told how beautiful it is. We really wanted to take this one home with us. We've probably got the room here too, with 22 acres and a nice warm barn or two. The sanctuary does encourage fostering of their donkeys in pairs, but not to homes where there are already other equines. This rules us out as we already have three Welsh ponies - although we have the space to manage the donkeys separately... I'm talking myself into this... a possibility for the future, perhaps.
When the first ones get tired of being patted, other friendly donkeys come on over for their turn. These donkeys have a steady stream of visitors but they never tire of human interaction.
The biggest, shaggiest (and most stubborn) donkey I have ever seen. When we had finished Walk C, we had an ice cream and then went back to the beginning of the same walk again to find the big donkeys. We met a pair of them going for a walk - or trying to. This one looks half donkey, half woolly mammoth and I think his name was Hercule, or something equally French. He was busy reminding everyone that a donkey of his size can generally choose where he goes and when.
We found Hercule's friends and, like the others, they were delighted to have visitors. The yard was empty when we arrived but the all donkeys came out to see who had turned up to pat them.
The biggest donkeys have the longest ears.
If one were to adopt a pair of donkeys, how on earth would you decide which ones? We fell in love all over again, this time with Fudge and his friends.