There couldn't have been anyone prouder than John Nuttall standing on Ingoldmells Beach today with his donkeys having won this year's competition for Britain's Best Beach Donkeys. The day before we were privileged to see John's donkeys resting at home - an insight into their life when they are not working.
In their stable were Macca, Rockie, Harley, Noddy, Lofty, Pedro, Alfie and Sooty all happily munching their evening hay. When we walked in, their ears all pricked up and the donkeys all came over to the stable gate to greet us. Of course both Amber and myself didn't need asking twice if we wanted to go in with them!
John also showed us his immaculate tack room with all the donkeys' saddles and bridles all neatly sitting side by side ready for the big presentation day. What's so amazing, is that this wasn't laid out to impress us, but is John's normal routine. Each day when the donkeys are working, they are saddled up and when they come home, everything is cleaned and put back on their racks.
Before leaving we had an extra treat. Out behind the stables were John's other donkeys - all 39 of them. When he called, they all came trotting over. Donkey heaven for me to see so many donkeys all together.
On prize giving day we were up early to get all the plaques, rosettes and buckets of carrots and apples ready. As we arrived at the beach, the Donkey Sanctuary banners were sitting pretty on the small stage on the beach, together with bunting blowing frantically in the strong wind.
Before long, John's tell-take lorry arrived and eight donkeys, all in their finery, stepped out and onto the beach to collect their awards. Despite it being a very blustery day, Shelagh got through her speech before handing over to the Mayoress to present the awards.
It was Sooty's turn first to collect his rosette and bucket of carrots for being Britain's best individual donkey this year and for John to receive a plaque form the Mayoress. John also collected another plaque as he had also won Britain's best group of beach donkeys. This was the cue for Macca, Rockie, Harley, Noddy, Lofty, Pedro and Alfie to receive their buckets of apples and carrots.
John's donkeys also scooped up best trimmed feet for the region.
After all the presentations, a champagne buffet was provided by Joe's Cafe owner, Lee Whittaker, sponsor of this year's competition. It was lovely to see other beach operators who had come along to congratulate John and his donkeys. Among them was Amanda Pickles, winner of last year's competition for best group with her Filey donkeys.
Sadly it was time for us to leave - Shelagh to return back to Essex, Amber to Birmingham and myself to Devon.
I was still wearing my uniform on the train home and I heard someone say "I hope you don't mind, but I notice you work at the Donkey Sanctuary". It was the ticket inspector! We had a really long chat and it turned out that he and his wife had visited the Sanctuary last month and had adopted Mary, one of the EST donkeys, after watching some of the children having therapy in the EST centre within the grounds of the Sanctuary. His dream is to retire with his wife to a cottage in France with two donkeys.
Eddy, if you are reading this, hold on to your dream - you never know when it might come true!
Blogs from our journey