The views across the valley towards Harcombe and Paccombe from the leafy track behind Oakley Barn this morning were sublime. Vivid yellow splashes mixed with rusty oranges and vermilion reds sprawled out in a leafy pattern across the hills, softly lit by the rays of a low autumn sun. Apart from the cawing of rooks and the occasional shriek of a high-flying seagull, the only sound Phil and I could hear were the soft and steady footfalls of the two donkeys who were sharing this beautiful day with us.
Rosie and Thistle are good friends who arrived at The Donkey Sanctuary a few months ago with six other donkeys and a mule called Rupert. One day Rosie and Thistle will leave the Sanctuary to go and live with a loving foster family, but until then Phil and I will continue to be their walking companions.
Thistle is a young, long-legged, dappled grey donkey who is very affectionate and is always extremely curious to know what is going on. She was one of the first of this particular group of donkeys to come and say hello to us all those months ago when they first arrived. It took much longer to gain Rosie's trust, and it was in fact, Phil's patience and kindness that eventually won her over. Rosie was always a bit reticent and guarded when she first arrived, but now she is one of the sweetest-natured of all the donkeys and always comes for cuddles and a grooming.
Being the youngest and the more inquisitive of the two donkeys, Thistle stepped out in front, her long ears sharp and scanning like radar, and her eyes bright and excited. Occasionally she would stop, head up, staring intently at something immensely captivating, that somehow remained mysteriously unseen by both Phil and I. If Rosie saw what had attracted Thistle's full attention, she wasn't letting on! Rosie is a smaller brown donkey who has the most amazing Egyptian fringe when her coat is winter-full. I could just see the beginnings of it today when the sun caught her face. Rosie followed softly behind Thistle, her face calm and her beautiful brown eyes missing nothing. When Thistle started suddenly when a flurry of leaves spun over her head, Rosie walked on, unperturbed, her stillness bringing reassurance to the younger donkey.
It was with some sense of sad reluctance that our magical walk was almost over, that we finally arrived at the end of the track that leads to Garmston Barn – the home of these two donkeys. But whatever Phil and I may have been feeling was soon pushed aside by the sudden chorus of welcoming brays for the returning wanderers, that emanated from the long-eared line-up waiting at the gate! Thistle answered enthusiastically and just as noisily, before setting off at a speedy trot with Phil, towards her friends and family. Rosie simply paused briefly, pricked her ears forward and then chose to continue at a dignified walking pace along the track and back to the barn.
Where are our little donkeys...again?
After saying our thank-yous and farewells to Rosie and Thistle, Phil and I had one more thing to do before lunch, and that was to say hello to the little donkeys. So off we went back to Shelter 2, past Muffin (whose name is actually Paul we've now discovered!) and his gang of show donkeys, and round the back of the shelter. Where was Ashley? Zena? Mr Khan? No sign of them at all! The other three little donks were basking, unconcerned in the sunshine, oblivious to Phil and I and our questions. We scanned the other field – could our little ones have been recruited into Muffin's gang? Surely not, they're too young and impressionable.
After much scouting around, Phil and I eventually discovered three pairs of familiar ears sticking out of some long grass in the small paddock at Salston Boxes in the middle of the Sanctuary! Ashley looked up, his mouth full of grass and a particularly tasty-looking thistle, as if to say, “Well you two took your time!”