It's Wednesday morning and my first job of the day is to go to the Ryton Guest House in Sidmouth to welcome eight guests here for International Donkey Week.
While waiting for the coach to collect us, I chatted with Barbara Leppert who has been coming for 20 years. She first came to see what the holiday was about in 1988 and has been coming ever since. I asked some of the guests what first attracted them to International Donkey Week and for many, it was simply a small advert they had seen in the newspaper many years ago.
On arrival at the Sanctuary, we made our way to the main yard to listen to the welcome speeches by Dr Svendsen, Founder of the Sanctuary, as well as David Cook, Chief Executive and donkey weeker for 20 years himself!
After the speeches, some of the donkey weekers headed off into the marquee where there was stalls to buy goods from as well as food and refreshments. Annie Brown, Farm Manager, started the talks inside the marquee with information about the farms. Trailer rides were available to ferry people across to Trow Farm and Hurfords to see many more donkeys.
While we waited for a trailer ride to go and see the donkeys living at Hurfords, I chatted with Paula West and Barbara Abercrombie. Paula has been coming for 9 years and not only supports the Sanctuary, but she is also a volunteer for our sister charity, the Elisabeth Svendsen Trust for Children and Donkeys. Barbara has been coming for 20 years and when I asked her what she liked about International Donkey Week she said "It draws me like a magnet. I love the gentleness of the donkeys".
The trailer ride soon arrived and the first barn we visited was Harvey's Barn, where we stopped to cuddle the donkeys and give them lots of TLC. The next stop was Rennie's Barn which is home to the fat group. All of these donkeys are on strict diets under close veterinary supervision to help them get down to healthier weights. One of the donkeys, Bluebell, is a long-term resident in this barn ... she hasn't taken too well to the dieting lark!
Walking on, we visited the donkeys living at Farhills Barn. This houses the healthier and fitter donkeys due to the steepness of the hills they have to climb in the summer - it's excellent exercise for them.
At the end of the visit to Hurfords, a group of us walked back up the track passed the Isolation Unit. This week there are about 50 donkeys in isolation, where they will stay for their six week settling in period before joining other donkey groups at one of the Sanctuary farms.
Back in the marquee, a large crowd of donkey weekers were watching a demonstration by the vets of weighing donkeys using mobile weighing equipment. Four volunteers from the audience had been asked to guess the weight of Springtime and Dixie, two of the donkeys that are part of the donkey team that go out on children's visits. They came very close and the winners were awarded with prizes.
The first day was coming to an end... Friends had been reunited, almost picking up conversations where they left off the same time last year. It hardly feels a year has passed since last year's International Donkey Week.
As I walked around, I saw so many happy faces enjoying their first day with the donkeys and meeting all their friends again. Donkey weekers are a very close family and if you are here for your first year, the family will not only make you feel part of International Donkey Week, but also extend their friendship and warmth.