Earlier in the year, I was invited to be the judge for this year’s national Best Beach Donkey competition and having accepted, I began the first leg of my journey around the country to take in seven resorts around the UK … covering a total of 1,500 miles in just four days!
The competition itself is a culmination of regular visits throughout the UK by 5 regional welfare officers who put forward the best group and best individual donkey in their area to be judged nationally.
At 8.30 am Carol Hounslow from our Welfare Department picked me up to take me to Weymouth where I met Mark Kerr, regional welfare officer for the South and South-East of England.
Despite it being overcast, families were already on the beach and a queue of youngsters was already waiting for donkey rides.
Maggie Aldridge led her 6 donkeys onto the beach where they patiently stood while their saddles and bridles were put onto the donkeys. One of the donkeys (Daisy) is only 4 years of age and still ‘learning the ropes’. She faithfully followed the other donkeys around the track laid out along the beach.
I asked Jasmine, one of Maggie’s helpers, if any children came back for a donkey ride. She told me about a little girl who came back 5 times in one day!
Maggie’s donkeys were the first group I was judging for the Best Beach Donkey Group. Having checked each donkey individually, I watched them as they worked on the sands. They walked off together as one group and returned together as one group. No coaxing was required by the handlers themselves. These donkeys know what they are doing.
After a final check, we said our goodbyes and began our 155 mile journey from Weymouth to Dymchurch. I soon realised this was going to take some time. Looking at the road atlas, it was a total of turning 6 pages to reach our destination!
The traffic was heavy for quite a way, which wasn’t helped by all the roadworks. We pulled into a service station to pick up sandwiches and headed straight back out as the SatNav estimated our time of arrival in Dymchurch would be 4.40 pm.
Tom Turnbull was waiting for us to meet Sam who Mark had put forward for Best Individual Beach Donkey. Normally Tom and his donkeys were off the beach by 4.00 pm because it can be quite tidal at Dymchurch. Thankfully today the tide hadn’t turned and I met them down on the beach.
Sam is a lovely skewbald (white/brown) donkey who was extremely alert with his eyes and ears listening to all the sounds around him. Sometimes young children can be frightened of donkeys, but not so after Sam has given them a ride along the beach.
After checking Sam and chatting with Tom, it was time to head north to Essex. The SatNav said only 65 miles. It didn’t seem right somehow being so far down the country.
All was going well until we started seeing signs saying long delays on the M25. Having made it across the Dartford Tunnel, out came the road atlas for me to navigate Mark through the back roads to pick up the A12 to avoid the long queue of traffic between junctions 31-28 on the motorway.
It’s now 10.45 pm and I’m spending the night with my parents in Essex. Shelagh Steel, regional welfare officer for East Anglia will be picking me up at 8.00 am - our first stop will be Great Yarmouth and then on to Skegness to continue the judging for the best beach donkeys.
Mark has done a tremendous job chauffering me from one resort to the next. Thanks Mark. The baton will be picked up tomorrow by Shelagh!