Meet Hamish and Dougal, two active donkeys from Cumbria who are owned by Donkey Breed Society member Allison Roberts. They took on the Walk for War Horse challenge and over April completed more than 40 miles. Allison kept a log of their walks and adventures (see below), using a mobile phone app to measure the distances they covered on their almost daily excursions.
Allison tells us : “The boys and I do activities most days, so for April it was more a case of documenting what we did. I had hoped to invite fellow donkey owners, friends, indeed anyone who’d donate to join us one day a week but it was not to be this year. Perhaps next year we can organise that. And thank you for setting us these challenges which keep us going on cold, damp inclement days. We live in Bewcastle, in remote north east Cumbria, tucked up on the border with Scotland on a former farm that has a two-mile long un-metalled approach. They can roam with me over hundreds of acres of fell, moss and becks; no two excursions are ever the same. They often venture out with me without bridles or lead ropes. The touristy Lake District this is not, but the fells have a beauty all of their own.
“Hamish at 11 is the elder though smaller. Dougal, possibly nine or ten, came from the Donkey Sanctuary. You may notice that Dougal has a shaved patch on his nose, done to allow treatment for a fungal infection of his sinuses and Hamish too has shaved patches that are testament to his having hospital treatment in December for an impacted colic. Both are well, if a trifle moth-eaten in appearance as they approach the annual moulting season.”
3.9 Km – Off to the post box we set, both boys in hand for the mile-long walk. They were allowed to roam free on the return, happily racing around as well as play-fighting and browsing. Dougal determined that we would make a detour rather than head straight home. This involved fording a stream, climbing a steep hill then racing through a recently planted wood. It faces west so is a perfect sunny browsing spot; there I left them to graze for the rest of the afternoon, before fetching them home for tea.
3.7 Km – What a glorious sunny spring day! It was perfect for an adventure on to the high fell, climbing up to the skyline allowing us uninterrupted views in all directions as we tracked along the top, then arcing round to the way home. The boys couldn’t resist taking huge bites of dark, mossy peat as we advanced, nor could they resist rolling in the fresh molehills. On excursions like this I usually set out with Hamish in-hand, because Dougal will always follow his bonded chum, while I know that Hamish doesn’t follow Dougal if I were to lead him in-hand. However, for the last half of the walk I usually let them both roam free, safe in the knowledge that they will follow me, even if they stop to graze. Our movement put up scores of skylarks, we could track three buzzards as they soared high above us, and of course we inadvertently shepherded a flock of sheep, startled by our approach.
2.7 Km – The change from yesterday’s sun and warmth can hardly be believed; it’s bitterly cold and very windy but out we went, the boys keen to find good eating, obviously where they could find a bit of shelter. I left them when they found the optimum spot and will fetch them home just before tea time.
2.7 Km – Bright sun belies the biting north wind so we made sure to find a sheltered valley that protected us from the wind, allowing us to bask in the warmth of the sun. Down a steep slope we went, over a bridge and into the wooded edges of a stream and there the boys explored for hours while I waded back and forth along both banks – some of the time the boys came down to the water’s edge to watch what I was doing.
1.7 Km – Yet another bitingly cold, drab day but we did set out to roam over the fell anyway. The boys found molehills so couldn’t resist having lots of rolls which are essential to keep their donkey coats in order then wandered off higher up. They didn’t seem to mind the wind but I did so I left them browsing; they brought themselves home in time for tea!
4.8 Km – This was a much better day in that there was warmth in the sun, if you could get out of the wind. That we endeavoured to do by finding a way down to the garlic valley, along what we call “Bishop’s Walk” through “Bishop’s Gate” – a retired bishop lives locally and the neighbour whose land lies between us and the bishop created a woodland walk along the path the bishop uses to exercise his dogs. At this time of year it abounds in primroses between the trees and swathes of wild garlic. Although we didn’t meet the said bishop, nor his wife and dogs, we enjoyed our afternoon. The boys elected to cross the stream simply by wading through it, eschewing the specially created ford for the bishop, then clambered up the bank to join me. They did however use the ford on our return journey.
09 April 4 Km
Farm track work
4.5 Km – Farm track work as far as the post box. On the way we intercepted an Amazon delivery chap accompanied by his wife and young children so the boys gave rides to them – taking photos of other people’s children isn’t easy so there is no photographic record. But happy families!
2.8 km – Up out onto the common fell where we explored rocky outcrops, all the while watching the snow showers approaching. I let the boys roam free so they cantered downhill and back into the old hay meadow to roll, play and munch.
4.8 Km – It’s a typical spring day with sun, a fairly cold breeze, even dark massing clouds in the east that threaten a deluge – so off up into the forest we went, there to take shelter if the rain started. The roads through the trees offer little in the way of browse now that the firs are maturing but that didn’t seem to deter boys from taking careful nibbles of pine, much as they do thistles. Their action added a delicious pine fragrance to the walk! Once into the trees I let the boys off the lead rein, an action we all appreciate, for we can all self determine. As we emerged from the trees there was plenty of dry grass to munch on, then we descended the steep hill onto their race track, a grass track that winds down through a young plantation of broadleaved trees; Dougal always wins, being bigger and more fleet of foot.
1.1 Km – We live in the land of the Border reivers, (Wikipedia describes them thus – “Border reivers were raiders along the Anglo-Scottish border from the late 13th century to the beginning of the 17th century. Their ranks consisted of both Scottish and English people, and they raided the entire Border country without regard to their victims’ nationality”.) and just below our house, nestling in the valley bottom is a reiver’s home, called a bastle – essentially a fortified dwelling. Now a ruin, this scheduled monument (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1017461) is right in the middle of the boys’ playground. Because there was a cool breeze I took them down into the valley and left them there for the afternoon.
5.5 Km – This was too nice a day to just let the donkeys amuse themselves on the fell; instead we set off for Martin’s pond ( Martin is a neighbour) where at this time of the year we often see geese, ducks and occasionally swans on the island nesting. Down our track, into the forest on the new road, over the stream (which these two take in their stride) to the pond we went happily. We didn’t quite complete a circumnavigation because we spotted that Martin is preparing to make a new path from the dam wall to the forest track; well we had to explore that and work out a way to cross the stream. Next time we go there we’ll find a bridge!
4.8 Km – Bishop’s Walk again but in reverse of the previous time and reached via two fields of sheep and lambs; it’s hard to say whether the ewes and lambs or the boys were more frightened when we first came into view! That was strange, for the boys are used to sheep. I had to keep a tight hold of Hamish’s head collar till we’d left the sheep behind – I wasn’t sure if his instinct was to charge the lambs or run for the gate!
2.2 Km – Only but it was fun – because the ground is so dry I dared to go off piste. Down we went between newly planted saplings and over slopes we’d never thought to investigate till now, into the damp levels by the river; this led us along deer tracks and through hazel groves, all festooned with the yellow flowers that tell of spring – colts foot, celandine and primroses. Of course there was tempting grazing to discover all along this new route! Then suddenly we were climbing back to the road to make our way home.
3.5 Km – A lovely warm sunny day, perfect for an expedition – so we dared to visit the places where our neighbour has been ditching, draining and planting boggy patches with alder saplings. There would be a chance that the drains would have helped dry out the marshy land; his digger and quad bike would have made tracks to follow through the rough land – and so it turned out. Up, round and down the planting we went, the boys with their noses to the ground assessing their footing all the time. There were running streamlets to cross as well as new ditches to deal with. Hamish will usually lead so he leapt the first stream while Dougal quartered back and forth till he worked out that to join us he had to leap too. Strangely once Dougal has dealt with his initial fear of a new stream he will lead Hamish back over it without a qualm, when Hamish is the less eager! When it came to the ditches Hamish wouldn’t jump across so clambered down into it then up the other side, so Dougal, of course, followed his lead. Then through a gate and back onto the fell.
2.7 Km – This was only a short outing along the farm tracks to graze but both Hamish and Dougal were keen to return to their paddock, possibly because it had more breeze than the woodland.
8.5 km – What a wonderful sunny day with just a light breeze to keep flies at bay. A chum with her constant companions, Midge and Mo joined us for a big expedition that lasted all morning. Right down our two mile track to the road end, round passed the church which is the furthest the boys had ever been till now, then round the castle and away up the steep hill till we could turn onto the high fell. At the road end is a weekend cake stall and that allowed us to stock up on treats to be enjoyed en route. We had one mile of tarmac to cover; oddly in this remotest of corners in Cumbria on this one mile section we encountered two farmers with quads and dogs, two walkers with Alsatians, two cyclists and a farm trailer loaded with straw and hay as well as a huge horse transporter! The boys were unperturbed by all of these encounters. Once off the tarmac out along the high ridge we went, as far as an old pike – or high point, an appropriate spot to munch our goodies while we surveyed the long views over to the Lakeland Fells, the Pennines, the hills of Dumfries and Galloway and the Solway Firth glinting in the sun. Following quad bike tracks over the hilly terrain was the easiest way to work out a route down to our land again, even if this proved to be more circuitous than striking out in a straight line. The boys took crossing drains, ditches, rocky slopes and old dry stone dykes in their stride, ears pricked proving they were aware of all the novelty of the expedition. The last obstacle to traverse was a rocky stream; it proved not to an obstacle at all! Home where a welcome drink awaited was an easy three hundred metres away!
2.9 Km – a walk in a biting east wind, with showers passing through all afternoon to gather wild garlic for the kitchen. The boys were on edge till we flushed a deer from the woods! How do they know!
Over the month Allison, Hamish and Dougal completed a grand total of 66.8 Km or 41.51 miles. We are grateful to them and all the horses, mules, donkeys and dogs who took part with their wonderful owners to support our good causes. Keep sending your photos and reports in. We will be announcing soon the two competition winners for furthest distanced travelled and best photos.