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The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth: Holiday Cottages in Devon

Welcome to the latest blog for Stonehayes Farm, where our family friendly holiday cottages in Devon remain closed to guests under government guidelines. In the meantime, we’re going to carry on with our Lockdown Lookabout, where we can tell you about some of the wonderful things to see and do near here. This time the focus is on one of our favourite places and one of the biggest family attractions in this neck of the woods – the Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth.

The Donkey Sanctuary isn’t currently open of course, but if you go to their website you can watch the donkeys via a webcam. It’s not quite the same as actually going there, but it’s still a joy to see all those happy, happy donks contentedly grazing in the fields. It’s a lovely little corner of the world, within the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site, so you can imagine. You can stroll around and see the hundreds of donkeys, mules and hinnies who live here and you can find out everything you wanted to know about donkeys and probably more in the Understanding Donkeys Zone.

The Exhibition Barn sets out the work that the Donkey Sanctuary does around the world; it is absolutely incredible how much this has grown - from one woman’s passion for donkeys, her kindness and commitment. Back in 1969 when Elisabeth Svendsen was busy running a hotel in nearby Ottery St Mary, she bought a little donkey called Naughty Face; not long after along came Naughty Face’s friend, Angelina. Then Dr Svendsen started going to the sales at Exeter market, where she was distressed at the general state of the donkeys. She couldn’t help buying the ones that were in the worst condition and taking them back for a peaceful life at Slade House Farm which she’d recently purchased.

The Donkey Sanctuary was registered as a charity in 1973; a year later things changed quite dramatically when Dr Svendsen was left 204 donkeys by the founder of an animal charity in Reading, and from there great things have grown. Dr Svendsen was awarded an MBE for her work in 1981. Sadly she passed away in 2011 but her legacy lives on; The Donkey Sanctuary is now an International Charity whose work reaches across the world, in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Greece, Africa and Egypt, and such far flung places as Nepal, Palestine and The Americas. A big part of the Sanctuary’s work has been helping children with additional needs and disabilities, and there are now five assisted therapy centres in the UK.

It’s unbelievable to read about some of the cruelness the donkeys have suffered, often when they’ve provided years of labour in industry or agriculture, sometimes just at the barbaric hands of humans. But at The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth over 20,000 donkeys have been rescued and have lived their days happily with all the care and attention they need – there’s even a donkey hospital in Devon where they have specialist veterinary support.

So put The Donkey Sanctuary, Sidmouth on your list of things to do when you come for your family holidays in Devon. It’s open 365 days a year, there’s no admission charge and you can even take your dog provided it’s well behaved, you keep it on a lead, and of course, pick up its poo. There are farm and woodland trails to explore, a hermit’s cave and a nature centre; you can amble through the Field of Dreams or venture across the fields for a stroll along the South West Coast Path. The young ‘uns will love the maze and the farm themed play area, and you can all join in the numerous activities that are run during school holidays, and the regular events throughout the year.

Make sure you pop into Dr Svendsen’s Hut near the original farmhouse; allow time for a bite to eat at The Kitchen, and treat yourselves to souvenirs from the Gift Shop where you’ll find all manner of donkey related things that you never dreamt you could find. If you go to the Visitor Centre you can find out about the Adopt a Donkey scheme, which allows donkey lovers the opportunity to get to know one of the animals better. You get an information pack with photos of your donkey when you sign up and you can go and see your adoptee during normal opening hours, or check in with them via the webcam. It’s a lovely thing to do and with prices starting from as little as £3 per month it’s a good idea for a very different kind of birthday or Christmas present.

Now, a few donkey facts for you. Did you know that donkeys can live on average for 27-30 years, but the oldest in the Sanctuary’s care reached the ripe old age of 57! And the difference between a donkey, mule and hinnie? Well, they’re all members of the horse family of course, with a mule being the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse; a hinny is the other way round – a female donkey and a male horse. Male donkeys are known as ‘jacks’, female donkeys as ‘jennies’, an ass is a male or female donkey, and a molly a female mule. There you go.