I work for The Donkey Sanctuary, near Sidmouth. In my opinion, these are the things you have to do while visiting us.
A day with the donkeys
I consider myself pretty fortunate to have lived and worked in East Devon for over a decade. Most of this time was spent as a Ranger in the local Countryside Service, which meant I got to know the area reasonably well. Now I find myself working for a global charity, with a large visitor site on the East Devon coast, The Donkey Sanctuary near Sidmouth. So, if you’re considering a visit, let me tell you the best bits from my perspective!
Our little restaurant here does a range of lovely food, but it can get quite busy at lunchtimes; do yourself a favour and come for breakfast! The full farmers' breakfast is a good hearty cooked brekkie and, primed with this, you will be ready for a day of exploring. While you are tucking in to local bacon, eggs and sausages, order some fresh cut sandwiches to take away with you, and you are set up for the day.
The main visitor car park is located at the heart of the Sanctuary, and many people don’t venture too far from this point. However push on a little further and you will find corners to the farms which are seldom visited but worth the finding.
During the summer months, an early morning walk down to the beach at Weston Mouth is the best time of day to cope with a bit of a slog back up the hill. On your way down or back, make sure you pop into our refurbished Nature Centre which has more information about the projects we are undertaking to promote and develop the wildlife on the farms.
Weston beach is a stunning little stretch of pebbles, continuous with Branscombe and Salcombe Regis beaches to the East and West respectively, but harder to access, so not half as busy. Look out for raven playing on the morning updrafts hitting the cliffs and see if you can spot the local peregrine falcons hunting too. The best thing about this beach is the driftwood; its a beachcomber’s paradise!
Back up to the Sanctuary, the plateau on which we are perched is great for keeping cool on hot summer days. While I would encourage everyone to spend time walking around the groups of donkeys in the heart of the sanctuary, the best group in my opinion are located a little way off the beaten track at Buffalo Barn. Follow the signs to the maze, and from there keep on going following signs leading you to 'The Poitous', these impressive horse-sized donkeys are well worth the trek. Massive ears, on even bigger heads, on big lumbering bodies covered in soft downy brown dreadlocks, these gentle giants are the stars of the Sanctuary for me.
If you have time in the afternoon, cross over the main A3052 and follow the footpath down through the part of the farm known as Hurfords and into our huge wild wood! We’re monitoring rare species in here, such as dormice, and the wood is indeed a very special place for wildlife. We are managing the woods in line with a plan endorsed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, and I have already identified one or two schemes which will add to the woodland’s appeal for wildlife. All our sustainable woodland management produces volumes of wood, some of which I am converting into charcoal, so if you are planning on having a barbecue during your stay, make sure you pick up a bag of this wonderful local product before you leave. I’m biased, as I make the stuff, but I think it makes food taste even better, and its a brilliant product environmentally too!
Famously there is no entry fee and no car parking charge for visiting the Sanctuary. We’re an open charity and people are welcome to visit 365 days a year. The donkeys are here and need feeding, so we’ll be open! I really hope you enjoy your visit and get to explore some of the wild side of what we do, too.