The blog / The journey

The battle for power, when neither of us want it

Things are moving fast out here, in some ways. In other ways, not so much. Fortified by a little wine I finally worked out the miles-to-time ratio this evening and discovered that if I keep on at this rate we’ll be back in Aberystwyth in fifty weeks. Pretty much a year then, if we take a little time off for Christmas. Ha!

But in the ways that matter things really are moving on. There have been low points in the last two weeks, three lots of tears (all mine), one day of really bad behaviour (Chico’s), one telling-off (warranted) from Tamlin, several scary cow, horse, and mountain incidents, some sleepless nights, and several days spent eating pretty much only salted peanuts and toffee waffles. It has, at least, been extremely sunny.

Clutching a bottle of beer after Naughty Sunday

Chico used to jump out of his skin if anything brushed against a saddle-bag (as an aside, the bags are now named Don and Sancho after Señors Quixote and Panza, the tale of whom I hope to read on the way sometime. Don sits on Chico’s left, Sancho on his right. In theory naming the bags would make finding things easier, but it’s yet to actually happen, and still everything is pulled out every time anything is sought. Items that are most often looked for include horse nuts, bailer twine, the donkey-rubbing glove, some apple or carrot to cheer Chico up, the electric fence voltage tester, and peanuts or waffles to cheer me up) and I used to jump too. Now the world is a different place.

There was a particularly naughty donkey day, followed by me being a bad donkey mama and eating a takeaway curry on the beach before walking into the dunes to settle Chico into an evening corral. Then my water bottle leaked through my backpack and down my back, and I had a sleepless night of great uncertainty about whether he’d stay in a sand dune corral in that sort of uppity mood, made worse as he noisily ate driftwood in the small hours. (I learned then that we need to get somewhere and get him unpacked, settled, fed and brushed – then he knows he is off-duty and in his own resting and rolling space. He gets cross if he knows we’re nearly done for the evening, but I’m holding things up.) The next morning I made us walk a tricky route through rollercoaster dunes – narrow scrubby tracks with thick soft sand drop-offs, amazing hot fragrances and wild flowers, marram grass spiking us in the legs, and all of it undertaken at stroppy-speed-donkey pace, dragging me up and down the soft mini-mountains, barging me off the path into spiked hummocks, nosing about the place with no respect for his feckless muleteer.

I know, and I knew then too, that I had no right to expect respect. What kind of leader was I? Tamlin says he is a donkey who craves clear leadership – he doesn’t want to feel he needs to take it on himself. That thought didn’t make anything better. Man, it was tough. That next day I saw a man on a tricycle, and then a mother and daughter on a quadracycle (?!) and both hailed the donkey in friendly terms. I would happily have swapped him for either silly vehicle. I felt jealous of passing cats, just for being cats and not feeling compelled to do something idiotic like walking around a really pretty big country with a really quite strong, cross and baffled animal. I felt jealous of farmers, and in fact anyone, who knew how to do their jobs. I felt jealous of the people on the train that passed, two carriages going each way every two hours, for having other things to go to, and for being carried away from here – this hot, difficult here.

Seaside donkey getting into his stride

Apart from the emotional toughness of being tied to an irritated donkey, it’s physically sore. He twists and lunges, and with his saddle on there are corners to be hit by and shoulders to wrench. And then, some relief. We took two rest days at a wonderful haven called Chicken Shack, a cooperative housing community near Tywyn. Chico had the perfect combo – a small corral in a lush and perfect meadow, plenty to eat but not too much, little enough space to be a bit bored. And the tent was right next door, so we really began to spend time together. Something changed, and suddenly Chico began to be friendly and much more relaxed. He drank water out of his collapsible water bowl while I held it, he came over for nose-strokes or a sniff every time I passed, he lay down and rolled a lot despite me being nearby, and we both began to get the hang of me picking up his hooves. He even yawned, and his, er, little fellow began to put in frequent and alarming appearances despite his gelding status.

And then things went from strength to strength. I like him now. And with that breakthrough I am a nicer person. I am genuinely bothered about his wellbeing rather than just knowing I have to be. I began to sing little songs to him (‘The hills are alive with the sound of Chico’, ‘It takes two’, ‘Walk on, walk on’, ‘Little donkey’, etc) and enjoy his company; I even kissed him once or twice. His moods are valid now, and I am getting better at figuring out their causes. And from there, everything is smoother, and the whole shebang seems almost possible. Albeit in only just under a year…


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  1. Amen for the breakthrough! Now your adventure can begin anew and you both can start having some outrageous fun.

    p.s. Here in the states we call that appendage “his fifth leg.”

  2. Nancy in Iowa says:

    I admire you. I envy you. But even in my younger, mobile days I would not have tackled your adventure. Oh, yes, I hiked…sometimes for 2 or 3 days. But a long-term trek? Not I. So I will follow you and enjoy your adventures with Chico. I don’t even know any donkeys other than in blogs, so I will happily get to know yours. Onward, you stalwart 2!!! Know that I’m thinking of you.

  3. The key to all things donkey, the bond between you:) I’m so glad you are working things out and finding your stride.

  4. Hey Hannah, is there any way you can get a route map on to this or onto the fb page ? Maybe the facebook page can say where you are at any time?

    • Hi Sian, in this tech day and age I surely should manage it… I’ll put my mind to it. I can’t use too much phone GPS as the battery runs down so fast, but I should manage something. Thanks for the request!

  5. Hannah, it sounds as though you and Chico are beginning to understand each other; it does take a while to be able to ‘read’ your donkey. Good Luck for the rest of your trip, I’ll be following with interest!

  6. I agree, a map of your whereabouts would be great, if possible!

    Fantastic what you are doing. You have my full admiration.

    If you want a rest for the night in a proper bed, but basic accommodation (building works in place) just before you reach Trefor on the north coast of the Llyn Peninsula, we are VERY close to the coastal path, if not right on it, you would be very welcome.

    We have a field (with no ragwort!) but I don’t know how suitable it would be for Chico (Currently no gate either!)

    But the offer is there should you want it, and we are around at the time (having NO idea when you will be in this area)


    • Thanks Andi! We’re just at Black Rock Sands, moving slowly… I’ll do some route planning and give you an idea of when we might arrive! I’ve never been to the Lleyn before – foreign territory! My number is 07773 784240 – can you text me so I have yours? Field sounds good and I have an electric fence so no gate necessary!

  7. Thanks for the lovely supportive comments, everyone!

  8. colleen from nc says:

    Hannah….my horses have taught me the things that matter and donkeys can as well. It’s all about the relationship!!! Grow that and anything is possible.My biggest challenge was wanting it to happen NOW. Remember it takes time and you have all the time in the world!!!
    Blessings on your journey..

  9. Careful Hannah… next thing you know you’ll love him and therewithin lies trouble and strife (not cockney rhyming slang)! Animals are very clever the way they sneak into your hearts. Sounds as though he’s trusting you more and more, so life will hopefully be a bit easier from now on.

  10. Just back from holidays and catching up on your meandering (both geographical and reflective). Sounds like you two have finally bonded. At least now you can share the tough moments and the joyful ones too!

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