The blog / The journey

The life and times of Chico

I’ve got Chico’s passport onboard, getting a bit raggedy and regularly doused in rainwater now, and it has the address where he was born on it. It’s in Rhyl, a town with a bit of a rough reputation on the north coast of Wales, and we happened to be passing through a few days back, so we walked to the address. Some way down the road, between tanning parlours and tyre garages a young woman with baby on hip said, “It’s Chico!”

Janette, it turned out, worked for the Rhyl donkey operation for ten years, up until its dissolution last year – its patriarch Ken passed away, the council put up its rates, and all of the donkeys went to new homes and jobs. I had wondered if it was foolishly sentimental, looking out the place that the señor was born and raised, but as soon as I got talking to Janette it became clear that it was actually weirder to spend so much time with a living being and not know a little about his past. I warn you, Chico fans, it doesn’t all reflect well on the fellow.

Chico’s papa was a stud. Well, literally. Chico has many, many siblings, including Janette’s all-time favourite donkey, Chico’s sister Dixie. Papa is ginger and spotty, but nevertheless the top jack in the stable. Janette emailed me some pictures, and the genes have come through strong – Chico has papa’s nose and fuzzy brow. Chico’s mama gave him his kohl eyes – she’s a classic looker.

And what did Chico give her, his poor mama, in return? Janette says he used to kick her for milk. He was up and chasing dogs when he was 25 minutes old. He was naughty and timid at once – he’d demand attention, but then run away when he got it.

Failed seaside donkey

There have been beach donkeys in Rhyl since 1848, and their most recent owner, Kenneth Edward Jones, had 42 of them. When it was work time, Janette said, they used to open the gate and the donkeys would run through the Rhyl streets to the beach, pursued by the crew on bicycles. The new donkey on the block would be sent along to learn the ropes from the others, but when Chico’s turn came he refused to put his hooves on the sand. So they sold the wayward little beast to the neighbouring Llandudno beach donkey setup – did they confess that he was sandphobic? I didn’t ask. In any case, Llandudno’s wide western sands must have remained unsullied by the hoof of Chico because he didn’t stay long – he was sold on twice more, and thus came to be in a stable in Shropshire, waiting to make an impression on me as I came on by, one day in April.

It’s been raining a bit since Rhyl, and Chico looks very sorry for himself in the rain. Two separate people have asked recently, as we passed, whether Chico got any say in his current fate, and I say (defensively) YES! Quite apart from the fact that he was so keen to walk out of his yard when I met him, and responded flatteringly well to my novice attempt to win him over with a little grooming, and more or less said (in the Spanish/Rhyl* accent I’m sure he has), “Com on ‘en, less go fer a walk! Com on!”, he also brought the whole situation on himself. Ironically, if he’d have just behaved his silly little self and followed some older sibling onto the sand in Rhyl in the first place, he would never have begun his side of the chain of events that led to his role in this most peculiar team event. So there, Chico.

Papa Chico, what a stud

* A Rhyl accent is basically Scouse. I’ve had many walking hours in which to try to replicate a Spanish-Liverpudlian cross, with the edge of whining-little-boy and a touch of breathless enthusiasm, but have failed so far…


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  1. Fantastic,Janette remembered Chico. When did she last see him? Can you confirm it is Chico as a little boy. Pity, there isn’t a picture of his mum.Great to see you on wednesday crossing the river Dee and thereby turning south to follow the border between Lloegr and Cymru. What an ADVENTURE!

  2. Wie bloed bin ich eigentlich.Die mama steht gleich daneben.

  3. Well, it DOES reflect very well on you and your perserverance. It’s really amazing that you’ve come this far with the little devil! And it explains the unfortunate incident of being dragged along the sand.

    I look forward to your travel stories so much.

  4. Keep it coming, I so look forward to your updates.

  5. Nancy in Iowa says:

    As always, I loved this story! I follow John Gray’s blog “Going Gently” and told him about you because he said he’s about 6 miles inland from Rhyl…wish you could have met up! He has quite a menagerie of sheep, ducks, chickens, etc. and I’m sure he would have enjoyed meeting Chico.

    Chico has quite the history! Think of the new adventures he will be able to bray to his grandkids!

    Nancy in Iowa

  6. One look at his handsome face and I would have been sucked in, too. I’m thinking he would much prefer all the adventure he’s getting with you than a regular routine lived out on a beach. He doesn’t seem like the type to take well to routine. The smart ones rarely do. You can tell him I said so. *smile*

  7. Fancy meeting Janette!, she worked for Kenny and Joey with the donkeys, and loved them all. After Kennys sad death the remaining donkeys were gradually sold and we bought Chico. The fact that he reputedly didn’t like the sand didn’t matter to us as we live inland! Miles from the sea! Although I can’t remember being aware of that fact! He was always a very willing donkey , inquisitive and interested in what went on around him. He fitted in well with all our donkeys and was a very easy going character. I think he will be really enjoying all his adventures and will have plenty to tell his pals when it’s all over.! Well done Hannah and Chico, you are both doing so well and seem to be having a great time meeting so many super people on your travels. We are just sorry to have missed you I when you were in our area! You spent time with Sue Sopwith (who lives opposite my sons activity centre) ! Well, across the valley! Sues late husband learned to ride on a donkey called Noddy, Noddy was a real character and when the children progressed onto horses, Noddy was not used anymore and became a very mischievous donkey! He was retired to us where he gradually fitted in and made lots of donkey friends, although he never lost his wicked sense of humour!! Sadly he is not with us anymore but he lived a full life and gave a lot of pleasure to lots of little people during his time with us. Then you both progressed onto Llansillin where you met my cousin and stayed the night in her field, I have some great pics of you both, if I can work out how to do it I will send them to you!! Wishing you both well with your travels from all your donkey mates here at Stonehill donkeys. Take a quick look at our site and see what we are up to

  8. Hey Margaret, thanks for the message! I looked at the map but Cockshutt was just a little too far from the route to visit – shame. Is it true he went to Llandudno for a bit before you? You know we also bumped into your donkey helper Kerry in Pontfadog, and your old donkey helper Lianne too, so we feel we’ve had LOTS of roundabout contact! Hope all’s well back at the ranch! Hx

  9. I’m Janette who looked after chico, I loved all them. He was very shy but friendly I won him around but other couldn’t get near him his sisters is barmouth kelly Dixie bonny working with steve

  10. I use ti work on the donkeys every summer as a kid. Janette and the crew took me under there wi gs , taught me the roaps and in turn i was earning pocket money for my holidays! I had some amazing times with Netty , Tim , John and ken and many more. I would love to bump into them all again, they taught me so much and was always very friendly. I have many fond memories

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