Hauling ass around Wales

Travel writer Hannah Engelkamp and Chico the donkey recently arrived back from walking the 1000-mile circumference of Wales. They�re now working on the book and film, and eating hay in a shed, respectively. We had to ask� why?

Come on then, why a donkey?
Horses are too horsey, dogs are too bitey, solitude is too lonely, my backpack is too heavy. Llamas are a bit showy, pack goats take more training, but everyone loves a donkey�

But aren�t they known to be stubborn?
Well, so they say. Donkey owners defend them by claiming they just have a strong sense of self-preservation � they�ll only do what they think is right for them. In my opinion that�s a pretty good definition of �stubborn�.

So, did you get on?
Oh yes! By the 500-mile mark we were almost friends. Except for the time he pushed me into the nettles. And when he ran away from me, round and round the field, while a whole pub of people were watching. Reluctant friends, really � like two creatures stuck together by circumstance, 24 hours a day, for ages.

Which is just what it was�
Yes. I rather underestimated the whole undertaking. I thought it would take three months and it took nearly six � May to November, 2013. But what better than camping out for a whole summer though? And autumn�

So you made it? 1000 miles, all the way around Wales?
Yes, we made it. Very slowly, through all weathers. There was driving rain that rotted my shoelaces, and the fantastic July heatwave when we were bitten by everything going � horseflies, mosquitoes, midges, ants, donkey lice, and the donkey himself, of course.

He bit you?!
Yes. They say it�s a sign of affection, but I�m not sure they�re right. Chico had been getting on well with my filmmaker feller, Rhys; striding masterfully up the hills together. I was sweating along behind, carrying more than my share because I refused to jettison the 6kg electric fence battery. When I caught them up on a mountain top with panoramic vistas, Rhys put his arm around Chico and I for a triumphant family selfie. Chico leaned in and chomped me, really hard, on the belly. Affection? I suspect he was warning me off his new bromance. I was so tired and daunted I had a little cry. That was in week one�

Any other scraps?
Well, he kicked me once too, but I don�t blame him for that�

How come?
I was getting a little overly personal. Not by choice, exactly. We were in blisteringly hot Snowdonia � very incongruous for those misty, purple mountains. The tarmac was bubbling, everything was hazy, the grass had all been scorched a brittle blonde, and the horseflies were enjoying their bumper crop of exposed adventurer flesh. One had bitten Chico somewhere really tender, and all the ordinary flies were crowding round the raw sore like creatures jostling at a watering hole. It was my duty to daub it with nappy rash cream, several times a day. On this particular occasion he was very irritated with the flies and took it out on me � the only one of so many creatures clustering around his privates that he couldn�t actually miss. Ouch.

Ow. Was it hard to find places to stay with the donkey?
Not at all; he turned out to be my meal ticket. We were like a travelling circus, and kind people invited us to stay all the time. We camped in heaps of people�s gardens and paddocks, and farmers� fields. We stayed in a terraced house in Cardiff, and Chico walked bravely through the house to the tiny back garden, across their beige carpet. We stayed in hay barns and yurts and a lighthouse. We stayed in two places with famous ghosts, but didn�t see them.

How far did you go per day?
Some days we barely managed five miles, other days fifteen. The terrain made all the difference � if we stuck to back roads we could make great progress, but other days it�d be all obstacles � stiles and kissing gates, fields of excitable bullocks, flooded fords, locked gates, dual carriageways� There were a few terrible weeks around the halfway mark when Chico decided he didn�t want to go up hills, and we were in the Black Mountains. Wretched beast. In the Clun valley we fought all day long before giving up and making camp less than a mile from where we�d left, five hours before. We were both so angry but couldn�t leave each other � I cried and drank my emergency brandy, he brayed and rolled in a very fresh cowpat.

Tell us something good about it, quick!
I do love him really, and he�s fond of me, although he wouldn�t want to let on. I�d never owned an animal before, and so it was a big deal getting to know Chico so well. I still miss hearing him munching grass outside the tent at crack of dawn every day. I also loved getting to know Wales � my home country � so well. Every time I leave Wales for ever more, I�ll be crossing the line I walked � that�s a triumph. I feel I kind of own the country now, and it owns me too. That�s the real thrill of home adventures.


Help Hannah make a film of her trip!

Hannah is writing the book and Rhys (Chico�s favourite) is making the film. They�re funding it through a Kickstarter campaign, and as well as getting the book and film you can also get photos of the trip printed on donkey poo paper, and go for walks and picnics with Chico himself. They are running out of time, so do support the audacious project here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/hannahme/seaside-donkey-1000-miles-around-wales-with-a-donk


The adventure website is here: www.seasidedonkey.co.uk. And follow them here: www.facebook.com/seasidedonkey and at www.twitter.com/hannahengelkamp