Clovelly is well known as a pretty harbour village, famous for its steep traffic-free cobbled streets that run down from the car park and Visitor Centre to the harbour. It is a privately owned village, so visitors have to pay to visit, but the cottages are still lived in. As you can imagine, with no vehicular access it can be inconvenient to carry shopping, furniture, wood or whatever to your home or business, so donkeys have always been a vital part of the village transportation system.
How donkeys are used in Clovelly
Historically donkeys were used to carry baskets of herring up the streets from the port to carts which transported the fish to market. They also carried in fuel, food and drink, the post and hauled out the rubbish. Nowadays they are chiefly used by the two pubs, the New Inn and the Red Lion, to carry guests' luggage up the hill. Sledges are hand-pulled to take goods downhill.
Horse and donkey lovers and all children will thoroughly enjoy a visit to the Clovelly Donkey Stables to see the local team. Currently there are 14 donkeys and a mule that work by hauling goods up the steep hill and giving donkey rides to children in the meadow.
The donkeys are all owned and cared for by Sue and Bart Kelly. Visitors are always welcome to pat and be photographed with the donkeys if you see them around the village or in the meadow.
Looking around the donkey stables at Clovelly
The donkeys are all housed in a Victorian stable building which was built 120 years ago for the horses that were used to pull coaches, long before the era of cars and buses. If you look on the wooden posts you can still see long harness hooks that were used for storing the collar and bridle for each horse. As they all had to fit exactly, this avoided getting them muddled up and being used on the wrong horse.
The stables were used as garages and storerooms for a time but are now being renovated as homes for the resident donkeys. The tin roofs and wooden doors need a great deal of maintenance so visitors usually see some of the locals working to keep the stables in good shape. Other stable hands may be mucking out the stables. The cobbled yard has a water trough on one side and the feed room and horseman's house in adjoining buildings. The cobbles are unsuitable for wheelbarrows, so helpers transport the straw in bins that are pulled over the cobbles.
If you are lucky there may be some donkeys to pat, although in summer they can usually be found enjoying time off or giving rides in the nearby paddock at the top of the village.
Take part in a one-day Donkey Keeping Course
The busy time for the donkeys is at Easter and during the summer, so from January to June (excluding Easter) Clovelly Donkey Stables offer fun one day courses when adults and children (over the age of 8 and accompanied by an adult) can take part in a Donkey Keeping Course.
Courses are limited to 5 participants and everyone gets hands-on practice at feeding, grooming and caring for donkeys. A similar Own-a Donkey Day is also offered for anyone over the age of 6, accompanied by an adult.
The day is not all glamour as it includes mucking out the stables and making a new straw bed, grooming and picking out feet, tacking up the donkeys with rugs, saddles and bridles and taking the donkeys out on a lead rein. You also learn about keeping a donkey healthy, possible foot problems, feeding and handling. It's a fun day with plenty of sound advice if you are thinking of giving a donkey a home in the future.
The Donkey Day includes refreshments and a pasty lunch. It runs from 10am to 6pm when everyone gets a certificate. The day course costs around £50 and there is a special discounted rate for families.
Have you seen the donkeys at Clovelly? Did you get to pat them or ride them? We'd love you to tell us more about the donkeys that are a historic part of Clovelly village life.