10 things I learned from Cindy the golden retriever

I used to have a golden retriever guide dog. She taught me a lot and we had many happy years together, as well as a lot of adventures! We could both be stubborn and things weren’t always easy, especially at the beginning as we were getting to know each other.

You can find out a bit more about her here.

She was with me through relationship break-ups, job changes, house moves, and all the normal stuff in between. We went to weddings, funerals, the theatre (not her favourite place because of a large stomping rhinoceros), restaurants, bars, and wide open spaces.

She loved to bark at logs that were twice her size because they were too big to carry! She travelled on trains, tubes, ferries, trams, and in the car. We were a team, and here are some of the things that I learned from her.

  1. There’s nothing more satisfying than going for a long walk with the wind in your fur! Nature is wonderful if you take the time to get out there and explore it! Listen to the birds. Stop thinking about all the things that you need to do, or that are stressing you out. Take some time to enjoy the sounds and smells, and appreciate the world around you.
  2. Every day is a new day. She greeted each new day with such enthusiasm, much more so than I can ever manage first thing in the morning. Dogs don’t think about the rubbish day they had at work yesterday, or the challenging things that might be coming up. It’s good to learn from the past and plan for the future, but dogs definitely know how to live in the moment and enjoy the small things.
  3. Following your instinct can get you into trouble – think huge muddy pond! Might seem like a good idea at the time, but instincts need to be balanced out with the facts!
  4. Don’t be afraid to show your happiness and to celebrate the good things. I just have to think about that big swishing tail and the sound she always made when she was pleased to see me or someone else. I generally have an understated kind of enthusiasm, and don’t wear my heart on my sleeve like a retriever. But if someone made you happy, let them know it!
  5. Sometimes no words are needed to show that you care. If I was sad, she would often come up and put her head on my arm or just sit close to me, as if to say “I’m here. I can’t offer you advice, but my big silky ears can listen, and I am here with you!” Don’t draw back from people just because you don’t have all the answers, or you don’t know what to say to them because you haven’t experienced what they’re going through.
  6. Following on from that, you might be able to kid everyone around you and convince them that you’re ok, but you’ll never kid a loyal four-legged friend. They know when you’re hurting or just having a rubbish day, and they want to help. I can’t do that, and neither can most people. So you have to give them a hand and let the trusted ones in behind your protective walls sometimes.
  7. Teamwork takes time. Some other breeds can be won over more quickly with a tasty snack, but a retriever’s heart has to be won over. They’ll be your most loyal friend afterwards, but they need to want to work with you and that can take a bit of time till you both understand each other. Friendships take time too, and you have to work at them and invest in them if you want them to grow.
  8. Sometimes you just need a good shake when you’re happy to be done with something, or when your fur’s full of rain! That’s a great way to get a seat on the train too! Ok, so I’m not going for the wet dog shake, but I could do to let my mask down sometimes. Also, sometimes you need your own space!
  9. Don’t take any nonsense! One of the other guide dogs was trying to get too friendly in the dog run, so she peed on his head! That’s my girl!
  10. Sometimes the shortcut is the smartest idea. She used to indicate where the taxi stand was if we were coming back from work and the weather was bad! As if to say “it’s snowing – let’s take the easy way home!” I don’t think she was lazy, because she actually enjoyed her job and wagged her tail when the guide dog harness came out. Maybe she just knew that I’d be more happy to get a ride when the weather was bad, and it certainly doesn’t do any harm to treat yourself once in a while! In other words, give yourself a break sometimes!

So, what lessons have you learned from four-legged friends?

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Why my guide dog is not public property – even if you put some money in a tin

Ok, I don’t actually have a guide dog. But I didn’t have a blog when I did have a guide dog, and this message is important!

I got the idea for the post when I read a humorous article about how some people can’t understand even the most obvious signs that other people don’t want to engage.

You’re reading a book? That must mean you want to talk about that book. You’re listening to music? Let’s start up a conversation about what you’re listening to. You’re working on your laptop? Maybe you’re just waiting to tell me all about your job! That kind of thing!

Trying to start a conversation is not a bad thing in itself, but if the person gives monosyllabic answers, turns away, or tells you that they’re busy – that’s the time to stop trying to engage them in conversation!

I used to spend a lot of time on the train because I didn’t live close to my office. I had some good train conversations too, and many train adventures as well. Some random conversations on trains even led to lasting friendships.

But sometimes, in the early morning or late evening after a long day, the last thing I wanted to do was talk to random strangers. I wanted to read my book, listen to music, listen to a podcast, or just be still and let the day wash over me. Unfortunately, there were some people who didn’t pay attention to the headphones or the “I’m done with people for today” scowl!

If you have a dog with you, it can be even worse!

A guide dog can be a great conversation starter, but having one with me often got me more attention than I really wanted.

The woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer

It came to a head one day when I was having dinner with one of my colleagues after work. She was also a friend. I don’t even remember now what we were talking about, but it was something fairly intense. One of us was having a hard time and we were trying to fix it. Partner trouble, family, annoying colleagues – I really don’t know now. But we weren’t just having a casual chat or open to other people joining our table.

Along came a woman who thought that this would be the best time to come over and wake my guide dog up.

I told her it wasn’t a good time because we were in the middle of a conversation, and instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to stop bothering us, she stayed around and let me know how she’d been raising money for people like me and I should be a bit more grateful.

I was not grateful.

I was not sorry.

She just succeeded in making me more annoyed and I did finally manage to get her to stop bothering us.

The problem

The point of charity work or donating to organisations that help others is not to then give you freedom to do whatever you feel like doing, particularly when that means completely disregarding the needs of those you claim to want to help.

There is a different system here in the UK because unlike other countries, where funding for guide dogs is part of the healthcare system, our main guide dog school is a charitable organisation. This means it runs fundraising events and accepts donations from the public.

But that doesn’t make the dogs public property. They are working with an individual to improve their quality of life, give them independence, be a fantastic friend, and enable them to navigate the world with a bit less hassle.

Sometimes, with the owner’s permission, it is ok to say hi, but it’s never ok to assume. If someone asks you to leave or stop engaging with the dog, that’s what you need to do.

I can be a bit forthright, and generally people left us alone when I asked them to. But as well as the practical problem of exciting a dog who was otherwise having a snooze, the issue was about this woman’s sense of entitlement and the assumption that her desire to stroke my dog was more important than the private conversation that I was trying to have.

I’m not sure that the woman in the story really got that point after our encounter. I think she was just indignant that I dared to challenge her.

You can’t win them all! To be honest, her leaving felt like a win that day, even if she just thought I had a bad attitude.

It’s possible that I was a bit short with her. I know I can be quite direct! I try to calmly educate and stay objective, but it’s hard when people don’t bother to think how their actions might be causing a problem, or when they won’t listen. She could see I was leaning across the table, deep in conversation. I wouldn’t go up and bother someone who looked like that.

The other thing is that all these things add up. Someone might have had to deal with the same things multiple times that day. It could be interrupting an important phone call because someone thought that would be a great time to come and make a load of noise saying hi to the dog under the desk. It could be educating parents on a train that a guide dog is not free entertainment so that the parents could have a bit of piece. It could be dealing with the person who thinks that calling a guide dog from the other side of a busy road is a smart thing to do. I’ve experienced them all!

It’s a tough one. If the cute doggy is in the centre of your fundraising strategy, people will identify with the cute doggy! But working with a guide dog means working as part of a team, and the guide dog owner, or the person at the other end of the lead, is also part of the package!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Help Miller’s Ark to stay afloat!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you will know that I love animals. There are plenty of posts in my “animals” category!

Last year I told you about our visit to Miller’s Ark, where we could get close to the animals and have some donkey hugs. That was in September. We then went back in November, and also in January this year to see the tiny lambs, one of whom was only ten minutes old when we arrived.

Each time I fed sheep and goats, got down in the hay with donkeys, patted piglets, and went to seek out my friend Dudley, the golden retriever.

The current situation has stopped all that. No more trips to the farm on open days, because the farm is closed. We went on the adult-only days, but there were other events for the whole family too, as well as private events, animal therapy events, and educational events. All of them postponed now because of the social distancing measures.

This is of course necessary, but the events are the way in which the farm made money.

Now, animals still need to b fed, vet bills still need to be paid, and there are all the other jobs around a working farm that need to be done to keep the animals warm, clean, and safe.

On a normal visit, we’d buy our entry tickets, pick up a cup of food for the sheep and goats, and usually have lunch in the barn as well. Plenty of other people were doing the same, and that is a lot of lost revenue.

I care about the animals, and I also care about having farms like this to visit once all of the restrictions are lifted. That’s why, when I read about the sponsor an animal scheme, I was happy to sign up.

You can sponsor a range of animals, from goats to cats, donkeys to golden retrievers! I’ve put the price list below – the smaller figure is for one month and the figure in brackets is for three. If you want to sponsor one or more of the animals, contact Miller’s Ark via their contact page and they will send you their bank details for the bank transfer.

  • Sponsor a goat £5 (£12)
  • Sponsor a donkey £10 (£25)
  • Sponsor a farm cat £5 (£12)
  • Sponsor a pig £5 (£12)
  • Sponsor a duck £2 (£5)
  • Sponsor a turkey £2 (£5)
  • Sponsor a sheep £5 (£12)
  • Sponsor our bull £10 (£25)
  • Sponsor Dudley the dog £5 (£12)
  • Sponsor Napoleon (Great Dane) £5 (£12)

Sponsors are also entered into a raffle to win vouchers that can be used on the farm.

I don’t promote things that I haven’t done myself. I’m supporting the farm and I would encourage other animal-lovers to help as well, especially if you’re in the Hampshire area and can visit when this is all over.

There is also a GoFundMe page if you’d prefer to support the farm in this way. Miller’s Ark is a charity and donations on the GoFundMe page are eligible for gift aid as well.

You can keep up with what’s going on at the farm by following the social media accounts (see contact page, which I’ve linked above), and there is also an email newsletter that you can sign up for.

This is a tough time for charities right now, so whether or not you’d like to help the animals at the ark, please think about any charities that you normally support and see if there is anything you can do to help them.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Meeting owls from Apollo Falconry

I mentioned in my good things in November post how I’d found some things for us to do on Groupon. One of them was the owl wander with owls from Apollo Falconry. It’s worth checking on Groupon too if you’re thinking of going because the deal that I got may still be there.

The experiences are run from a couple of locations, so don’t get confused as we did. If you book via Groupon, you need the address in Oxfordshire on the Groupon page, not the address on the falconry website, which is about a 30-minute drive away.

When we arrived at the hotel, we checked where the birds would be and walked down to where we met Konny and her birds. She brought the owls out one at a time so that we could meet and find out about them. We were the only ones there that day – there are good things about booking in the middle of the week during school term time – so we had plenty of chances to handle the owls and ask questions.

Billie the barn owl

Actually we heard Billie long before we saw her! It wasn’t the kind of sound you expect from an owl, more of a screech, but she seemed to want to be out and interacting with us.

We were given thick gloves to wear so that our hands were protected from the talons and the owls had somewhere to land. The idea is that you lift your hand up and make a fist, then the owl will come, land on it, and take the food from Konny. Some of the owls were happy to stay around for a while after taking the food, whereas others flew straight back to the perch.

Billie needed no encouragement. She flew straight to the glove and was happy to chill out there for a while. The only thing she wasn’t sure about was a dog, off the lead, whose irresponsible owner didn’t call it back. S ended up herding it in the other direction. But seriously people, take notice of what your dog is doing and if it’s potentially causing a problem for others, or could be in danger itself, call it back and use your lead!

So, Billie was the smallest, but probably the most up for interaction, and of course food. The owls don’t really care about the people who have come to see them – their main motivator is the food – but this natural instinct to fly for food can be used to train them. It’s also important that these owls get exercise by flying, because this prevents them from becoming overweight. They have learned that flying to the glove will be rewarded with food, so that’s what they do.

They don’t hunt for food themselves and see people as the food provider, but they will fly to get their food – mainly chicken, which has been killed and chopped up in advance.

Billie has been socialised from a young age, being introduced to lots of different environments and noises so that she can become accustomed to them and is less likely to be spooked at events with the public.

River the tawny owl

River is a tawny owl, the one that makes the sound most of us think of when we think of an owl calling late at night. I didn’t realise until yesterday that this call is made up of two parts – the female, followed by the male (or males). We didn’t hear the mating call from River, but she made cute little trill sounds when she was being fed!

River the Tawny Owl

River was a bit bigger than Billie, and she the tawny owl shape is more short and squat than the barn owl. They blend in well with the trees and if they feel threatened, they will make themselves thinner to hopefully blend in even more and stay undetected by predators.

River was a bit less sure of herself than Billie, partly due to another dog – this time on lead – but still something to look at and worry about. There was quite a lot going on too – a train going by, some workmen building etc. She was a little hesitant at first, but after a while she got the hang of it and was happy to fly to the glove. A bit like me before the first coffee – it takes a while to get going, but after that it’s ok!

She didn’t land as solidly as the others, but she kept trying, and in some ways that’s more admirable. It’s easy to do something when you know you can do it, but not so easy if you aren’t so sure.

Of course the owls don’t go through these thought processes – they just want the food. But I still think it takes more effort and determination to do something if you’re not quite sure you’ll make it!

Koby the European Eagle owl

He was the biggest and the star of the show! He answered back in a way that made him sound a bit like a cat saying “no”, although really that was just his way of interacting. Konny talks to her birds a lot, and they all communicate in their own way!

Koby the European Eagle Owl

Koby is much bigger than the others and I could feel the air as he flew by, occasionally being bopped on the head by a wing as he flew back to the perch! That’s what you get for having short arms! He seemed happier on the perch – his safe place – but he would come over for food, his favourite being chick’s heads, and then fly back.

He has a five and a half foot wing span, which means in flight, he is wider than I am tall! A big, impressive guy!

Final thoughts

I thought it was great that they all had such distinctive personalities. Barn owls are my favourite anyway, and Billie was full of confidence, despite her tiny size! River was quite sweet and her initial lack of confidence made us keep willing her to do well! Koby was big and loud and a bit like a teenager who didn’t feel like doing as he was told, until he was tempted off the perch!

Spending an hour with Konny and her owls was a really interesting experience and one that I’d recommend to any of you who like owls, experiences that get you out into nature to learn something, or learning who just want to learn more about animals.

This Groupon link for Opollo Owls is correct at the time of publishing.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains an affiliate link, butI only promote things that I have personally tried and enjoyed. We paid for the experience ourselves.

Alpaca encounter- meet Humphrey the alpaca

It was my birthday towards the end of September. We had the day off. And it was raining. Not just a gentle drizzle, but the kind of rain that has you soaked to the skin in minutes!

This was not good news, because we’d planned to do an outdoor activity. It was one of the things on my list! I keep a list of things to do that I think we’d both enjoy. I hunt them out online and S is in charge of navigation! It works well!

I’d heard several friends talking about lama treks and alpaca walking, and I thought it would be a great way to meet some animals, go for a walk, and learn something new.
As a child – well ok as an adult too – I enjoyed visiting farms to meet animals and find out what they look like. For those that a young blind child can’t go up and pat, like the lions and tigers at the zoo, there was always plastic animals. But I’d never felt a real or a plastic alpaca, so I didn’t really know what they looked like. Ok, there are descriptions on the internet, but the problem is that they often compare the alpacas to other animals that I have never seen, so that’s not massively helpful.

Pennybridge Alpacas

I started looking around for alpaca or lama walks nearby. I found Pennybridge alpacas in Hampshire via their own website, although they regularly do deals on Groupon, and when we booked, the Groupon price was also honoured for us.

I called to enquire about availability and was told that the alpaca encounter takes around 2 hours. I booked us in for the afternoon of my birthday and paid by Paypal, although it’s also possible to pay in cash on the day.

I mentioned my visual impairment, but it wasn’t a big deal. You get one alpaca between two people, so I knew that S would be able to help me with directions and I would lead the alpaca because it was one of my birthday activities!

On the day

When we arrived, it was raining heavily. We were offered hot drinks, so I stood there with a mug of coffee in one hand and an umbrella in the other! I didn’t borrow any wellies, but I was glad of the plastic waterproof cape that I borrowed and kept on for the rest of the visit.

We could already see and hear the alpaca in the barn. I liked the fact that the first part of the visit was a talk so we could learn more about them –including what it’s like living on an alpaca farm, how they behave, what they eat, how they are shorn, and the process for making things with the alpaca wool.

We didn’t hear a lot of noise from them, but a couple of the females decided to spit at one another over food! They all seemed to get on well together, but there were definitely a couple who were in charge!

We then went on a walk around the grounds to see some more alpaca, offer up some hay, and meet some of the other animals. We encountered the cockerel several times – he wasn’t scared of the people at all!

I found that if I held the hay out slightly over the fence on my side, the alpaca would stretch their necks over to get it and allow me to stroke them. Some were a bit less inquisitive and less sure of us, so I just gave them the hay and they moved back a bit to eat it.

As well as the alpaca who were happy to munch on our hay, there were also some friendly goats. One of the babies came out and I held her in my arms for a while. She seemed a bit unsure as she was passed from person to person – but once she could feel your arms around her, I think she would have happily gone to sleep. A very chilled out little goat!

Our walk with Humphrey

The last part of the visit was our walk with an alpaca. The alpaca were ready with halters, and they were distributed one animal to every two people. We then lined up with our new alpaca friends and went round the grounds in a procession. Some liked to be in the lead – others were happy at the back. Humphrey, who came round with us, was a laid back kind of guy and he was ok in the middle, or I think he would have been happy wherever he was in the line. He didn’t want to be left behind, but he seemed in no hurry to charge ahead either!

We were advised to have one person on each side of the alpaca, but in terms of me knowing where I was going and turning the corners, it worked out better to have S guiding me and me leading Humphrey, so that’s what we did on the second lap. He didn’t try to get his head down or charge anyone else out of the way. Neither did he randomly stop to look around!

Having alpaca who are willing to be led is good for alpaca experiences, but it also has other advantages. Animals that are used to being handled are more accepting of the times when they need to be handled, such as vet procedures, sheering (which is done once a year), or having toe nails cut.

The young alpaca are introduced to people from an early age and they seemed happy to be around us. After doing two circuits of the grounds, we had photo opportunities, then took Humphrey’s head collar off and let him go free to wander again!

If you want a memory of your day in addition to the photos, you can get a range of gifts from the shop. Some of them have pictures of the alpaca from the farm on them – we found a Humphrey mug – and there are also gifts made of alpaca wool. I picked up a warm winter hat, and I couldn’t resist a cuddly alpaca too because I wanted something in the shape of one. As we drove away, the heavens opened again!

I was really glad that we went. I love animals and enjoy meeting and learning about them. The alpaca encounter was something different because it was interactive and educational. Have you ever done anything like this? If so, let me know in the comments.
Also, if you like animal posts, check out our encounters with wolves, owls, donkeys, and birds of prey.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Note: this is not a sponsored post. S paid for the alpaca encounter as part of my birthday present.

Something adorable, somewhere new, something funny – good things in September

Another month is over – almost – and it’s time to think about the good things in September!

Something I haven’t done before

Wedding fairs! I didn’t even know that they were a thing, but they are a good way to find suppliers, check out venues, and get inspiration for the big day. I want to do a specific post about wedding fairs, but I went to three in September and had a good time chatting to local businesses, collecting information for my wedding planning spreadsheet, and eating yummy cake!

Something that made me smile

Have you ever heard of a fridgezoo? I hadn’t until I encountered one at a friend’s house! They live in the fridge and react to the light when the door is opened. Ours is a walrus, and he talks to you in Japanese any time the fridge door is open! He makes me smile and you can find him here! I think the idea is that they warn you if small children open the fridge door, but they can be fun for adults as well!

Something unexpected

It’s always nice to win something! I am part of Heidi’s Body Shop at Home group on Facebook and she did a prize draw for a lovely set of shower gels. I was very happy to hear that I won the draw! If you want to check out Heidi’s group, you can find it here.

Something to do with nature

Autumn is here! It’s my favourite season because I’m not really a fan of the hot weather. I like the way that autumn feels like new beginnings – probably because that’s how it always used to be with the thought of going back to school. I like the cooler temperatures, and the way you can feel nature preparing for the winter. I like walking through the woods and feeling all the crunchy leaves. I like making pumpkin soup and getting out the cosy fleeces and woollies for snuggly evenings on the sofa with a good book and a big mug of hot chocolate!

Something adorable

There were two contenders for this, but we’ll go with the first one – all the animals that I met at the Miller’s Ark open day! You can read about our visit here, and you can see me with baby Lavender the donkey on this post! I need more donkeys in my life!

Somewhere new

I haven’t got round to writing up this post yet as we only did it at the end of last week, but we booked an alpaca walking experience for my birthday. I’d never come up close to an alpaca before and didn’t really know what they look like, so I was happy to find somewhere where you can go and meet them, feed them, and take them for a walk! You’ll be able to find out more about Humphrey the alpaca in one of my October posts.

Something to celebrate

September is my birthday month, so I took the whole week off at the end of September to celebrate it! I joked with my mum about getting old – because I’m in my late 30s – but really, getting old is a privilege. Not everyone is able to. So I never see it as a depressing thing – rather a chance to spend time with people I care about, share some cake (this year it was Harry Potter), and make good memories.

Something new to try

One of my birthday presents was this hair treatment from Kiehls. I might not have picked it up because it says for chemically processed hair or excessive heat styling – neither of which apply to me – but if you have long hair and want to give the ends some love, this is a good thing to try. I often use hair masks and rinse-out treatments, but this is one that you just comb through and leave in. It’s not cheap, but you don’t need much, and it doesn’t leave your hair feeling greasy.

Something delicious

On my birthday S and I went to a new Lebanese restaurant and found it was a really good choice. I can highly recommend the Lebanese House in Newbury. You can order main dishes, but we chose a selection of smaller dishes to share. I found plenty that I could have despite my allergy, and the mocktails were very good too!

Something I’m grateful for

Feeling better! I’m definitely grateful for that! I will be having treatment and tests for a while yet, but my medication was changed last week and I feel so much better for it. I don’t feel tired all the time or that I just want to curl up and tell everyone to $*%!. I still need to be checked to make sure it’s ok for me to stay on the medication longer-term, but I feel much better than I have been, and I’ve got some of my energy and motivation back – which makes me happy!
So, what have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.
The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.


This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Getting close to the animals – open day at Miller’s Ark

It was the second day of our holiday and I had been planning this particular adventure for the last couple of weeks. One of our friends mentioned that there is a local farm that does adult-only open days. It does ones for the whole family too, but every 4 to 6 weeks there’s one just for the adults, which appealed to me because then you don’t have to negotiate herds of small squealing people if you want to see the animals! So into the diary it went!

I checked out the Miller’s Ark Facebook page and was excited to read that they had a donkey foal who was just over a week old. I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get close to her, but as it happened we could go in with her and her mum and stroke her soft woolly coat!

The weather wasn’t great, but most of the pens were indoors anyway. The donkeys weren’t fond of the rain though, so some of them huddled inside.

Lunch

We arrived around lunchtime, so went to get a snack first. There is a café on site with a range of burgers, hot food and drinks. You can bring your own lunch and eat it in the picnic area, or you can buy food and eat it in the tea room, where you can also read about the farm’s history.

The food was fine – the only problem for me was the very friendly cat, whom we had to send away a couple of times because I have a cat allergy! I’m so glad it doesn’t include all the other animals – it’s just cats!

Goats and sheep

The first animals we met were some goats and sheep that were in the same pen. We had picked up some food when we paid our entrance fees, and the goats in particular were very happy about this. They came right up to the fence, balancing on their back legs with their front legs on the bars so that they could see over and get closer to the food.

I put some food on my hand and held it out to them. A couple of times I had two little goat faces feeding from the same hand, as if they were kissing. So much goat cuteness!

There was a little one who kept getting pushed out of the way, but S distracted the bigger goats with some food, while I held some more down for the little one. He hadn’t learned to gobble the food down yet, and was much more sedate about taking it gently and chewing slowly till it was all gone.

All around the farm there were volunteers with the animals who told you more about them and answered your questions. There was another pen with goats that you could go in, so I met a few more close up, including Jeanie, the frisky goat who escaped out of the pen and had to be brought back. I had to hide my hair under my coat because some of the goats thought it was food. No, my hair is not hay!

Two of the smaller goats were lying side by side on a children’s slide – so cute!

When we were talking to the donkeys, there was a weird sound. It was a bit like a dog growling, but I didn’t think it was a dog. S went to check it out and found that it was a sheep, but I’ve never heard a sheep bleat like that before. He sounded a bit annoyed, but I think that was just his normal voice. Maybe he had been bleating at the visitors all morning and made himself a bit hoarse!

Donkeys

I think my absolute favourite of all the animals had to be the donkeys! We visited 3 enclosures and spent the most time in one with mums and foals. It was so relaxing just hanging out with them, grooming them, stroking them, and learning about their stories, likes, quirks, and donkey life in general.

Spice was making her way through a hay bale and she was really chilled out – so I spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. There were various brushes around in the enclosure and the donkeys were happy to let you groom them.

The two younger lads were up for mischief, trying to get each other to play and having to be told to calm down!

The donkeys were different sizes, but they were all miniature donkeys. They were friendly and inquisitive, and seemed perfectly happy to have visitors in their enclosure, although due to the fact that the little ones were there, there could only be a certain number of people in at a time. While we were waiting, I reached over and some of the donkeys came for pats.

I’d already read about Lavender, the foal who was just over a week old. I thought we would maybe get to see her from afar, but we were actually able to go in with her and her mum. She still had that woolly foal fur, and after a meeting with a 3-day-old horse many years ago, I was surprised how steady she was on her little legs. Her mum showed no signs of worry that we were in there. In fact her biggest concern seemed to be that she was missing out on the fuss herself!

Pigs

It said on the website that some of the pigs like their tummies being tickled, but the one I found was more interested in snuffling around all over the floor of his enclosure and munching. Still, he was happy to be stroked and I felt his little piggy ears! They had wiry coats, a bit like a terrier, and I hadn’t realised just how sociable they can be.

The volunteer who was in with the pigs was talking about her own pigs and how they like company. They come to sit with her when she drinks her coffee outside and liked to know what was going on!

Golden retriever

When S spotted the golden retriever, he knew stroking him would make my day! This is my favourite breed of dog, and Dudley was more than happy to get some fuss. He started by sitting there having his ears rubbed, then rolled over for tummy tickles! Goldies are the best!

Birds and small animals

I didn’t hold any of the birds or guinea pigs, but you could visit them as well. There were also chickens and ducks wandering around. It went from drizzling to raining quite heavily throughout the day, and the ducks definitely weren’t a fan of the umbrella going up!

Overall impressions and future events

I really enjoyed our visit to the farm and will be sure to go again.

The animals were well cared for. The volunteers and staff clearly cared about them and were able to answer questions about the individual animals, their life on the farm, their behaviour, what they ate, and to tell stories of their antics.

I liked the idea of an adult only open day because it was so chilled out in a way that it never is if there are lots of children around and I generally try to avoid really noisy events. If you have children though, there are open days that everyone can join in and learn about the animals. Under 2s go free.

There are also some special events coming up during the Christmas period such as carrols in the barn and living nativities. You can also book children’s parties at the venue, or the animals can travel to events such as fairs, schools, or private functions. I got the impression that this was to help educate people about the animals and give them the chance to meet them. I never got the impression that they were being used as an attraction, so anyone who is thinking about booking an event should do so for the love of animals and the relationships we can have with them – not just as a way to entertain the little ones.

I did suggest that our honeymoon suite could have a massive garden area outside for donkeys, but if we did that on our big day, the guests might not see that much of me, so S said it wasn’t one of my better ideas!

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Our visit to Island Farm donkey sanctuary

​I’ve always like donkeys. I think they’re cool and I’ve supported various donkey charities over the years, but the only time I tried to visit one, it was out of season and the sanctuary was closed to the public. One donkey came up to the fence to bray at us, but it wasn’t the same as going inside!

So one of the things I put on our list of things to do on our week off was visit a donkey sanctuary. I discovered the Island farm Donkey Sanctuary near Wallingford in Oxfordshire and we drove there on a sunny day, earlier this week.

There is no entrance fee, but donations are appreciated and you can also support the sanctuary in other ways such as by adopting a donkey, or buying gifts from the shop. The sanctuary is open every day apart from Christmas day from 11 till 4, and they sometimes hold special events. There is one planned for the 2nd Bank Holiday weekend in May (2019) so check out the site if you’d like to go!

Visitors are encouraged to interact with the donkeys, though children should be supervised to ensure they don’t scare the donkeys and any treats should be given in at reception. It’s hard to make sure that all donkeys have a balanced diet if people give them too many treats, and some of the donkeys are on special diets, which means certain foods would be harmful to them.

When we arrived, we saw a lot of donkeys out in their fields. The donkeys are in various fields with groups ranging in size. Donkeys like company!

Speaking of company – going on a weekday during term-time was great, because when we were walking around, there was hardly anyone else there apart from a couple of visitors and people who worked there. I like donkeys more than people!

There was also some information around on the walls to teach visitors about donkeys, what they like to eat, differences between horses and donkeys, and further information about individual donkeys who live at the sanctuary.

After popping into reception, we were encouraged to walk around the grounds and see the donkeys. Many of them were behind electric wire fences. I did reach across to pat one who came right up to us, but I don’t suggest that anyone else does that! Also we later found that some of the donkeys were wandering around on the path area, so I could get up close and talk to a couple of them who were grazing or standing around in the sunshine. As someone who can’t see the animals, I’m always especially happy if I can get to meet some!

They didn’t solicit attention like your average golden retriever! Well maybe they would if they know you, or if they know you’ve come to feed them! But they stood still while I stroked and talked to them, with one of them twitching his ear in my direction. I think they like to know what’s going on!

Jack was definitely up for a stroke, and stood patiently while we had a chat.

Pollyanna must have been tired, because she was chilling out on the floor, happy for me to stroke her lovely silky coat!

Many of the donkeys come to the sanctuary with problems associated with neglect, such as skin problems, parasites, and worst of all, overgrown hooves. These are very painful and if not treated, can lead to problems with walking. This of course means extra vet bills to get the problems sorted out.

The donkeys seemed content, chomping at the grass, or trying to get their friends to play!

As well as around 120 donkeys, and over 50 more living with foster families, there are other animals at the sanctuary such as a couple of Shetland ponies, some chickens, goats, and a pig!

The donkeys have plenty of space to graze and enjoy the sunshine, and as they don’t like getting wet, there are also shelters for when it rains. Some of the ones whom I stroked had been enjoying a roll around, which keeps the pesky flies at bay, and also helps to remove any loose hair.

Some of the donkeys are active in the local community, attending fairs, starring in nativity plays, or taking part in country shows. This raises the profile of the work of the sanctuary and introduces new people to the donkeys. The donkeys have also starred in some TV shows – from animal rescue programmes to children’s TV.

I wanted to support one of the donkeys and decided to adopt Loppy, a 32-year-old mare who has what are believed to be the longest ears (around 45 cm) of any female donkey in the country. She came down from Scotland in 1996 and was bought at a livestock market and offered to the donkey sanctuary where she would have a good home. Loppy is an Andalusian donkey, which is in danger of becoming extinct. Loppy is one of the larger donkeys at 14.2 hands, but she is very gentle and friendly. You can read more about Loppy here.

You could sponsor a donkey at reception, but I chose to just do it myself online because I wanted to take my time and read through the individual stories.

I could complete the adoption process using my screenreader. The only slightly tricky thing was the payment types, because they were neither radio buttons nor check boxes, so a blind user can’t be sure which payment method had been selected because there was no feedback apart from the fact that it was highlighted visually. But I chose the one I wanted and hoped for the best – and it worked!

I would recommend this as a place to visit for anyone who loves animals or who wants to learn a bit more about donkeys.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

_

Broadlands country show a day out for all the family

Recently I’ve taken to signing up for tourist information so I know what’s going on. I can’t see flyers or adverts for upcoming events, so the alerts and newsletters work well for me because they come directly by email and I can look through to see if there’s anything we would enjoy.

That’s how I found out about the Broadlands Country show that was held in the grounds of Broadlands country house near Romsey over the bank holiday weekend.

It’s a day out for all the family. We saw lots of families with children, and plenty of visitors brought their dogs along too. Parking was free, and there were various events and displays throughout the weekend.

We decided to go on the Monday. After buying our programme and getting inside, one of the first animals I met was a very friendly Labrador. He was competing in the gun dog trials and very eager to meet some new people!

I enjoyed walking through the big tent with all the animals. I believe there were some competitions going on, and some of the animals were getting ready for those. I heard lots of chickens, ducks, and some very noisy cockerels, who sounded as though they were all competing with one another to see who could be the loudest.

S described the chickens, ducks, and fluffy bunnies as we walked past, and some of the animals could be stroked. This is how I met my first ferret – I knew roughly what shape they are, but didn’t know how big they were or what they felt like. I think the one we met was a bit shy, but he was happy enough to get a gentle stroke.

I also met some cute guinea pigs!

At lunchtime we got a table near where the falconry displays were going on. We had already walked round the falconry section and spotted a harris hawk and a very sleepy owl, but from the table I was in a good position to hear the handlers talking about the birds and how they trained them.

There were various options available for lunch from burgers and hog roast to a noodle bar.

We didn’t end up trying any of the activities, but there was a climbing wall for children, as well as things like crossbow shooting! I wonder how good I would be at that?!

As well as the displays and activities, there were a lot of stalls where you could buy locally-produced goods such as food and craft items. A bit like the kind of stalls that you see at a Christmas market. We were tempted in by the fudge stall (mmm chocolate orange, banana, and coffee fudge!), and I also stopped by the woodcraft stall to get a new fruit bowl and an owl door stop! Just because I needed a couple more owls for my collection. My grandad was really good at making things out of wood, and I guess that’s why I like them.

I also found a little donkey brooch, and S got me some owl earrings. It was meant to be a surprise, but the lady on the stall started talking about them, so I guessed there was something owl-related that was being bought in secret.

Some of the stalls were more for people interested in falconry or dog training so that they could pick up new equipment or supplies, but there was plenty to see if you were just a regular visitor.

On our way back, we stopped by at the gun dog trials to get some pictures and see what they were up to and how they worked with their handlers.

The good weather definitely helped, but it was a fun day out and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s thinking of going next year.

More from Unseen Beauty

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Animal adventures – tales of dungeons and doggies!

You may think that D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons – but in this case you’d be wrong! It’s Dungeons and Doggies!

Dungeons and doggies is a kickstarter campaign that at the time of writing this has 13,825 backers! S pointed it out to me last year as we both play DnD, and the thought of DnD with cute doggies, especially Cornelius the golden retriever, was right up my street! As I don’t share golden retrievers, we ended up getting his and hers sets!

I particularly like minis because they’re tactile. The dogs are grouped into small, medium, and large breeds, and they come complete with a rulebook PDF, so you can either incorporate them into a Dungeons and Dragons 5E game or make a party entirely of sentient dog characters who go adventuring together.

The rules include dog-specific breed and class feats to help you build your own characters, or you can take one of the pre-generated ones. There’s even an adventure for you to play – “who’ll let the dogs out?”

Will you choose Cornelius the golden retriever wizard – the only dog with a hat? Or maybe you’d rather be Nightingale, the Pomeranian monk? Or maybe you’d like one that can slink into small places such as Tedric the Chihuahua rogue? Or if you think that every party needs a bard, maybe you’d like to be Montague the Cocker Spaniel! Or if druids are your thing, you can be Freya the German Shepherd? Or the biggest one of all, Cyresse the  St Bernard cleric? The choice is yours!

All the minis came pre-assembled – well-protected in their doggy box. I love the attention to detail, from Cornelius’ spell bones to Montague’s panpipes. They have tiny weapons such as Hartley the fighter’s sword and Flint the cattle dog ranger’s bow. There’s such attention to detail and as a blind player, I love how tactile they are! Of course, there’s the doggy factor too! I’d picked up a few random dire wolves and battle pugs for my mini collection, but a set of 13 lovingly-created D&D dogs made my day!

You also receive a set of post card-sized cards with prints displaying the various dogs.

The team behind Dungeons and Doggies was really good at keeping people up-to-date about their pledges. WE received regular pupdates with details of how the project was coming along, insights into the creation and production process, sneak previews of rules and game mechanics, and requests for feedback.

If you’d like your own set of doggies, check out the kickstarter page!

 

<h2> More from Unseen Beauty </h2>

If you’d like to get my catch-up emails, usually once a week, you can sign up using this form.

The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.