One woman and her donkey in Wales

How one travel-writer's innovative journey round the Welsh coast led to a starring role for her four-legged companion

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The Independent Travel

It’s one way of making sure you really experience a country – see it through two pairs of eyes. Travel writer Hannah Engelkamp recently returned from walking the coastline of Wales, with a donkey called Chico as her companion.

The pair walked a thousand miles in over five months, leaving Hannah’s hometown of Aberystwyth at the end of May last year, and arriving back in Aberystwyth in mid November. “I’d thought I could do it in three months, but it took almost twice that. I can’t even blame that on the donkey. I didn’t want to rush seeing the country – it was all about moving slowly and being engaged with the landscape and people.”

Hannah decided to take a donkey both to carry her kit and to make the journey more interesting. She’d never owned an animal before, and says she rather underestimated what a big deal it would be. Chico is only five – young for a donkey – and pretty much untrained. “We were actually quite scared of each other. He’s incredibly strong, and I had to find the courage to do alarming things like picking up his hooves and walking him through busy towns. We were affected by each other’s moods all the time – if one of us was nervy it set the other one off.”

Hannah was inspired by the opening of the Wales Coast Path in May 2012 which, when coupled with the Offa’s Dyke Path that runs along the border with England, makes Wales the first country in the world with a continuous footpath all the way around it. But the pair quickly discovered that most of the path was a no-go thanks to stiles and kissing gates that Chico couldn’t pass. “Instead we made it up as we went along, using bridleways and forestry tracks, back roads and sometimes gorgeous drove roads and green lanes. There is such history on some of the paths – I could feel that people had been walking these routes with donkeys for 2000 years. It appealed to me that the journey, although very unusual in the 21 century, was actually the simplest, humblest way of travelling.”

“We passed through fishing villages where the women had been using donkeys to collect cockles up until only 30 years ago. People got quite emotional seeing Chico passing, all strong and healthy looking with his pack-saddle on his back. They’d stop their cars in the street and tell me about their mothers and grandmothers.” These experiences were the real purpose of the adventure for Hannah: “I think people have got used to the idea that an adventure has to start with jetlag and culture shock, but for me that exploration of cultural depth is so much more exciting.”

Hannah is now in the last few days of a crowd funding campaign to raise money to write the book and make a film.

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