Nestled in the hills of East Devon’s Area of Outstanding Natural beauty is a charity doing amazing work in aid of the health and welfare of donkeys. Not only this, the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary is a great Devon family day out that is dog-friendly and free! We visited while staying just down the road at Andrewshayes Holiday Park during the summer.
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About the Donkey Sanctuary at Sidmouth
There’s a remarkable story behind the Sanctuary and its founder, the late Dr Elisabeth Svendsen MBE. Elisabeth had fallen in love with donkeys as a child and through her great admiration for these placid beasts set up the Donkey Sanctuary in 1969. Her aim was to rescue and care for animals in distress.
40 years later the Sanctuary has taken in more than 15,500 donkeys and currently has 500 living there. It is now one of seven Donkey Sanctuary sites managed by the charity around the UK and Northern Ireland and a great day out with kids in Devon.
Things to do at the Donkey Sanctuary
Considering this attraction is free to visit (donations are very welcome) there is a lot to do to fill your day. Here’s just a few of the things we can recommend:
1. Meet the beautiful doe eyed donkeys
You can walk down the middle of two large fields containing donkey herds and meet them face to muzzle in the main yard. Each has a collar with their name so you can easily get acquainted. Every donkey, mule or hinge has its own story. Some have been rescued from neglect while others have found a new home at Sidmouth due to their previous owners’ changing circumstances. If you’d like to find out more about the donkeys there are talks by their grooms twice a day
2. Tackle the maze
The maze is open all year round and beat us during our visit. If you make it to the centre I’d love to know what’s there!
3. Take a walk around the fields
With 500 donkeys living here you could spend an hour or so visiting all of their fields. The Sanctuary is intersected by rural roads but there are wide grass paths for you to use to reach the animals living in the wonderfully named Field of Dreams and Hermitage Woods.
4. Plan your visit to coincide with an event
We visited the Donkey Sanctuary on the same day as its annual car show. This added a whole new angle to our day and one that Mr Tin Box and Tin Box Grandad enjoyed very much. There were 400 classic and modern cars to browse around, as well as live music and entertainment for kids. We paid £3 entry for each adult and nothing for the girls as they were under six (over six-year-olds were £1).
5. Visit the new cafe
The Kitchen is a brand new cafe at the Donkey Sanctuary and has amazing views of the rolling East Devon hills. It serves breakfast, hot and cold lunches, children’s meals, snacks and cakes. It’s definitely worth popping in for at least a cuppa to appreciate what an awesome part of the world these lucky donkeys call home. You’ll also be making a contribution towards the running of the charity.
6. Sit and reflect in the gardens
Over the years the Donkey Sanctuary has obviously been a special place to many people. There are numerous benches and plaques dedicated to the memory of the charity’s supporters who have shared Dr Svendsen’s love of donkeys. The gardens are beautifully kept and make a lovely spot for a sit down after visiting the animals in their fields.
Handy information for visiting Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary
- The Donkey Sanctuary is open 365 days a year
- Parking is free but donations are welcomed
- Dogs are welcome on leads
- Do not feed the donkeys as this encourages them to look for food from visitors. Leave treats with the visitor centre staff
- This is an outdoor attraction so come prepared for the Great British weather.
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