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Donkathon Done ๐Ÿ˜…! Well done Polly, Muffin & Wizard and all the wonderful helpers and donors!!!

Sunday 25 July 2021


Pedairford to St Melangell ๐ŸŒŸ

The end of the Donkathon! My last blog entry! Thank you all for reading of our experiences and thereby joining in the Donkathon. The amount of support from so many people has been very humbling and it is difficult to begin to show our appreciation.

A quiet breakfast with just Carolle and Greg after we packed up the car and took our bedclothes in a bundle for our one night stay at St Melangell. Before we left Juliet Smith arrived so I drove with her to Pedairford and we caught up a bit on each other's news.,

As soon as we arrived at Christopher and Ruth Belk's we were greeted by two very tired Elana and Tracy. Poor Tracy had opted to sleep in a tent with Elana and keep Blackie at Pedairford โ€“ her first words were โ€œNever againโ€! I don't think she had slept a wink as she was cold. Elana remembered I had a sleeping bag in the front of the trailer and I was glad to hear that they had used that.

We were soon on our way five minutes earlier than planned. Tracy didn't have a groom at that stage so Elana rode with her. We went up the hill and Peter Rushforth just managed to be at the top in time to see us out onto the main road. There followed another few miles of busy main road โ€“ the traffic seemed far worse than I remember on that road. We were overtaken by a mass of cyclists and one shouted out โ€œSwap youโ€! Jackie took over as groom for Tracy and soon Peter R was leading us down the back road where we had several miles of beautifully quiet lanes. The scenery was spectacular, rather like Switzerland with high mountains towering above us as we followed a pretty river running through meadows. Sheep were grazing in the fields either side and the scene was bucolic.

We came to a farm where Peter had organised a lunch stop. We were warmly welcomed by the family who spoke Welsh to the children. We couldn't decide where to tie up the donkeys as there was no obvious spot. We eventually tied them to a couple of troughs in the field. Wizard started eating the wood at the end of his feeding trough so I had to move him to the other side! The others moved one of the wooden picnic tables from the garden to the field and Jackie laid out the picnic. Greg had made the sandwiches this morning. There were lots of dairy free biscuits left over which were hungrily devoured. Soon it was time to be on the road again. We really did NOT want to be late at St Melangell. Carolle drove as far as the main road and we turned up the long road which runs up the valley to St Melangell. We came to a house where a lady was driving out in her car. It was Sarah from the house where we had originally planned to have our picnic โ€“ only about a mile from St Melangell. We were ahead of time, so when Sarah offered us a drink we went down her drive and she brought us out cool drinks which were very welcome. The sun was shining and it was really quite warm. Blackie disgraced himself on Sarah's drive but Sarah was quite relaxed about it. Juliet had been riding for a while as groom on Blackie's carriage but as we neared St Melangell, Tracy asked for Peter R to ride the last bit with her.

As we came along the valley the little church came into view โ€“ AND there were masses of people waiting for us all clapping. This was the end of the Donkathon and it was filled with emotion. Mary McKenzie had kindly lent us a field shelter for the boys and my Peter had spent the morning fixing up an electric fence around the hard standing. We put them in the shelter behind hurdles secured with bailer twine. We made sure they had straw, hay and water and then went down the field to the gazebo set up for the service. Christine had done a lot of work on sourcing donkeys in the old testament and we had two recorded hymns. John Hughes was there with his guitar and sang the Donkathon song and another Welsh song. It was very moving. I gave a little thank you and talked about there being a seat for God and a bit about MS. David and Kathy Searle had come all the way to be at the end. David is on my committee and he has MS also Kathy designed our logo. There were so many friends there, Ski had come up from Devon, Rachel, Hilary and many of Carolle's friends were there too. Carolle made a short but very moving speech about those who had died and she felt they were all here with us. The whole service was very moving and I was in tears a lot of the time. Everyone then went to the Guardian's garden for tea and cakes which the local WI had laid on. We went and did the donkeys โ€“ I did the hooves and Carolle fed them and Greg topped up their water. Oscar had come with Michelle and Oscar and Elana put the carriage in the trailer for us and helped get Blackie boxed for the homeward journey. Both Oscar and Elana worked really hard to make sure the donkeys were OK all through. I could not have managed without them.

We then went and had tea in Christine's garden. Most of our friends had left as they had long journeys ahead of them, but we sat and chatted to Carolle and Greg and Christine. Mary McKenzie came with Lambie who was a lamb she hand reared and thinks it is a dog! Nelson didn't think too much of it and barked at it. After everyone had left we got our things into the lovely shepherd's hut where we are to spend the night and then went and fed the boys. We went into the church where Christine had placed some prayer cards on the alter for David, Amanda and Alexei with a candle burning. It was a special and very calming time as Peter and I sat quietly in this peaceful church.

Christine had done us a lovely salad supper and over supper told us a little bit about life in this remote spot. She said they have many visitors from as far afield as America and Australia. She has a vision for the church to be a place for everyone โ€“ humans, animals โ€“ all. We were sitting in her garden watching buzzards overhead as the mountains towered overhead.

We went to put the donkeys to bed and Wizard was straining at the hurdles. We had just settled down to do my blog when all hell was let loose. Peter who lives next door to the field where the donkeys are said Wizard pushed the hurdles over and jumped over them. Muffin was going wild because Wizard was outside and he was inside. Peter rang Carolle thinking that we were sleeping with her โ€“ she told him that we were here so he came and knocked on our door.

We thought we would have to get them to sleep in the trailer, but we went up to the field with Peter, Mary McKenzie and then Christine and we all worked at making the electric fence more secure. So we have trusted that the fence will secure them from getting into the field and gorging on grass all night. By then it was getting really dark and it was difficult to find our way down the field. Excitement at St Melangell!

Because we were sleeping in the Shepherd's Hut โ€“ which was so so exciting, we only had a single bed between us. We decided to sleep 'head to toe' i.e. Peter's head was one end and mine the other โ€“ we both slept like tops!

In the morning we raced off about 4 miles to find a reception for my mobile phone to do a Radio Oxford Interview at 0735! We then raced back and up into the field, to our immense relief the boys were still behind the electric fence โ€“ we groomed them and mucked them out โ€“ and fed and watered them and then raced down the field for breakfast with Christine. Mary joined us for a cup of coffee. Christine had roses in a vase and she pointed out โ€œ This rose is nearly over โ€“ that represents your loss of sight and not being able to fly any moreโ€ - then she pointed to one that was in full bloom โ€œ That is the Donkathon which has been successfully completedโ€ and finally there were two buds โ€œ That is for the futureโ€ Peter went down to load the car and to his horror he found the electric connection from the car to the trailer was broken โ€“ he must have inadvertently driven off while it was still connected. We were worried about the long drive home without any lights on the trailer โ€“ no brake lights even.

We packed up and took photos of the Shepherd's Hut and then went up and tied up the boys so we could finish clearing the field shelter and concrete standing properly. We then walked them down the field and down the hill to the car and trailer. Once they were boxed Mary and Christine helped us pack up the rest of the donkey stuff and Mary drove her car up the field to carry everything down. Christine said a short prayer for us and particularly for the problem with the electrics โ€“ she knew how worried we were. When Peter went down to the car again he managed to put the plug in again and hey presto โ€“ the electrics were working!

Peter and Christine counted the donations from the crowd at our arrival and it came to over ยฃ352!! It has truly been an experience of a lifetime on so many fronts. We drove to Carolle's for a quick lunch and then had a 4 ยฝ hour drive home. When we arrived home the donkeys were so excited to be in their home barn that they both rolled over and over and over again! To finish and say 'farewell' here is the service which Christine compiled for the arrival of the Donkathon and the wonderful church of St Melangell in the Pennant Valley, Wales.

Welcome to St Melangell, named after the saint who lived in this valley and sheltered a terrified hare being hunted. She showed care for even a hare and so is very much a saint of our times when animal welfare and the environment is so much a concern today. The oldest Romanesqe Shrine in Northern Europe is here in this ancient church and if anyone would like a brief tour of the church if they have time before they leave, please let me know afterwards.

Today, it's not only hares but donkeys, horses and poodles that are our focus as the Donkathon arrives here. This was going to happen last year but was prevented by the pandemic and it is so good to welcome Polly, Peter, Carolle, the grooms and everyone associated with it.

Lets begin with time to catch our breath and take stock, having arrived now at Journey's end as he hear Maddy Prior singing John Bunyan's hymn 'To be a pilgrim'

Our Old Testament reading โ€“ any guesses?

'You shall not covet your neighbour's - --Ox or donkey' the tenth commandment - Exodus 20:17

Donkeys are mentioned many times in the Bible and their inclusion in the tenth commandment shows how much they were valued as work animals used for transport, agricultural purposes and as beasts of burden. To appease his brother Esau, Jacob sent him twenty female donkeys and ten donkey foals as part of a gift (Genesis 32:5) and his sons travelled with donkeys to Egypt to obtain grain during a great famine (Genesis 42:26) Moses used a donkey to help his family to cross the desert (Exodus 4:20) and Balaam's ass actually speaks to him when he beats her for refusing to move three times due to the angel in her path that he couldn't see (Numbers 22:23) Whatever you might think of a talking doney (what would Wizard and Muffin say bout their journey?!) at one point Balaam appropriately replies, โ€œNayโ€!

Wizard and Muffin with the help of a lot of time, training and ginger nuts did not say 'nay' but 'yea' throughout the Donkathon in all that was asked of them and their equine and canine friends so let's here the Donkathon song written about them from John, The Singing Farmer.

NT Reading โ€“ any guesses?

โ€œ Go to the village ahead of you and you will find a donkey tied there with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to meโ€ Jesus in Mathew 21:1-11

In the New Testament, tradition suggests that a donkey was used by Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem and on the Flight to Egypt. Nativity scenes always feature a donkey and the Good Samaritan used a donkey to carry the injured but, knowing how much time โ€“ and ginger nuts! - have gone into training for the Donkathon, I now see the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday very differently. First, let's hear GK Chesterton's poem about Palm Sunday โ€“ the Donkey.

It was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in a lowly and peaceful manner (Zechariah 9:9) and this was in contrast to leaders who usually entered on a stallion, the symbol of power and wealth. On Palm Sunday, the crowds were cheering as Jesus entered and there would have been a lot of noise as they also jostled, pulled palm branches and laid cloaks down for the donkey and her foal to walk over. That would test an experienced donkey โ€“ but her untrained foal might have found that terrifying and shied away or bucked. Having never given that a thought before, I now think that it was a good indication of Jesus' gentleness and reassuring care as well as the foal's mother being with it and the courage of the animal itself that the entry was safely negotiated!

A great deal of organisation, kindness and generosity has gone into all the arrangements for the Donkathon, not least where shelter might be found for the night and water. A week ago, I was concerned about the numbers coming because the forecast was for rain and how could we fit many people indoors while keeping a social distance? This is, after all, Wales, where three days without rain is good going! John, the singing farmer has a song about the rain in Wales and he's singing it in Welsh now.

So let us pray:

Here in this beautiful setting we give thanks for the life, example and legacy of St Melangell and her care for people and creatures around her. As this has become a place of peace, healing and hospitality and shelter to the Donkathon along the way, for the kindness of those who have provided, food, water and fields for rest and for those the generosity of all who have donated to fundraising for Multiple Sclerosis Research. We give thanks, too, for the donkeys, horses, sheep, dogs, cats and other creatures who accompany us along life's way and pray for the work of all involved in animal welfare and rescue. Lord , we give thanks for love and hope along life's way.

We pray for all who have MS, thinking particularly of Polly's nephew, Alexei and the skill of medical staff who care for them and the researchers trying to find a cure for MS. In this place of healing, we remember Amanda too and her family praying for her and all who are unwell at this time. Lord, we give thanks for love and hope along life's way.

In this place of peace, we pray for all the communities we represent amongst us and for those whose life's work is done. We particularly remember today Katie who would have been part of the Donkathon and her husband David, also for Tessa, Mike and Jean

Lord, we thank you for that love is the bridge between this world and the next, shown to us by Jesus who rode humbly on a donkey to suffering and death but also to resurrection and fresh hope. Lord, thank you for love and hope along life's way.

A moment of quiet as we make our own prayers

Hymn sung by Maddy Prior 'Love Divine'

May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face: the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.


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