Walk - The Donkey Sanctuary Walk
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From The Donkey Sanctuary Car Park head southwards into the sanctuary itself, and carry on in the same direction, through the Sanctuary gates and onto the track beyond. Follow this down through the combe as it turns into a path and then makes its way along the hillside above the trees.
Before you set off on your walk, you will of course want to look around The Donkey Sanctuary and support the cause by visiting the Visitors' Centre and maybe the Hayloft Restaurant too.
Slade House Farm is the central hub of the UK based charity, The Donkey Sanctuary, which works worldwide to improve conditions for donkeys and mules. With eight farms in the UK - including Slade House Farm, as well as several others nearby - it exists to provide care and protection for donkeys and mules anywhere in the world, and to prevent cruelty and suffering among them.
The Sanctuary grew from one woman's love of donkeys. In 1969, Yorkshire-born Dr Elisabeth Svendsen finally succumbed to a lifelong passion and bought her first donkey. Visiting Exeter market soon afterwards, the sight of seven donkeys crammed into a tiny pen moved her to set up The Donkey Sanctuary as a registered charity. By 1973 there were 38 animals in her refuge.
And then came the solicitor's phone call, telling her that the late Violet Philpin, who ran a donkey sanctuary near Reading, had left her 204 donkeys to Dr Svendsen! The two charities merged, and Dr Svendsen bought Slade House Farm to meet the rapidly expanding need for accommodation.
Since that time, more than 14,500 donkeys have passed through the charity's gates in the UK and Ireland. In addition, The Donkey Sanctuary works to care for donkeys and mules in various places around the world, with major programmes in India, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mexico. It also supports projects in other countries, particularly through its small grants programme. In 2010, the charity worked directly or indirectly in 29 countries, reaching over 400,000 animals, thanks to the passion, vision and drive of one remarkable lady. Sadly, Dr Svendsen passed away in May 2011, and she was at rest with her beloved donkeys for a morning in New Barn for visitors to pay their respects before a private funeral.
The Sanctuary welcomes visitors, and there are a number of short walks around Slade House Farm itself, as well as neighbouring farms which are part of the charity. Some of these are suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs in dry weather, and details are available from The Donkey Sanctuary.
- When a path crosses yours from right to left, turn left onto it and drop down the hillside, through the trees, to come out at the bottom of the valley.
- Turn right on the path here and carry on beside the stream until you come to the beach.
- Turn right on the beach and pick up the South West Coast Path moments later as it climbs the steps and heads steeply uphill, towards the yellow cliffs at Lower Dunscombe.
- Ignoring the path leading back towards The Donkey Sanctuary halfway up, carry on along the Coast Path as it continues to climb over the cliffs and then starts to curve inland above the steep-sided valley at Lincombe.
The chalk grassland at Lincombe is maintained by the National Trust as an area of wildlife conservation, and the many species that flourish here include the migratory Painted Lady butterfly and the rare orchid, marsh helleborine. The clifftops around Lincombe resemble a grassy lunar landscape, where the vegetation has filled in the hollows left in the rock by quarrying.
The rock from around here was particularly loved by stonemasons in the past. It was used in the construction of Exeter Cathedral, as well as for other famous buildings further afield, such as Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey. The main source of the stone was nearby Beer Quarry Caves, where quarrying has been happening since Roman times.
A much smaller quarry on one of the walks from The Donkey Sanctuary features the Hermitage, carved in 1824, with bed and fireplace still clearly visible inside. Another stony feature along this stretch of the Coast Path is a strikingly formal patch of flint, laid out in a tidy rectangle. This was a daymark, created high on the hillside here to guide ships around the coast. The depth of the flint used ensures that it keeps itself clear of vegetation. Flint is a very hard-wearing stone, and was used to build many houses in the district.
- When you come to the path heading inland as the Coast Path turns sharply around the head of the valley and points seawards once more, turn right and follow the track to the crossroads at the end of the field.
- Turn right again and take this second track through the caravan park, to come out on the road beside Dunscombe Manor.
- On the road turn left and walk about 150 yards, to the grassy lane on your right with its memorial trees and benches.
- Walking down along this lane, turn left when you come to the gap in the hedge on your left, and follow the sign through the next field,turning right at the end to carry on along the left-hand boundary of the next field.
- Ignore the path on your left at the end of this field, signed to Trow, instead going over the stile to take the right-hand path just beyond. Follow the path through the fields to the road.
Trow Farm is also part of The Donkey Sanctuary, and is one of the charity's largest farms, with 261 acres, which are mostly given over to growing hay and straw for the animals in the other farms.
- Cross the road and pick up the footpath almost immediately opposite, to your left, which will return you to The Donkey Sanctuary and the start of the walk.
The Hayloft Restaurant in The Donkey Sanctuary