Jake the donkey

There’s not a lot to say about Jake, who lives next door, and sometimes gets out into the field behind us, except that he’s been adopted from his previous home in the hills above Wooley, and he has the normal stentorious bray associated with robust donkeys.

Except. Except that donkeys around and about Allendale have been popular for some time. Eileen Finn, at Thornley Gate, had a pair of sanctuary donkeys for some years, and I’m sure there was another beloved donkey up Shilburn Road a decade and more ago. I wondered what sort of role donkeys might have played in these Allen Valleys, over the years, apart from being beloved creatures in a few isolated homes.

I knew, of course, having read the various visitors’ information boards around the area, that pit and pack ponies were heavily used to transport lead ore from deep within the mines, and on to the smelters. Well, according to contemporary paintings of lead mining on Alston Moor, during the so-called Regency Period (also the Napoleonic Wars), as collected into a book, Images of Industry: North Pennine Lead Miners in the Regency Period, by Ian Forbes, former director at Killhope Lead Mining Museum . . . according to these water-colours and pen-and-ink drawings, donkeys were also beasts of burden of importance to the lead miners. Which makes a certain sense, of course. So these friendly/truculent/long-suffering creatures did play an important role in the development of these valleys.

I think it was only this year sometime that we saw the collection of short films called ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs‘ one of which had the prospector, played by Tom Waits, leading his donkey to his stake. Donkeys and prospectors somehow seem to be an iconic image of the gold rush days in the States, don’t they?

Besides which, as we know very well, Jake is kind of a unique individual. Although I’ve only crept up on him to take his photo, and haven’t really been introduced properly, we know perfectly well when he’s out in the open air! You really have to hear a donkey’s bray to understand just how strange and cacophonous it actually is!

I’d finished my little photo book of the ‘Friends of our Garden’ to entrance our grandsons, before I remembered Jake, so he’s not featured in that effort. But it seems fair that at least one local donkey should be represented in the diary, this year, if only as a tribute to their pack-burden history here.

And furthermore, a cuddly image of a local donkey should be an important component of the final ‘book of the blog’ when it’s printed in January of 2020. So, welcome Jake!


  1. Jake lived with us before moving to Sparty Lea.

    Brilliant that Jake is included in the diary and what a lovely piece you have written here

    Thank you Larry

  2. I love donkeys, they’re very human friendly despite the appalling way humans have treated them over the centuries . I think they prefer living with other donkeys or horses as they don’t like being alone

  3. Our favourite donkey in Allendale was George who lived in the field up Leadside Bank where the lovely new eco-house now stands. He learned to associate our voices with the probable arrival of an organic carrot and would bray enthusiastically when he heard us coming up the hill. He’d gently take a chunk of carrot, give it a quick chomp then try unconvincingly to hide it in the corner of his mouth so the next portion could be hurried along.

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