DIARY – ALPACA EXPERIENCE AT BUTLERS FARM IN ESSEX
SUNDAY 29 JULY 2018
This is my walking companion, Lemon Puff (aka Puffy)
Butlers Farm Alpacas’ website:
The Alpaca Shop:
The Alpaca Experience at Butlers Farm in Essex had been purchased by my work colleagues for my birthday. The guys had also done an alpaca adoption for me; a dark brown female alpaca named Fab who I would have the opportunity to meet during my visit. Many alpaca breeders use a naming ‘theme’ for their baby alpacas (crias) each year – during Fab’s birthday year it was iced lollies, as the other two alpacas available to adopt were fawn-coloured Solero and grey Tutti Frutti.
Having been suffering from foot and pelvis issues for a number of months, I delayed making the booking until early May; the date I decided upon was Sunday 29 July, starting at 10:00. I wanted to miss the sometimes unbearable temperatures of early to mid July, and also the often fickle weather days of August. Sunday was best, as racing stable yard visits always took place on a Saturday morning and I didn’t want any outings to clash. And morning was preferred as the traffic on the roads would be lighter, thus making it easier to arrive on time.
As it turned out, late June and all bar the final days of July in 2018 had been very hot and devoid of rainfall in my local area. In fact the rainiest day of July was ... 29 July!!! Storms had arrived late on Friday 27 July, with strong winds and showers the following day. There were spots of rain on the windows as Sunday dawned, but there was only light rain when I set off; this would get decidedly heavier during the morning.
The outfit I chose to wear was a pair of burgundy-coloured M & S jeggings, a grey with blue horizontal stripes long-sleeved tunic, a navy blue fleece, a blue with white butterfly print snood, a silver grey water-proof Cotton Traders jacket, brown M & S Footglove ankle boots to drive in, with black M & S snow-boots to wear whilst walking an alpaca. My valuables were carried in a small pink rucksack, which I’d bought from Milletts around 15 years ago.
Although my jacket did have a hood, I took my brown bush-hat too. I wore a pair of blue and silver butterfly-wing earrings. Originally, I’d put on a navy blue fleece gillet but, having ventured outside just before departure, I decided it was too chilly to wear a sleeve-less fleece.
I left home at 08:30 as, according to Google Maps, it would take just under an hour to reach my destination. I travelled out via the Highfield Park area, before heading to the London Colney roundabout. Having reached the roundabout, I was dismayed to see long lines of traffic cones, and the traffic lights weren’t functioning either. Thank goodness the traffic flow was light early on a Sunday morning.
I subsequently headed down the dual carriageway of the London Colney bypass to join the M25 clockwise carriageway at junction 22; I also mulled over my return route into St Albans if I came back along the motorway and wished to avoid the London Colney roundabout altogether.
Anyway, I headed along the M25 to junction 27, passing through the Holmesdale tunnel close to Waltham Cross and a second tunnel close to Epping Forest. Not long after this second tunnel, I took the slip-road to join the northbound carriageway of the M11. I subsequently left the motorway at the junction 7, which was the first junction I encountered.
I headed up the slip-road, navigated around a large traffic island before heading east upon the A414. The first section of this road had been resurfaced recently; signs warned about the absence of road markings. The road meandered through the Essex countryside where, further along, I caught sight of a country house to the left-hand side of the road. It was named Blake Hall, and a billboard advertised the house as a wedding venue.
A roundabout and residential surroundings signified the market town of Chipping Ongar; Chipping means ‘a market/market-place’ and Ongar means ‘grass land’. I continued upon the A414 and was now seeking my next landmark – the Norton Heath Service Station to the right-hand side of the road. Shortly afterwards, to the left was the lane which led into Norton Heath Village; I remained upon the A-road. The next left-hand turn was Bassett’s Lane, which was an option, but I had decided to take the following lane to the left, which led to Radley Green.
Having driven past a number of residential properties on the left, including a black-coloured barn conversion, I continued to a row of cottages situated on my right. Opposite these was a lane, which I followed; however, I was running a little bit early as it was only 09:20, so I stopped just short of a T-junction where my chosen route joined the earlier mentioned Bassett’s Lane.
There was room for vehicles to pass by me, so I switched off the engine, windscreen wipers and headlights. It had been raining quite heavily for the latter part of my journey; my car windows also began to steam up. Whilst I was waiting, a cyclist passed by heading in the opposite direction, plus one car. I reactivated the engine at 09:42, switched on the fan in order to clear the windscreen, and continued to the T-junction at the end of the lane. I took a right, and headed down to the next junction; the gateway to Butlers Farm was here on the right.
The farm is run by Liz and Ian Giblin, and Liz was on the doorstep of the farmhouse, putting on her jacket and boots; I waved in greeting as I drove by. There was a parking bay for three cars adjacent to the gravel drive and I parked in the final spot available. Later arrivals parked on the adjacent lawn, or elsewhere on the driveway. There were a number of ducks waddling around the area; there was a small pond just inside the gate.
Having changed into my snow-boots and put on my Cotton Traders waterproof jacket, I headed across to a group of people who had congregated in a car-shelter area, adjacent to the shop, and Liz ticked my name off her attendees list. She explained that Fab had been sold since I booked my walk, but there were still plenty of alpacas in need of a human walking companion. Never mind, it does happen; Abbots View Farm had recently sold three of their sponsored alpacas, as a group.
We headed into the farm shop, where Liz gave a brief talk about the alpacas whilst we waited for ‘stragglers’ to arrive. There were all manner of items to purchase, for every size of purse. My main interest was finding one or maybe two depending on the colour available, alpaca scarf pins – these are made in Peru from bull’s horn and measure 3.5” x 3.5”. I found them and would make a purchase following the walk.
We headed outside once everyone had arrived, but not before I’d spent a penny … I loved their alpaca-themed loo seat … I want one! We had been asked to step into a boot-sized container of disinfectant before venturing into the paddocks; so I complied with this request at this point.
The first paddock we entered was full of male alpacas; ranging in age from one to five. Our host was hoping that one or two would become stud males in due course. It was feeding time and the boys made their way across to the trough. I particularly liked a grey one named Earl Grey; he was actually very dark grey and white, having four white stockings.
Also in the paddock was Tatty, a three-legged alpaca. He’d lost his left-hind following an encounter with a Rottweiler, before he’d come to live at Butlers Farm. He could stand on three legs, but had difficulty in walking, preferring to use his stump and hock. However, Liz said he was still the leader of this particular group despite his disability, and his health continued to be good.
Next, we entered the paddock where the baby alpacas (known as crias) lived with their mums; one was only a few days old. There was a lovely black one, with white patches (officially a grey?), who was very inquisitive and came across to see us. Liz explained that alpacas can breed at any time of the year and the gestation period can vary wildly; the guideline being 11 months. These camelids can even delay the birth until the next day, having gone into labour, if they don’t feel the time is right. Alpacas are usually born in the morning, which is the most suitable time with regard to avoiding natural predators. Many of the Butlers Farm females were currently taking time out from motherhood.
Having spent time watching the mums with their crias, we headed down to a shed where the ‘walking companion’ females were being housed. Butlers Farm used their females as walking companions, whereas Abbots View Farm used their males. Solero and Tutti Fruiti were caught and the head-collars handed over to their respective adopters. My alpaca was a fawn-coloured one named Lemon Puff (Puffy for short). Those alpacas without a companion were then allowed to go out into an adjacent paddock.
It was now time for us to begin our walk. Some alpacas are leaders, others are followers; so, having led our respective alpacas out of the shelter, we sorted ourselves into an order which best suited their individual natures. I was fourth in line as we headed back up the field to where the mothers and babies were settled. In the far corner of the field there was a narrow gateway which led onto a footpath.
We headed out through the gate, turning left to continue along a narrow track beside a further paddock; there were more alpacas in there. Rather than walk beside our alpaca, we each endeavoured to walk slightly ahead of them, to avoid one or both slipping into the ditch to our right! Further on we turned a corner, still following the line of the paddock fence. At the far end was a wooden bridge over a ditch. However, we were able to step into said ditch and out the other side again, there having been little rain until today; besides, the bridge surface was a little slippery.
We exited into a wheat field and waited for everyone in the group to catch up. The alpacas were allowed to graze on their surroundings if they wished; Liz said they knew what they should eat and what they shouldn’t eat! We then headed down the side of the field, to our left. At the bottom we stopped for a while, in order to take photographs with our alpaca companions. Liz had also brought a bag of food with her, so she gave each of us two handfuls thereof so that we could feed our own alpaca. She had earlier told me that it didn’t take long to halter train the animals, although they all varied in this respect.
We didn’t venture any further, instead we turned around and headed back up the field once more; our return journey had commenced. There was a wooden jump in our path, which we’d gone around on the way down; this time we were given the option of asking our alpaca to jump it. A number went around the jump, a number jumped it and a couple which were asked to jump it, refused … including Lemon Puff!
Anyway, having returned to the gap in the hedge where the wooden bridge was sited, we headed into the ditch and out again, before following the footpath beside the paddock rails, all the way back to the narrow gate into the mums and babies paddock. Having entered this area we returned down the hill to the shelter once more; a number of the alpacas stopped off for a comfort break part way down the field, including Puffy!
We led our alpacas into the shelter and removed their head-collars. Once all of the alpacas were loose, Liz let them join the females in the adjacent paddock; the one for non-pregnant alpacas. She also pointed out a dark brown alpaca which was penned up in a ‘hospital’ area. She’d recently undergone a caesarean operation, but had lost her cria. Liz said she was making good progress and eating well despite this setback.
Walk completed, we headed back through the boys’ paddock and out into the driveway area. The rain had continued for much of the visit, to a greater or lesser extent, but it had not spoiled the enjoyment; to moan about the rain after such a long dry spell of hot weather would have seemed ungrateful!
The majority of the group headed back into the shop, taking time out to either sanitise our hands or wash them in the basin within the loo. I did the former, as I got fed up with waiting in a queue!
Liz gave a brief talk about the shop products, which can also be purchased online. She said they will knit items to order these days, rather than knit them hoping for a buyer. Many of the products are produced from alpacas whose life has naturally ended, rather than animals being killed to produce items.
I rummaged through the bowl containing the scarf pins and couldn’t make up my mind as to my favourite coloured ones … so I bought three! I also bought two pens, each with a mini alpaca at the top, along with a very small fawn-coloured alpaca ‘toy’ which I’ve named Lemon Puff of course!
Having also enjoyed a welcomed cup of tea, I left at around 12:45, and headed back to the main road via my inbound route. Another of the visitors took the same route just ahead of me but, whereas I turned right having reached the A414, they turned left to head in the direction of Chelmsford.
I continued on the route through Chipping Ongar and onwards to Junction 7 of the M11; I’d decided to follow the A414 all the way back to Hatfield, but I did notice that speeds upon the motorway were reduced to 40mph. My route took me north into Harlow. I was progressing well until I encountered road-works on the final section of my northbound route. It was stop start stop start to the roundabout prior to the beginning of Edinburgh Way and part way along the latter too.
It soon became apparent that the entire hold-up had been caused by temporary traffic lights at the entrance to Tesco’s! And the annoying thing was, that for part of the time that the lights were showing green for the retail store traffic, there were no vehicles using the roadway to exit onto Edinburgh Way; in other words, the time phasing was completely wrong. This had delayed my home journey by 20 minutes. It’s a shame I didn’t know the area, otherwise I’m sure I could have easily found a way to bypass the traffic jam.
Having finally cleared these traffic lights, I had a clear run to the far end of Edinburgh Way, before turning right into Fifth Avenue. I had soon crossed over a railway line, plus two separate branches of the River Stort before arriving at another large roundabout; I turned left to continue upon the A414 Eastwick Road dual carriageway. I passed over the River Lee before arriving at a further roundabout.
As I was following the A414 signage, I was subsequently directed down a short section of dual carriageway in order to join the northbound carriageway of the A10. I left the A10 dual carriageway at the next junction to continue upon the A414 into Hertford. I was now on fairly familiar territory, having visited Hertford to undertake a variety of rambling routes from Hertfordshire’s County Town back in the day.
The A414 is a dual carriageway which skirts the centre of Hertford, subsequently narrowing to head under a grey brick railway bridge; there was a stationary train on the bridge – evidently the sidings straddle the road at this point. The A-road becomes a dual carriageway again shortly afterwards and continues, through a series of roundabouts to Hatfield. I headed under the A1000 and around a long-about before arriving at the large roundabout outside Tesco’s at Oldings Corner. There were three lanes on the approach to the roundabout; a white car was stranded in the middle lane at this point.
However, this didn’t affect me, as I had decided to turn right at this roundabout, leaving the A414, in order to head down the A6129 towards Stanborough Lakes. I turned left at the bottom of the hill, to travel under the A1(M) bridge to a further roundabout. I then continued straight ahead in order to enter Coopers Green Lane. I traversed a roundabout at the top of the hill, continuing along the route as it passed the entrance to Astwick Manor.
A little further along I encountered road-works, just before Woodcock Hill, with temporary traffic signals controlling the movement of vehicles; workmen were in action upon the other carriageway, despite this being a Sunday. Having been held briefly, I was soon on my way once more. At the far end is a roundabout where Coopers Green Lane joins Oaklands Lane to the left and Sandpit Lane to the right; I turned right to head up Sandpit Lane. I crossed a further roundabout, at the entrance to House Lane, in order to continue in the direction of the City Centre.
I was surprised to see that construction work on a new housing estate planned within the grounds of the local agricultural college had already commenced; as if we don’t have enough people causing pressure on public amenities in my home city, not to mention additional traffic on the already over-burdened roads during the rush hour. Nimby!!!
Anyway, I continued on my journey and reached home at 14:10.
All in all, I had a very enjoyable Alpaca Experience at Butlers Farm ... and I didn’t even mind the fact that it was raining! I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you wish to find out more about these fascinating creatures.