Jane & Sir Keith.jpg


This is my walking companion, Sir Keith




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For many years Iíd fancied walking an alpaca, but just never got around to booking it.However, for my 2017 birthday, my work colleagues had bought me a cuddly alpaca toy named Aubrey; he was also accompanied by a skein of alpaca wool and a book of knitting patterns to make the said alpaca a range of knitted outfits!He arrived in a small suitcase-style box too.In addition, there was a voucher for me to book an alpaca walk at Abbotts View Alpaca farm in Aston Abbotts in Buckinghamshire; near Aylesbury.†††

Bearing in mind that late spring and early summer are a busy time for me due to catching up on my diaries following the end of the National Hunt season, I chose and booked 02 July.However, due to a new commitment by the owners of the farm, they had to cancel this date, but they were able to offer two or three other suitable ones.I selected 09 July instead.Fortunately the Wimbledon Championships were scheduled to take place a week later than usual this year; in fact they ran from 03 July to 16 July, so 09 July was the middle Sunday.I canít miss the Menís Singles Final, despite only viewing it on TV.

Aston Abbotts lies to the northwest of the A418 which runs between Leighton Buzzard and Aylesbury.Iím very familiar with the road, as itís the route I take having picked up Lesley if we are heading to, say, Cheltenham.Iíve also done a ramble in the past, with Mark, which began at Wing, before heading through Cublington, Aston Abbotts, Rowsham and Wingrave before returning to Wing.

Today was warm and mainly sunny; humid too, because it was July. The previous day Iíd journeyed to Great Alne in Warwickshire to visit the racing yard of Robin Dickin; it had been warm and sunny too.Iíd killed time on the Sunday morning by watching an old episode of Location, Location, Location and one of the families on the show was looking at properties in Warwickshire; coincidently they visited a house in Wootten Wawen and subsequently decided to purchase it.Iíd never heard of the village until I took a diversion through it on my way to Robinís yard the previous day!

Todayís walk began at 14:00 and attendees were advised not to arrive more than 15 minutes early.Having eaten a very light lunch, I set off at 12:45.Although expecting the ground to be hard-baked due to the recent dry conditions, I took my black M & S snow-boots just in case, and wore my brown M & S Footglove ankle boots; I forgot my moccasins, so would need to keep my fingers crossed that I didnít require a change of footwear for the drive home.I also wore a pair of blue denim jeggings, a camisole and an old shirt.I took my pink mini-backpack instead of a handbag, as it was recommended that walkers needed to be hands-free in order to control their alpaca during the walk!††

All indications were that the journey time would be around 50 to 55 minutes and, having travelled via Aylesbury both outbound and inbound on Saturday, I decided Iíd like to explore the new junction upon the M1, namely 11A.A new dual carriageway has been built to the north of Dunstable, linking the M1 to the A5, and thus easing congestion through the town.This being the case, I travelled via Harpenden before joining the M1 northbound carriageway at Junction 9.Traffic was flowing freely on this carriageway, but not so on the southbound one; thank goodness I was heading in the other direction!

Anyway, I continued to Junction 11A as planned, before heading up to the roundabout at the top of the slip-road and taking the second exit to travel in a westerly direction towards the A5.There was one roundabout before the road reached Watling Street; the familiar Houghton Regis to Toddington Road crossed at this point. Having turned left at the A5, a short distance later I turned right at another roundabout to head along the Leighton Buzzard bypass designated the A505.†††

I continued along the bypass; the carriageway is so wide that, although not a dual carriageway as such, there is still plenty of room for vehicles to overtake and they did!For safety reasons, at junctions, the road width is restricted.Further along, the road becomes the A4146 and I turned left at one of the roundabouts to head into Wing upon the A418, passing by the National Trust property of Ascott House to my left as I did so.

I travelled through the village at the designated speed of 30mph, negotiating a couple of small roundabouts at each end of the residential area and two 90 degree bends in between.I then headed away from the village at a fairly slow speed having got stuck in a convoy of Sunday lunchtime traffic.

The turning to Aston Abbotts lies to the right-hand side of the road; Winslow Road enters from the left at this slightly staggered junction.I pulled over to the right, and waited in the white lined reservation area before turning into Wingrave Road and heading into Aston Abbotts.Shortly after passing The Royal Oak Inn situated on the right-hand side of the road, I turned left into The Green which headed around to the right before reaching a T-junction with Moat Lane.I turned left and continued along it at a steady speed, seeking the entrance to the lane which led to Abbotts View and Norduck farms respectively.††††

I knew the farm lane was on the right, just before a left-hand turn; I found it easily.I stopped in the gravelled lane, briefly, as I didnít wish to arrive too early.It was 13:40.However, upon entering the farm gate, I discovered that a number of people had already arrived, as their vehicles were parked on the grass verge to the right-hand side of the main parking area; I was directed to park on the left, facing the cattery which was currently under construction.

I remained in my car for a few minutes, and then went over to join a number of people who were now congregating around the wooden, parasol covered tables in the centre of the parking area.A few vehicles arrived after me, and they were requested to park in the adjacent field because all of the spaces in the immediate area were now full.The farm also caters for a limited number of caravans to park on their certified site.

Once everyone had arrived, the owner Jo briefed us about the alpacas.Her husband James was currently putting the head-collars on the male alpacas which we would take for a walk around the farm. As Iíd booked as a single person, I would have an alpaca all to myself, whereas two people would share one alpaca, and three people would share two alpacas!††

Jo also explained that, after the walk, weíd have the opportunity to meet all of the female alpacas; also the ducks, the pigs and the sheep.She had a tale to tell regarding the ducks, the original flock having been killed by an intruder (presumably a fox) earlier in the year.The existing ones had roamed the farm during the day and would come when called too.The newly hatched youngsters, although almost fully grown now, had been let out of their enclosure for the first time the previous day, in order to be hand-fed by their visitors.

The new ducks were descendants of those which had been lost, with around half of them hatched from eggs which had already been collected, stamped and stored in the fridge in preparation to be sold to the public to eat!They were Indian Runners and Khaki Campbell.

With the briefing now over, we headed along to the area where James had tied up the alpacas ready for them to be matched to suitable walkers.En route, we stepped onto a disinfectant impregnated mat in order to prevent any unwanted viruses from arriving on the farm.†† The tamest alpaca was Sweep, so one of the less confident walkers took charge of him; there was also Barney (the new Ďstudí alpaca), and best friends Limelight and Lapwing.

My alpaca was white and his name is Sir Keith.The walks take place around the perimeter of the farm as, once upon a time, they had suffered a dog attack whilst out walking in the open countryside.†††

This being the case, we began our walk along a wide strip of grass, hesitating at various points along the way as one or other of the alpacas decided to quicken their pace or slow down.Keith was keen at times, and he was quite strong too.We were advised to turn in a circle in order to slow the pace down; although that did make me a tiny bit dizzy!The brown alpacas seemed to be the most headstrong and wayward.Latterly during the walk, one of the ladies swapped one of these for a less exuberant one; a bloke was now leading the misbehaving alpaca.

The farm also provides livery for horses, whereby they are able to travel up and down a grass free track situated to the inside of the alpaca walking area; it provides respite for animals which suffer from laminitis.††††

Having stopped for a longer period half way around the walk, in order for Sweep and one or two others to catch up, James asked if Iíd like to take Sir Keith home with me.He wasnít one of Jamesí favourites; originally heíd been called Sir Kick-A-Lot as that was what he used to do when he first arrived at the farm.He seemed surprised that I was getting along really well with Keith, and that the alpaca didnít seem too bothered about me stroking his neck and making a fuss of him.Alpacas are stand-offish by nature and, in general, donít like to have their heads touched.I did point out that Iíd love to ... but would also have to take one or two others home with me as they cannot live alone and Iím not sure my neighbours would be too impressed either with the new acquisitions.††

The Dells also have a couple of Suri alpacas (possibly named Chewbacca and Brian) which they are currently training to become halter-led, although James said they are twice as strong as the Huacaya (pronounced wuh-kai-ya) breed.The Suri alpacas are distinguished by their Ďdreadlockí fleeces and they are far rarer than the common Ďteddy-bear-likeí Huacaya.††

After a photo opportunity with our individual alpacas, three groupings of visitors took it in turns to return the animals to their pen; we removed their head-collars before saying farewell to them.Everyone then headed along the central pathway to reach the Ďpiggiesí pen.The Berkshire sow Ė Peppa Pig Ė had four piglets and one or two of the walkers took turns to hold one of these piglets.

We then went into the pen containing the female alpacas and were given the opportunity to hand-feed them too.There was just one baby alpaca (cria) currently, a dark coloured one named Fran.Alpacas can breed at any time of the year, itís not a seasonal thing and others were expected to be born shortly.

In fact Lord Farquaad (aka Freddie), Faith, Fiona and Freckle (a male) would arrive within the next few weeks; alpacas born in a particular year have names beginning with a specific letter.Sadly, Faith was discovered to have an issue which seriously affected her breathing and, despite the amazing dedication of Jo and James who had to resuscitate her on a number of occasions, there was no other option but to put her to sleep.†††††

Today it was our turn to hand-feed the ducks; everyone gathered around in a semi-circle outside the door to their enclosed pen and James let them out so that we could feed them, before he ushered the ducks back into their newly reinforced pen once more.††

There were also sheep and their lambs; Greyface Dartmoor and Manx Loaghtan.We also hand-feed these, with a couple of the guys deciding to hold lambs in their arms too.Feeding time over, we returned to the farm buildings and queued up to wash our hands; there were two loos on site.

Now spick and span, everyone headed to the workshop area where tea and cakes were available; this was included in the price.I then sat outside, at one of the tables, and chatted to one of the couples who had attended today.Jo also joined us to have a chat.

Having finished my cake and tea, I took a look at the items offered for sale; many of them alpaca-related.It will come as no surprise that I purchased a cuddly toy alpaca.†††††

I departed after 16:00, to head home with my new alpaca ... which Iíve named Sir Keith, although the cuddly toy variety is brown not white.He would join my existing herd of cuddly alpacas Ė Hugo (brown), Hastings (brown), Lewes (brown), Snowball (cream), and Aubrey (beige).Yes, I know Iím a big kid at heart!

My route took me back into the village of Aston Abbotts, where I turned right to head back around The Green.Thatís its name despite there being houses built upon the main Ďislandí of The Green.Upon reaching the Wingrave Road I turned right again, to head past the Royal Oak Inn and return to the A418.

I turned left here and headed back through Wing, before heading past the National Trust property of Ascott House and arriving at the Leighton Buzzard bypass.I turned right at the large roundabout thereon and continued in an easterly direction along this road and the subsequent A505.Further along I turned right, which is the turning for Totternhoe.

There was a slight glitch in my journey at this point.The left-hand turning for the village is only a very short distance along this lane and, as Iíd not been here for many years, in my Ďmindís eyeí I envisaged the main road led straight into Totternhoe, not a side-turning.This being the case I drove straight by it and was now heading for Eaton Bray.However, I soon encountered a T-junction, where I turned left and it led me back to Totternhoe; upon encountering the main road I turned right and was now back upon my intended route.

The village itself lies beneath Castle Hill, the site of the Norman castle; although only the earthworks now remain.I visited the castle ramparts during one of my rambles many years ago.

I continued along this thoroughfare, through the traffic calming chicanes and up the hill into Dunstable.At the junction with the B489 I turned left, continued straight across at the next roundabout, before turning right into Meadway at the following one.This is a housing estate and a busy cut-through, and Meadway, Langdale Road and Lowther Road all have a speed limit of 20mph, also speed humps.Even Beech Road at the far end now has a reduced speed limit of 20mph; thatís quite a recent instigation as it never used to have.

Having reached the traffic lights upon the A5, I turned right and headed back past Markyate Cell; the country house is famous for being the former home Lady Katherine Ferrers, reputedly the ĎWicked Ladyí highwaywoman.

The main road bypasses the villages of Markyate and Flamstead before arriving at Junction 9 of the M1.I continued straight ahead before heading around the Redbourn bypass also.At the first roundabout thereon, I turned left and headed up Redbourn Lane to reach Harpenden; at the common I turned right, before heading through a section where road-works were taking place.I continued along A1081 to return to St Albans.

My route then took me around the Cityís ring-road and home; I believe I arrived back at around 17:15.

I loved my visit to Aston Abbotts Alpacas; not only was it great to walk an alpaca but also to meet and feed all of the other animals too.It was like being transported back to oneís childhood again!

Subsequently Iíve booked a Christmas-themed walk at the farm for later in the year, and I also hope to re-visit the Ashdown Forest Llama Park at some point; thatís where I purchased Hugo, Lewes and Hastings many moons ago.Come to think of it, thatís not technically true, it was a birthday-related visit and Mark bought them as a gift!The Llama Park offers llama walks through the Forest, and that sounds just like my cup of tea!!!



PHOTOS Ė Visit to Abbotts View Alpacas (walking an alpaca)




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