Farewell sister pilgrim, Dalie the donkey

I received some sad news today from my friend Barbara in France.  Her faithful pilgrim donkey Dalie died earlier this week at the age of 30.  Dalie has featured in the sidebar of this blog since it began, as it was my encounter with that lovely donkey pilgrim person that provided the inspiration to get a donkey of my own.

Dalie and Rosie with my Compostela pilgrim bourdon, 2nd June 2008

Dalie and Rosie with my Compostela pilgrim bourdon, 2nd June 2008

It was 2008 when I first met Dalie and her companion Rosie when I was walking from Worcester to Compostela and I stopped for a couple of planned rest days at the invitation of Barbara Reed, just past Chatellerault, about halfway down the Via Turonensis – the pilgrim route which runs from Paris to the Pyrenees.  Barbara is a member of the English pilgrim association, the Confraternity of St James, and is well known for walking with a donkey on the Santiago pilgrim routes in France and Spain.

Farewell to Dalie as I continued walking to Compostela in June 2008

Farewell to Dalie as I continued walking to Compostela in June 2008

After rescuing me from the worst thunderstorm I had ever experienced and driving me to her farm to dry out, Barbara introduced me to the donkey people in the barn, Dalie and Rosie.  I had no experience of donkeys but in the short space of time that I spent at Barbara’s farm during those rest days I was rather captivated by the donkeys, particularly with Dalie who seemed to have an air of wisdom about her.  I carried on to Compostela and didn’t see Dalie for another two years.

Dalie meeting Hopalong the one-legged chick, August 2010

Dalie meeting Hoppalong the one-legged chick, August 2010

I returned in the summer of 2010 to stay for a few weeks, recovering from an horrid experience in England which had left me quite vulnerable, and Barbara suggested I should take Dalie for a few days walk on the local Chemin St Jacques. Little did I suspect that this adventure would be the start of donkeys taking over a large portion of my life, but the walk turned out to be formative and the encounter with Dalie on the road was impresiónante, as we say here in Spain.

DSC_2687Barbara showed me the ropes and gave me a checklist of tips before I set off with a fully-laden pack donkey, but it was Dalie who educated me in how to walk with donkeys. As we walked south along quiet metalled roads by the banks of the river Gartemps from St Savin to Montmorillon, I became attuned to the soothing rhythm of Dalie’s hooves.

Putting the pack saddle on Dalie and loading up the bags on the second day. River Gartemps, August 2010

Putting the pack saddle on Dalie and loading up the bags on the second day. River Gartemps, August 2010

The steady hoof-beat reminded my of the piston-beat of a paddle steamer from a day trip in my childhood. The days on the road with Dalie enabled meditation and calm, swiftly effecting a recovery from the dire experience in England. There was something formative about the experience that I couldn’t put my finger on. After a day on the road, while camping overnight on a river bank near Montmorillon, Dalie sat down and watched me eat supper and all I wanted was for this to go on forever.


Dalie by GR48 Chemin S.Jacques signage at Montmorillon

Dalie meets some interesting local people near  Lussac-les-Châteaux

Dalie meets some interesting local people near Lussac-les-Châteaux

Dalie on the voie verte, the old railway line following the river Vienne on the way to Moissac

Dalie on the voie verte, the old railway line following the river Vienne on the way to Moissac


Dalie eats the flowers in the restaurant car park while we wait for Barbara to arrive with the horse box.

Donkey cart to Saint Savin, Boxing Day 2010

Donkey cart to Saint Savin, Boxing Day 2010

Barbara's last trip with Dalie on the Voie de Vezelay in the spring of 2011

Barbara’s last trip with Dalie on the Voie de Vezelay in the spring of 2011

At the end of that summer I took up my new teaching position in Spain and started scouting around to buy my first donkeys, but I saw Dalie once more.  At the end of that year when I stayed for a few days in France with Barbara and Chris over Christmas, Dalie took me out for a ride in the cart to St Savin on Boxing Day.  Barbara gave me my first instructions in driving a donkey cart, then Dalie showed me how to do it, by simply being a good donkey.

Barbara retired Dalie after a last trip in the spring of 2011 and she has since lived a quiet life with her donkey companion Rosie and Filou the mule.  Barbara called the vet for Dalie earlier this week when she clearly couldn’t stand up on her feet and it was soon apparent that she had reached the end of her life. She died at the good age of thirty years, with her head in Barbara’s lap as she breathed her last.


Dalie donkey died 23 March 2015 aged 30

She was a lovely animal, an adventurous Santiago pilgrim and a good all round donkey person. My condolences to Barbara on her loss.

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The history of Benidorm on a wet Sunday

The Benidorm beaches get washed away just in time for Easter (Información 20th March)

The Benidorm beaches were washed away just in time for the Easter holidays (Información 20th March)

I don’t go into Benidorm very often but when I do it never ceases to surprise me.  Today was no exception and I would like to share a little of my Benidorm history morning with readers of this blog. The above photograph is from the Alicante newspaper Información, showing the state of Benidorm’s beaches at the start of the long weekend, in tempestuous conditions. We have had a four day break, thanks to Saint Joseph whose feast day was on Thursday: so we all took Friday off as well, and we had a four day weekend.

Virgen del Sufragio, Benidorm, 1740

Virgen del Sufragio, Benidorm, 1740-2015

It has been a wet week but a very special week.  Last weekend it was the 275th anniversary of the arrival of the Virgin Mary in Benidorm.

That probably needs explaining.  In March 1740 a deserted merchant ship drifted into the bay of Benidorm and the ship was brought in to the beach. Due to the possibility that all aboard had died of disease, it was decided that the ship should be burnt.  The good Catholic people of Benidorm saw that there was a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus on the boat, so the pleaded with the authorities not to burn Our Lady and Jesus. The statue was spared, and the Virgen del Sufragio is the town’s patron today.

An exhibition opened in the old town hall in Benidorm this week, recording the tradition of the Virgen del Sufragio.  This morning some dedicated resident historians of Benidorm wandered among the various replicas of the statue, memorabilia associated with the tradition, and a film showing the restoration of the original. Among those present was the famous Benidorm photographer “Quico” who recorded the transformation of Benidorm in the 1960s, and whose capture of the social history and economic transformation of the town has been likened to a “semi-divine eye”: very little escaped him.

Benidorm 196

Quico points to a street scene in Benidorm in a black and white photo of a procession of the Virgen del Sufragio in the 1950s

When the Virgen del Sufragio arrived in Benidorm in 1740 it was only a short time before the British first invaded.  As we learned this morning on our history walk around the castillo in Benidorm, the town did not get its first Brits invading on British European Aiways Viscount turbo-prop aircraft in 1960s package holidays: the British navy made a full assault on the beaches of Benidorm in 1812, capturing the town from the French who had been occupying it as an important defensive position.


History tour outside the church of San Jaume in Benidorm on the site of the old town cemetery before the French occupation in 1812

The French occupying forces made the residents of Benidorm dig up the old town cemetery and fling the bodily remains of many generations into the sea below, as they reinforced the defensive position.  This is now the place where tourists mingle between the Poniente and Levante beaches, and very few even know that Benidorm has a history as a strategic military base.  They see the cannon lined up on the castillo in the town and think they are quaint fakes put there for the tourists.  In their day the bigger guns had a range of a kilometre, and they were strategically placed across the beaches of Benidorm to provide lethal crossfire.

Happily, once the French and the British were gone, more peaceful history arrived in the form of lamp posts.  Please note: I am simply re-telling the sequence of history I learned from this morning’s ventures, and not attempting to provide any logical connection between these events.  Clearly, some new economic event must have happened between the Napoleonic wars and the arrival of lamp posts, if only to pay for them and to provide gas infrastructure to power them, but that remains a mystery.

1832 lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución in Benidorm

1832 lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución in Benidorm

Lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución

Lamp post in the Plaza de la Constitución

The streets of Benidorm are lit at night by lamps (posts and wall-mounted lights) which look like quaint replicas in this teeming tourist town, but they are in fact early 19th century original pieces.  The first was placed in the Plaza de la Constitución in 1832 and there are many more of the same period on walls around the old town.

The first square with lighting in Benidorm

The first square with lighting in Benidorm


History tour at the Carrer de Cuatre Cantons

History tour at the Carrer de Cuatre Cantons

One thing that everyone seems to know about Benidorm is that before it became the model for 1960s mass tourism and package holidays, “it was a quiet fishing village”…   How many times have I seen that in tourist information (even local tourist information!) and how wrong it is.  Benidorm had fishermen, and in fact its “almadraba” tuna fishing expertise was known all the way from here to Cadiz, but it was never a “fishing village”.  It had both fishing and agriculture, yes, but its main association with the sea was both naval and mercantile.  Shipping interests provided the wealth and international connections for Benidorm in the old Roman and Carthaginian Mediterranean world and in recent times too.

A story was recounted today of a visitor from Madrid who came into Benidorm in the 1920s in a Mercedes and expected the locals in the bar to be impressed with a visitor from so far away.  “I’ll bet you’ve never been to Madrid, any of you!” said the visitor.  The local Benidorm drinkers at the bar shook their heads, for they had indeed never been to Madrid. They quickly explained to the visiting Madrileño that they were much more familiar with Buenos Aires and New York.  Benidorm was a town that produced sea captains.

The Virgen del Sufragio exhibition continues throughout the year, at the old Town Hall building in Calle Tomás Ortuño in Benidorm.

Benidorm 190Benidorm 195Benidorm 193Benidorm 191Benidorm 185Benidorm 182

275th anniversary banners for the Virgen del Sufragio in Benidorm

275th anniversary banners for the Virgen del Sufragio in Benidorm

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Blogging from Benidorm

Special treat for all followers of this blog coming this weekend: Rabit is doing one of his rare visits to Benidorm.  We have a great extended feast of St Joseph (Thursday 19 March plus Friday and the weekend for those who need to recover from the feast!) – a four day break.  Thanks to the good old repressive Catholic Church, we all get a nice holiday while the rest of you protestant dupes carry on doing your boring work on Thursday and Friday, and Muslims just keep on murdering everyone in the Middle East and demolishing the evidence of great civilisations, without a proper holiday to relax.

Unfortunately the forecast is for rain.  Rain?  In the Costa Blanca?  All weekend?  This is not really what we came here for…   Luckily, St Patrick’s day in Benidorm on 17th March will be over by then…

And Benidorm can become again – during a wet weekend – a place for me to explore and discover more of its 1950s and 1960s expansion.  The continuing project for GCSE and A-level GeographyAnd once were donks…


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50 Years a Pilgrim: Part One

Jacobeo 1965 poster

Jacobeo 1965 poster

The recollections on the Camino de Santiago – first planned as a series of series of Lent 2015 posts – will continue as pages in the drop down menu Santiago Pilgrimage. The first one has been moved there and later I will add more pages. Having spent some time last weekend writing the opening blog post of this series, I noticed from the stats that these efforts were not really reflected in the number of people viewing the page, so it is better to continue the series on separate pages, while maintaining the focus on the donkeys here!

See the original blogpost here, 1965

morris cart
Meanwhile, we return to pictures of donkeys and hope to regain the blog audience lost over the past two days. (Stats reveal the all time low yesterday: 9 blog visitors.) So, in haste here is a donkey photo: Morris with the refurbished cart, now repaired after a wheel fell off.

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Just beautiful

Happy Monday! For more info check out http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.ie

Happy Monday! For more info check out http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.ie

For a change, not a photo of my gorgeous donks but the gorgeous donks of   retweeted from @donkeysanct by @RifugioAsinelli  One of the most beautiful donkey photos I have ever seen. Mother and foal are both lovely.

COMING SOON TO THIS BLOG: 50 Years On and Off the Camino

I suddenly noticed that 2015 marks the fiftieth year since I first walked the Camino with a Spanish youth organisation, in a totally different Spain under Franco. Soon I will put up the first instalment.  Obviously, my 2008 Worcester to Compostela pilgrimage will offer the best opportunity for a set of photos: all the way along the Thames, then France, then Spain…  WATCH THIS SPACE.

Heading to Compostela in May 2008. I got Cardinal Murphy O'Connor's seal in my pilgrim passport and it's just 2500 km still to go...

Heading to Compostela in May 2008. I got Cardinal Murphy O’Connor’s seal in my pilgrim passport and it’s just 2500 km still to go…

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Spring is here


The recent high winds have left hardly any almond blossom on the trees, but finally the wind has dropped and we can safely go for a walk without donkeys going loopy, for the wind sends them very skittish indeed!  Here are Morris and Rubí enjoying the sort of walk they like: just another opportunity to eat out.  Meanwhile, Aitana lounges around in the paddock, getting back into her summer routine of sleeping in the sunshine.


For Grandpa Zeke, “piliersdelaterre,” Margaret Butterworth, those all those commenters who just like photos of the donkeys, here are some more of the self-portraits with Matilde and Morris.  Close up with the donks:


And for those weird people who come to this blog just to see pictures of me, and do not want to be distracted by the donkeys, here is my latest attempt to take the Lenten fast seriously by eating in a Mexican restaurant in Vilajoiosa, where there is very little on the menu worth eating, but the restaurant owner continually pours brimming glasses of tequila until you genuinely believe that you have had a good meal.


I shall be glad when this Lent fast is over and I can get back to proper food.

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Open letter to Bishop Athanasius Schneider

Bishop Athanasius Schneider,

I have been given your email address by a Catholic friend who hoped I would be able to express to you a problem that has concerned many Catholics this week.  Our hope is that you will be able to pass these thoughts up through the channels of the Church in a way our own bishops normally cannot find it interesting enough to do so.  Hopefully those out-of-touch people at the heart of the Vatican’s spin machine – who claim to be masters of the new tools of communication, but who cannot listen – may then hear our concerns.
We live and worship in hope.
Last week, Father Thomas Rosica issued through his lawyers a letter threatening a Canadian family man and blogger, David Domet, with legal action. Here is the letter: http://www.churchmilitant.tv/documents/spec-2015-02-19.pdf  As you see, Fr Rosica wishes Mr Domet to withdraw any remarks made about his alleged doctrinal errors by the end of the day on 22nd February: the First Sunday in Lent.
On that same First Sunday in Lent, the priest Fr Rosica says on his own blog http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/rosicareflections/the-ways-of-the-desert-2  “And in the midst of the desert we hear what God will do if we open our hearts to him and allow him to make our own deserts bloom. The ways of the desert were deep within the heart of Jesus, and it must be the same for all who would follow him.”
This seems to be a remarkable hypocrisy for one who is pursuing a litigious action on that same day against a Catholic blogger who simply takes exception to Fr Rosica’s heterodox views – personal opinions publicly expressed, in abuse of his Vatican position – and in a way that the faithful have every right to express their opinions.
It is my view (see my own blog) and the view of many other Catholics that this is a scandal and we have now reached a point beyond which we cannot proceed without some action.  Take for example the well-expressed blog page of Mark Lambert in England: http://marklambert.blogspot.com.es/2015/02/high-profile-priest-sues-blogger-over.html   The heterodox views of the liberal mafia now surrounding the pope, who calls himself the simple follower of brother Francis, the Bishop of Rome, the darling of the left wing press; such views of people like Rosica are now alienating solid Catholic opinion.
If such Catholic faithful are now to be sued in the courts for simply arguing back, supporting the doctrine of the Church against those who would tear down the walls and allow Satan to take his seat; what are we to do?  Bishop, we appeal to you to speak up.
Father, you are a widely respected bishop, and I ask you help in this matter.  I am sending this to you by email and also publishing it as an open letter on my blog.
Yours sincerely,
Gareth Thomas
Let's hope our Lenten discipline will not be a whole forty days of litigation from Fr Thomas Rosica

Let’s hope our Lenten discipline will not be a whole forty days of litigation from Fr Thomas Rosica

Update 24 Feb:

Bishop Athanasius Schneider has been in touch today with Mr Domet:

“Dear Mr. Gareth, I just wrote a letter to Mr. Domet giving him some words of counsel and consolation. Let us always love and defend Christ the Truth and fear God alone. God bless you, + Athanasius Schneider”

“Bishop Athanasius,

Many thanks for writing to Mr Domet, father.  We are all amazed that the power-crazed liberals in the Vatican think this kind of legal action against traditional Catholics is constructive.  Their project is doomed to failure.
God bless you,
Gareth Thomas”
Update 10.30 pm SERT (Standard Europoean Rabit Time)
The best legal commentary on the pathetic power games of Vatican bully  Father Thomas Rosica can be found here: http://www.catholic-legate.com/the-priest-litigator-2/
Update Thursday 26th February
David Domet has written of the wonderful support he has had from thousands of Catholics, and he was clearly encouraged by Bishop Athanasius Schneider. http://www.voxcantor.blogspot.com.es/2015/02/what-wonderful-catholic-world.html  Sometimes the little things we do on this donkey field have effects far off.  Well done, donkeys!  We have a little quiet place of reflection here, where donkeys in Lent think forward to Palm Sunday and their historic charge.  And sometimes we reach out from here and act as best we can for what is right and true.
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