Llama Trekking
in Dorset

There's nothing like using your caravan to do something a little out-of-the-ordinary from time to time!

For many a caravan means an annual summer holiday, a couple of other breaks and little else. But if you are able to make greater use of a caravan during the year there are opportunities not only to visit different areas but also to take part in unusual activities.

We found one such 'unusual' activity - trekking with llamas on the Dorset/Somerset border!

We first came across the idea when looking for a suitable gift for one of our grown-up children. After learning a little about it we decided that it was something we might try too, combining a walk with the llamas and a few days with the caravan close to the Dorset coastline.

There are several possible locations from which to choose - our trek was with Brit Valley Llamas, based a couple of miles outside Beaminster. They offer several different options ranging from time with the llamas at the farm through to a package combining Bed-and-Breakfast with a Llama Trek.

We chose the latter, leaving our caravan unattended on site a few miles away whilst staying with proprietors Jo and Chris at their 17th Century farmhouse the night before. The friendly atmosphere of the farmhouse and opportunity to learn about the llamas undoubtedly adds to the overall experience, but for those unable to stop overnight it is possible to arrive in the morning. Make sure you are there early enough to be able to help round up the llamas for the day's excursion, though!

After breakfast Chris showed us round a small exhibition and display that he has prepared in one of the outbuildings. Before our visit we knew little about llamas; domesticated originally as pack animals in their native South America (they are from the camel family) their natural strength and agility comes in useful over difficult terrain in extremes of climate. The fibre from grooming their coats is very fine and strong, and can be used to make clothing or rope. Even their dung (quaintly known as llama beans) can be sold as a high-grade fertiliser.

But perhaps their strangest and most unexpected 'skill' is the ability to protect groups of other animals from wild predators. They have a natural inclination to mix with flocks of sheep and protect them from foxes, coyotes and so on something we saw a little of later in the day during our trek. At Beaminster the llamas have taken on the role of guarding the ducks and chickens that roam around the lake and grounds against the local foxes, apparently with complete success.

Treks from the farm where Brit Valley is based take different routes, partly to suit the abilities (and numbers) of the visitors of the day, but also to introduce a little variation. Several treks start from the farm itself, but most involve a short journey by road either into the local countryside or to paths closer to the sea. In our case we were to be taken north to Ham Hill, around thirty minutes away.

Before the llamas could be loaded into the trailer for the journey to the start of our trek there was work to be done. The animals were rounded up and fitted with a halter. 'Saddles' were prepared for fitting to the older (and therefore stronger) animals - saddles not to ride on, but designed instead to carry the special bags that would hold our picnic lunch. Packs were weighed to ensure that any load was within acceptable limits, and well balanced.

After a journey that the llamas seemed to enjoy, alternately resting on the floor of the trailer and peering out at their surroundings, we reached Ham Hill. Once the saddles were fitted and loaded up (not only with food, but also with lightweight picnic table and chairs) we were able to lead the llamas through undulating countryside, seeing some of their agility in scrabbling up or down the terrain. No worries about their ability to cope with rough ground - certainly much easier for them than for those supposed to be leading them!

At one point we came across a few sheep, and that was fascinating. The llamas began to make quiet humming noises, and the sheep came towards us all for a closer look very different from their more usual practice of scampering out of harms way! Before leaving the farm we had been allocated a specific llama. Even after a relatively short time it was possible to see that each animal comes with a temperament and personality of its own - mine was a serious, perhaps even slightly haughty, six year old called Angus, reputed to be the 'leader of the pack'. This turned out to mean not that he must lead the way, rather that he clearly thought he was responsible for all his fellow llamas, being the last to lie down and always keeping a watchful eye for whatever dangers might be around the corner.

As we strolled along gravel paths and clambered up grassy slopes to the summit of Ham Hill (from where there are views of the beautiful Somerset and Dorset countryside) passers by stopped and stared. Many came to ask questions it's not every day that you come face to face with a group of llamas when strolling through the English countryside!

At lunchtime Chris unloaded the table and chairs from the backs of two of the llamas and we set up camp. We sat in a sheltered hollow eating our picnic whilst the llamas were tethered close by, grazing the grass and vegetation or lying down for a rest.

All too soon it was time for the return walk back to the trailer, and then the drive to the farm. It had been a different and very enjoyable day out, easy going and not at all strenuous. As we released the llamas back into their field we were sorry it had come to an end. Leading the llamas proved to be a surprisingly peaceful and relaxing experience. The animals are calm and relatively unperturbed by their surroundings, whilst being alert at all times to see what is going on around them.

Although llamas vary in size their heads are at roughly the same height as our own so that it becomes natural to feel that you are walking along with your own companion. Before long even the most sceptical is chatting to his or her llama - small wonder that a break with llamas is often considered to help reduce stress and tension.

© GDS 2002

Where to try llama trekking

This is a relatively unknown pastime in Britain. It is possible to try llama trekking at a number of locations, more details from the British Llama and Alpaca Association, tel. 01372 458352 (www.llama.co.uk).

Our outing was with Brit Valley Llamas at Mosterton, near Beaminster in Dorset. (Tel. 01308 868674). (www.ukllamas.co.uk).
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