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 me 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 my recent dire experience of England. There was something formative about the animal encounter that I couldn’t put my finger on. At the end of another day on the road, while camping overnight, Dalie sat down and watched me eat supper and all I wanted was for this to go on forever.  Even when she ate my supper, I just found her really good fun!


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.

Updated Palm Sunday 29 March

R001-002Barbara has sent me some photos of Dalie to add to this blog post.  There are some lovely photos of her on the Camino del Norte on route to Compostela. Archive photos of Dalie will later be added to the 2010 drop-down menu above.

R001-031 dalies new shoes 2R001-005 R001-011 R001-014 R001-017 R001-020 R001-026

dalie walking 2


About Gareth Thomas

After a mixed career as an aircraft technician, London fringe theatre playwright, Franciscan friar, and secondary school teacher, I find myself dividing my time mostly between looking after the needs of four donkeys in a remote location in the mountains in the Costa Blanca and preparing a legal case against the corrupt management of my monstrous last employer - the Elians group - for unfair dismissal. I like to hear the wind in the pine trees. I do not like struggling to get a duvet into a duvet cover. My musical tastes are extinct and I have mostly given up cycle racing.
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14 Responses to Farewell sister pilgrim, Dalie the donkey

  1. orthodoxgirl99 says:

    So sad to hear of Dalie slipping away. Yr friend Barbara must be feeling the loss of such a beautiful companion donkey. Good that you have some lovely photos and memories of your time with Dalie. She was the Angel with hooves who was sent to help you turn a corner and enjoy life again. Rest sweetly dear Dalie.

  2. Frere Rabit says:

    Ah yes, an angel with hooves. What a lovely image, and quite true.

  3. Such a beautiful soul indeed. Farewell to this lovely lady and my condolences to you and Barbara.

  4. Frere Rabit says:

    She was indeed a lovely donkey, and I’m sure Barbara will be touched by your thoughts. I still look in at your blog and I’m following developments. I am astonished at the astronomical costs of the vet treatment you mention in the latest post. http://thedancingdonkey.blogspot.com.es/2015/03/plan-of-attack.html

  5. Annie says:

    What a lovely tribute to Dalie. I understand how she soothed your weary spirit because reading about your own donkeys always soothes my own weary soul. I think we all yearn to be on a road with such companions forever.

  6. Frere Rabit says:

    I’m glad that some of the donkey therapy rubs off on you from here! And that was exactly the experience for me, when I first came into contact with Barbara’s donkey Dalie. They have a remarkable healing quality.

  7. Steve says:

    Thank you for sharing your memories of Dalie. We had a local donkey named Ebeneezer that the community supported by selling calendars that featured photos of him. The photos you posted of Dalie are very good!

  8. Frere Rabit says:

    Thanks for your comment, Steve. I’ll eventually add the pics of good old Dalie to my 2010 photo archive on the drop-down menus above.

  9. Barbara says:

    Thank you Gareth, for that moving tribute

  10. grace says:

    May God rest her lovely donkey soul!

  11. Frere Rabit says:

    I must admit, Barbara, I wept quite a bit after you phoned: good tears for lovely memories. xx

  12. Mary says:

    She is gorgeous! It looks like she had a wonderful life for a donkey. How long did Ms. Barbara have her?

  13. Frere Rabit says:

    I don’t remember Barbara telling me when she first acquired Dalie. Maybe she will look at the blog again and answer your comment later. Yes, Dalie had a lovely life, but many donkeys don’t and it occurs to me that it would be a good thing to remind people of the Brooke charity, which Barbara supports. The details are in the sidebar of the blog here.

    Thanks for your comment.

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