by Kerry Law
Did you know that the quiet coastal village of West Runton in north Norfolk is home to over 2,000 horses, ducks, ponies, rabbits, sheep, chickens, cows, deer, goats, pigs, donkeys… even alpacas and a llama?
The Hillside Animal Sanctuary is a paradise for these rescued animals, and the perfect day out for families with young children (under 3s go free). Its idyllic location makes it an easy ‘must see’ on a Norfolk break, being beside the sea and a short drive from other tourist honeypots such as Holt, Blakeney and Sheringham.
Our little one loved the aviary—housing rescued parrots, budgerigars and pretty love birds—and was fascinated by the feather-footed bantams. There are plenty of cute rabbits for those who like their animals a little cuddlier, as well as huge pigs, little pygmy goats and Shetland ponies.
The sanctuary has just taken in a herd of alpacas after their elderly owner could no longer look after them. Their shaggy fringes caused much amusement, as did their decidedly unimpressed field companion, Clyde the Llama!
Hillside is probably best known for its shire horses (it was originally the West Runton Shire Horse Centre) and you can get a good look at these heavy equine beasts in their stables or on their daily excursion to the fields. The largest, at an enormous 18 hands, has the rather delicate-sounding name of Bluebell.
Aside from the animals, you can learn a bit more about farming life through the ages in the heritage displays of old farm carts, machinery and archive photos. Little ones can let off steam in the play area, complete with full-sized heritage tractor and shepherd’s hut.
After celebrating their 20th anniversary last year, the sanctuary continues to grow and grow as they take in more rescue animals. Working with the RSPCA, and often acting on calls from the public, Hillside have rescued thousands of animals from neglect, mistreatment, poor farming conditions, or simply from people who, regrettably, cannot look after them anymore. There are sad stories aplenty on the information boards, but when you stroll around the pens and fields you get a deep sense of relief that these animals are now so obviously in a wonderfully caring, bucolic environment for the rest of their days.
You can help Hillside continue its good work simply by visiting (£6 for adults, £4 for children 3 to 16 years, under 3s free). Entry also includes a very generous gift pack, which comes with a free year’s animal adoption. Don’t forget to grab a coffee and cake from the café—it only serves drinks and snacks but everything is vegan, from the vegan sausage sandwiches to the gluten/sugar/wheat-free cakes. Well, it just wouldn’t seem right otherwise, would it?
Hillside Animal Sanctuary is open daily (except Saturdays) from Easter until the final Thursday in October (also closed Fridays in May, September and October). Find it in West Runton, Norfolk NR27 9QH.
For more information, visit www.hillside.org.uk.