This summer I noticed a trend on my Instagram. A lot of my friends were standing next to the same animal. It was fluffy, had pointy ears, a better fringe than Marc Almond in the Soft Cell years and a lead around its neck. It seemed alpaca walking had become a thing, but not in Peru. They were in Hampshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk – and then one day, I saw it, one of them was alpaca walking on the Isle of Wight.
Imagine the sound of screeching brakes about now…
I haven’t been to the Isle of Wight since I was about nine – but, you can see the island from my mother’s house and I had a trip to the UK upcoming.
A quick google told me that the alpaca walking was organised by West Wight Alpacas and that they were in Yarmouth. Yarmouth is where the ferry from near my mother arrives, we wouldn’t need a car. This was doable. Bless the baby cheeses and all who sail in her. A day trip was immediately booked into the itinerary.
Alpaca Walking Day Arrives
A few months, one short, smooth ferry ride, and an even shorter bus ride later and I’m standing at the gate of West Wight Alpacas, a cup of some kind of smelly pellet in my hand disinfecting my shoes.
West Wight Alpacas is an alpaca breeding farm and so they have more than one or two of the four-legged beasties on the premises. In fact, as I stand there, giving off a faint waft of pet shop, ahead of me in field after field are alpacas – each one with better hair than the last.
There’s ones as big ones and tiny baby ones. There are brown ones, white ones, snooty ones, friendly ones and greedy ones. Some have poufy dos, others fringes – the hair game is generally strong. I’m not exactly sure who I’m going to be walking but I feed anyone who is interested handfuls of pellets just in case.
And then, its time. Five alpacas wearing coloured woven halters are brought to a small gated enclosure – before we’re allowed to meet them though something very important has to be discussed.
Alpaca Walking is like Fight Club.
It has rules.
Thankfully one of them is not, you will not talk about alpaca walking or this would be a pretty short blog post, instead, I’m told….
Not to stand behind the alpaca – or let my alpaca get too close to the butt of the alpaca in front. This leads to kicking.
Do not let your alpaca too near the field with the lady alpacas in it. The boy alpacas can easily jump fences and get to the girls, but the lady alpacas are not keen on visits. They will spit, the boys will duck and you, the humble bystander will end up covered in green goo.
Do not let your alpaca eat grass or you will spend the whole of your walk standing in one place. Alpacas are greedy and will munch all day if you let them.
You also mustn’t touch your alpaca on the face. They can only breathe through their nose and so touching their face freaks them out as they think that, instead of giving them cuddly alpaca love, you’re intending on blocking their nostrils. Note to self, alpacas are obviously highly paranoid.
After our brief health and safety briefing, we set off, led by head alpaca Bilbo. Rule five is no alpacas must pass Bilbo. He is all-powerful.
You don’t exactly need to be an athlete to walk an alpaca. It more gentle amble than a brisk stroll and my allocated alpaca, Bullet and I have a nice chat as we walk. Mostly punctuated with me going ‘no, you can’t eat that.’ They might be small and slow, but they are stubborn and pretty strong!
Bullet is the smallest of the four alpacas on my walk, for which I am grateful. The people who said they rode horses were given the bigger, more willful ones!
Alpacas are on average about 80cm to a metre tall – most of it neck! This makes them shorter than llamas and the smallest member of the camel family to which they belong. But height is not the only difference between an alpaca and a llama. Alpacas also have upright ears while llamas have ears than bend forwards like bananas. This is a fact that I am determined to work out a use for at some point in my life.
You might be wondering, considering they are stubborn, highly strung and very precious whether it’s a good idea to walk alpacas. Do they like it?
The animals that walk with the public at West Wight have all been specially picked to do so. They’ve proven they don’t mind wearing their halter and that they aren’t scared of people.
You can’t ride an alpaca, their backs are too weak, but they do like to walk – so long as they don’t go out alone. They are herd animals and this is why there always has to be a group of them out at the same time. They also have a hierarchy which needs to be respected or some kind of fringe flicking mayhem occurs.
West Wight also give strict instructions about where and how to touch your alpaca and no photos are allowed during the walk so no-one gets too excited trying to selfie and forgets to look after their precious fluff ball!
The no photos rule gives me plenty of time to study Bullet IRL. Personally, I can’t decide which is my favourite bit. It’s a toss-up between his fringe and his fat, fluffy little legs that look a little bit too short for his body. He’s also very, very soft. I can now see why alpaca wool was once used as currency! I’d trade cheese or something for a blanket made from Bullet wool.
I soon realise that the fact that his legs are a tad podgy might be related to the fact that Bullet is a pig! As we walk, our guide tells us other useful alpaca facts, most of which go over my head as I’m trying to stop Bullet consuming half the field.
However, I do remember that alpaca hum to talk to each other – sadly this didn’t happen on our walk. And that they come in a few different colours (22 according to google) with grey and black ones being the rarest and most expensive. They also have very complicated genetics that means it’s not always obvious what colour alpaca is going to appear when a mummy and daddy alpaca love each other very much.
All this discussion of relatives rarer in colour than him, is obviously boring Bullet as at this point he decides he wants to have a sitdown. A quick battle of wills later and he’s worked out this is not going to happen…and with a flick of his fringe he continues. I’m pretty sure in his head he’s working up for a spit, but I’m lucky.
Meanwhile, behind me, my mother, who is walking a fella called Gentley Bentley is dealing with the terrible alpaca foe which is wind.
No, it’s not just hands in the vicinity of their nostrils that scare alpacas. They’re spooked by most things…wind, lawnmowers, a leaf blowing in their path. Their normal response to anything scary is to instantly refuse to move, but thankfully years of commanding Toby (a dog so hopelessly nervous he once stood completely still in front of a gnome someone had added to their garden for a good 10 seconds) has stood her in good stead for four-legged wimpiness and Bentley is soon back on track to home.
We’d only booked the 20-minute walk and too quickly we arrive back at the alpaca paddock. Leads can be relaxed, photos taken, grass munched and necks stroked. I’m hoping Bullet and I have bonded but as he skips back to his field without a second glance back at me, I realise he doesn’t care that I flew halfway across the world especially to meet him, there’s a blade of grass three feet left he hasn’t chomped yet.
The booking blurb promised carrot feeding but no carrots were produced. However, as we had already spent at least 30 minutes before the walk wandering around with cups of food feeding alpacas, llama, sheep and goats, my need to provide alpaca nourishment was sated.
By this point though I was hungry – and even though West Wight Alpacas is famous for the pizzas they cook on the premises, the buses around here are about as rare as alpaca cuddles (not the first time I’ve been denied those, check out what happened when I went to Taipei’s alpaca cafe) and one was coming in ten minutes, so we headed into Yarmouth for a tuna jacket potato and a walk up the jetty instead.
Fluffy animals, a day at the seaside and carbohydrates with added mayo – now that’s what I call a perfect day.
How Much is it to Walk an Alpaca
It’s a bargain! Particularly as it has to be one of the most fun things to do on the Isle of Wight.
Alpaca walks must be booked in advance and cost £14 per person for the 20-minute walk and £21 for a 40-minute one.
Due to the whole pack animal thing a minimum of two people are needed to be booked on each walk which’s is why my decidedly unsure mother ended up on the end of the lead. I wasn’t risking getting there and finding out no-one else had signed up. But I think she enjoyed it.
The walk fee also includes entrance to the farm and a free cup of food for the alpaca, goats. llamas and some pigs so you also get plenty of close up time before your walk.
How to Get to West Wight Alpacas.
West Wight Alpacas are located just outside Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. Get there by taking the Wightlink ferry from Lymington in the. New Forest.
It costs £17.60 for a day return for foot passengers (less for kids and senior citizens and they do have family deals) or prices start from £54.50 if you’re taking the car and ferries run regularly throughout the day. Find the timetable here.
It’s best to book tickets in advance, and pretty much essential at weekends or in the summer. It can also be slightly cheaper if you book in advance. Click here to check all the details.
If you are going by foot, a short walk from the ferry brings you to Yarmouth bus station. Get on the no7 to Newport (£2.50) and in about 7 minutes the bus will announce the stop at West Wight Alpacas.
The entrance is clearly marked and you sign in for your walk at the cafe.
Want to stay longer on the Isle of Wight – search for accommodation, availability and prices here.
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