Llama walking is the new activity that is getting more and more popular these days, so what better place to find out what all the fuss is about and give it a go than in the absolutely glorious countryside of Cornwall. While we were camping at Porthtowan on the north Cornish coast, I found an intriguing looking place nearby called Llama Land, offering a llama walk, a good lunch and a morning on the farm. So I shot off with my two daughters to find out more.
Tom Tripp, Llama Tom, King of the Llamas and all round Cornish legend is at the helm here….of a very understated, non corporate and wonderfully personal back to nature adventure like no other. This is NOT a petting zoo. It is an education, a magical experience and most of all, a lesson in how not to get spat at. Arriving promptly at 9.45 we go through the gates of Penare Farm near Truro and enthusiastically follow the handwritten “Llamas This Way '' sign. We are met in the car park by Llama Tom himself and his assistant, Cherry who - it turns out - is no ordinary assistant. She’s done a degree in Zoology, is about to do a Masters (in llamas? - not sure) at Imperial College London, she’s super bright, super friendly and has an encyclopaedic knowledge on llamas. Cherry and Tom escort us and a few other families into a large area to get acquainted with the llamas, who casually stroll out of their pens and roam among us. No patting just yet, directs Tom, let them get to know you. We are all a bit tense and ask odd questions and Tom tells us funny anecdotes and gives us lots of information about his farm. There is an 8 day old Llama on the farm, do we want to see it? Yes please. There are some two month old llamas on the farm, do we want to feed them? Another yes. Tom loves the llamas and the llamas love Tom, and this is at the heart of everything going on here; teaching people how to handle llamas correctly and letting them into the secret of what incredible creatures they are. Tom's llamas are taken into Universities during exam week to alleviate student stress - with impressive results apparently - and Tom also takes some of his especially calm llamas to care homes where they provide a wonderfully therapeutic experience for residents brave enough to give them a pat. Wow.
But back to our therapeutic experience. Out of the 52 llamas on the 142 acre farm here in Cornwall, around 25 are in the pen with us, bridled up and on the lookout for a good walking partner. Tom tells us a bit about their personalities and then armed with this new information (that one is speedy/she’s a spitter/ he looks a bit like a donkey) we are allowed to select our own llama to walk. This fills me with a kind of uncontrollable excitement I hadn’t banked on and I'm too hysterical to decide, so the decision is made for me and I get the alleged spitter. Once we’ve all made our choices we feel protective and proud, holding our leashes aloft and looking to Tom for guidance. Everyone’s a bit jumpy at first (the humans not the llamas, they are completely in control of the pairing), but once we’ve got into a line and started walking, it all feels rather lovely. Some are speedy and some are slow, but we all let our llamas take the lead and guide us around the picturesque surrounding countryside, stopping for a photoshoot (on our own cameras, no money-making tactics here) in one of the fields. The walk is excellent. It is a hot day so we don't walk for miles, but we see a lot of the farm and find out more about life here. Tom has just taken delivery of a whole new cloud of llamas from a Llama Park in Sussex which closed down unexpectedly; he tells us a bit about them and I can't help feeling how lucky the llamas are to have been adopted into such a lovely environment. I start to question Tom urgently about how I could foster some llamas, but given they need at least 2 acres I fear my Tooting garden wouldn't work. I hang on to the dream for later.
After the walk we reluctantly release our new pals back into their fold and potter around the farm, feeding hazel twigs to 2 month old cria and even getting a glimpse of Prince Phillip - at 8 days old the newest llama at Penare Farm. Then it’s off to lunch. With traditional spode china plates loaded with sandwiches, crips cake and salads, milkshakes in jam jars and lashings of squash, it would get Enid Blyton’s cook grabbing her gold star chart for presentation and quantity. A proper cup of tea and delicious scones with Cornish clotted cream to follow. We are a very happy band of llama walkers and feel like we are in the presence of something rather brilliant.
I turn to my children on the way out and ask them what they thought. “Best day of my life”, muttered one breathlessly, eyes shining. “When can we go again?” said the other. I’ve already told Tom it will be an annual pilgrimage for us - this personal, unique and utterly magical day. I know he wants to grow the farm, get more llamas and visitors, make it even more special and he will do a great job. But for me, Llama Land is perfect just the way it is.
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