Whilst living in France, one of my my favourite events of the year was the Donkey Fair in nearby Braize. It was a wonderful collection of animals, eccentrics and donkey care paraphernalia.
It’s always fun to explore an active sub-culture and I spun my fascination with it into a plan to walk the length of France with a donkey as companion, load carrier and discreet confidante. Subscribing to Les cahiers de L’âne magazine was an essential first step in research and I pored eagerly over its pages each month.
In fact, the idea had been lurking for many years. Ever since being one of the small group who made the inaugural walk, way back in the 70s, along a waymarked trail through the Cevennes in the footsteps, more or less, of R. L. Stevenson and his pal Modestine.
‘Twas not to be as we sold up and, eventually, returned to England. My interest in sharing country miles with hooved companions has embraced alpacas, llamas and fell ponies. Happily, there are many books with such adventures to explore – copies of most are on my bookshelves.
So, I was delighted to hear about Mule Days – at least they’re half-donkey. Based in North Carolina, they are not very accessible but that’s a minor detail in feeding the imagination. The small town of Benson, with a population of around 3500, will swell to approximately 30,000 come September 26-29 when the 70th Annual Benson Mule Days Celebration takes place.
The 4-day festival is packed full of mule events that celebrate the ‘beast of burden’ and the role of mules in rural farming. Visitors come from as far away as Alaska, Germany and California to see and also participate.
Visitors can enjoy many events including the ‘Mule Competitions’ including mule coon jumping, a mule race and a mule pull. You can check out the last standing mule stable in Benson and take a tour of historic Benson in a mule-drawn wagon.
Saturday is the big day at Benson Mule Days as thousands of spectators seek a place to sit or stand to observe one of the biggest parades in North Carolina. Bands, floats, Shriner units, classic cars, antique tractors, unique entries, beauty queens plus hundreds of horses, mules, buggies, wagons and more make their way down Main Street.
There is a Best of Show event in which judges select a ‘Grand Champion’ mule to be included in the Benson Mule Days parade on Saturday. The grand champion mule also wins a kiss on the nose from the reigning Miss Benson beauty queen.
Might have to make a ‘significant birthday’ celebration plan to combine a trip to Benson with the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale, Wyoming. Best start saving.