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We walked with alpacas at Hilly Ridge Alpacas near Wattisham and here's what we thought



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I've balanced myself precariously on a Segway in the depths of Thetford Forest, trying hard not to fall off and look a right wally.

I've been thrown round the hairpins at Snetterton's motor racing circuit at what seemed like warp-speed.

I've abseiled off the top of a fire station tower with the local Air Training Corps. "Just step off backwards..." Nice.

Making friends with one of the hairy creatures.
Making friends with one of the hairy creatures.

Heck, I've even eaten pigs' cheeks.

So walking around the fields of rural Suffolk holding on to a hairy alpaca should be the most sedate of all of those right?

Right and wrong.

Up close with an alpaca.
Up close with an alpaca.

Jo and Scott Bridge had a vision 10 years ago and started Hilly Ridge Alpacas, a farm which offers animal lovers like me the chance to trek with the docile beasts for 90 minutes and promises you will leave the experience 'beaming'.

I can vouch for that - from the moment I palled up with alpaca Henry and my partner took hold of Sam, we were in another world, transported to calmer, more peaceful times.

Alpacas are often confused with llamas, however they are noticeably smaller even though the two can crossbreed. Alpacas themselves come in two breeds - the Suri and the Huacaya. Okay, David Attenborough lesson over - what were they *like*?

Henry and Sam meet their walkers for the day.
Henry and Sam meet their walkers for the day.

We arrived on Saturday morning after a ride up the A14 with rain beating down. We hoped the wet-look was in for alpacas. This could get messy.

Hilly Ridge Alpacas is located in the depths of Suffolk - I'd call it proper Suffolk. You end up down some single track roads in the depths of hills (yes, surprised me, too) and lots and lots of trees. For a Fen boy, the hills were foreign but the greenery was welcome. It was idyllic.

Then the weather broke and we enjoyed sunshine - not least coming from the 15 sweet-looking alpacas waiting for us in their pen. Names ranged from Hurricane and Stirling to Gary - we were quite relieved to get Sam and Henry.

Trekking with alpacas through the fields of Suffolk. (56531180)
Trekking with alpacas through the fields of Suffolk. (56531180)

And Henry was a dream to walk round the farm just near Wattisham, south of Stowmarket. I'd read before going that you don't approach an alpaca from behind (they get worried if they can't see you) and spitting is one way they show their displeasure. Not one of these wonderful little creatures had an ounce of ill-will in their bodies though and we trekked through valley, over bridges and even a stream without incident.

Each alpaca had on a head harness and we attached a small lead rein to that and off we went.

Some of the other walkers had been before but most were newbies like us and the alpacas just played follow-my-leader without any pulling, rearing - it was like walking the 15-year-old family Labrador.

Alpacas are often confused with the larger llama.
Alpacas are often confused with the larger llama.

A good hour-plus of walking took us back to the Suffolk farmyard where we started - ready for the gymkhana. Yes, competition time!

The idea is to choose an alpaca for an obstacle course of walking around posts, a pampas grass tree (which proved too much of a back scratching temptation for Gary) and then a couple of horse-like jumps to finish off with.

Barry Peters and Henry the alpaca.
Barry Peters and Henry the alpaca.

Suffice to say Apollo lived up to his name and rocketed around the course for me - but sadly my legs weren't quite as fast as his were so we finished in a creditable third spot.

The look of disdain on Apollo's face was palpable. He'll remember me if I ever go back.

The best part for me was going into the large field with all the mums and their young - with feed trays.

Feeding time drew an appreciative crowd of alpacas.
Feeding time drew an appreciative crowd of alpacas.
Feeding time drew an appreciative crowd of alpacas.
Feeding time drew an appreciative crowd of alpacas.

The alpacas bound up to you for the pellets and are happy to linger among you and not bother you at all.

Anyone can walk an alpaca - kids need to be over 10 and younger children just need an adult with them.

Setting off on the trek.
Setting off on the trek.
Alpacas enjoy the feeding session.
Alpacas enjoy the feeding session.

If walking is not for you, various other options are available from becoming an alpaca keeper to simply adopting one.

People even have them at their weddings - and through lockdown, the farm offered the chance to make Zoom and Teams call a little more exciting by including an alpaca on a virtual call.

That's what I call animal magic.

Walking along one of the beautifully quiet field edges close to Wattisham.
Walking along one of the beautifully quiet field edges close to Wattisham.

Hilly Ridge Farm's alpaca trek experience costs £30 per person.

For more information, visit hillyridgealpacas.co.uk or call 01449 402143/07703 005447.