Jigsaw the Donkey lives at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight with her friends Jill, Jack and Juno. She’s normally very busy helping visitors to enjoy the castle and experience some of its history, but she kindly took time out her schedule to give us this interview!
Why were donkeys needed at Carisbrooke Castle?
"The well which supplied the castle’s water is 49m deep, so for over 700 years there has been a tread-wheel with a well house over it to raise buckets of water from deep in the ground. Originally the wheel was probably turned by prisoners, but the first report of a ‘horse or ass’ drawing the water came from a traveller called Celia Fiennes in 1696. We’ve heard that until 1880 there was only one donkey at the castle - that must have been a bit lonely and hard work, but now we have a great time."
What’s your job at the castle?
"Our job is to demonstrate to visitors how the tread-wheel works; we all take it in turns and do a grand total of four and a half minutes work per day. In winter we do less than three minutes work a week! Jack takes it easy and sometimes turns the wheel really slowly, but when I was training, I learned what to do really quickly and now I’m super fast!"
Jigsaw's friend Jimbob (retired), meeting visitors at Carisbrooke Castle
Can you tell us a bit about your day?
"We all live in fields next to the castle, we’ve got a shelter there too in case it’s wet or windy. When the horses come for our Medieval Joust in the summer they all tell us how posh our house is! We also have our own ‘staff’ - some of the castle’s Historic Property Stewards are specially trained to look after us. In the morning, they give us breakfast and then take two of us up to the castle for the morning and then the other two go for the afternoon. In the Donkey centre stables, we have a good groom and our feet picked out. In the summer I have to have sun cream on my nose too, but I don’t like that very much. Then we get given some straw to eat - we can’t have hay because it’s too fattening."
Have you had any famous visitors?
"We get lots of visitors to our stables, particularly the small people, who are really happy to see us. Sometimes very famous people come to see us, Jimbob met the Japanese Ambassador, and the other week, Len Goodman from Strictly Come Dancing was here – you wouldn’t catch me doing a foxtrot! We were also really excited to have a visit from HRH Princess Beatrice this summer.
I love meeting everybody who comes to visit, I like to rub against them with my head, and get a good scratch, but I have to be careful because I’m quite strong! Often there are lots of generations of the same family who come together because the older people remember seeing donkeys when they visited as little ones and they want to pass on the experience."
Jigsaw the Donkey's home - Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight
Can you tell us a surprising fact about the donkeys at Carisbrooke?
"Well you might have noticed that my friends and I all have names starting with J? That’s because when Charles I was prisoner at Carisbrooke Castle and planning his escape, he signed his letters ‘J’. So it became a tradition that we’d all be named something beginning with J."
Do you have a favourite food?
"Well actually, I’d better go because I can see one of our people coming with some Kendal mint cake, Jill loves that and she’ll gobble it all up before I get a chance if I’m not careful!"
Meet the Carisbrooke Castle Donkeys
You can meet Jigsaw, and her friends Jill, Jack and Juno at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. As well as meeting the donkeys, there are jousts and knights' tournaments to look forward to this summer, plus you can discover the story of how Charles I tried to escape from the castle after defeat in the Civil War.