Visiting Tiggywinkles – in a monsoon

Ellen at the entrance to Tiggywinkles

Ellen at the entrance to Tiggywinkles

With my uncanny knack of picking the wettest and windiest days to do outdoor activities, today we visited St Tiggywinkles in Haddenham  The car park was empty when we arrived and it was hard to find a piece of it which was not under water.  Not surprisingly we were the only visitors – so there’s always a silver lining.  They even have umbrellas you can borrow.

Tiggywinkles is a wildlife hospital that started in one man’s house around 35 years ago and is now, according to the slogan the ‘world’s busiest wildlife hospital’.  Today (or to be more precise 29 Jan when they last counted) they had a total 640 wild animals and birds receiving free care.  We saw about three.

I’m sorry that’s not true – it was at least twenty…  There is an outdoor trail where you can see some of the wild animals recovering, but understandably enough in the freezing downpour most of them were sheltering in their houses.  My umbrella was in danger of turning inside out as we battled down the path!  We did see some Red Kite’s very close up and they have a small indoor display about the Red Kites and all the various injuries which have befallen them – the strangest story was the one about the bird which was found in a garden covered in what smelled like cooking oil!  They tried washing it twice in washing up liquid but the oil wouldn’t come off and in the end they had to look after it until it moulted.

The fox was sensibly staying in it's shelter

The fox was sensibly staying in its shelter

Ah notice Ellen is carrying a large hippo toy.  While I was paying our entrance fee and sorting out Ellen’s activity sheet, she was busy perusing the limited gift shop.  It may have been limited but she still found a soft toy – and a big one at that!  Hippo wanted to come and look at the animals with us, so I coughed up another £3 for the privilege. I have to say none of the coughing up feels too bad when you know it’s all going to a good cause.

My RDI target for the next few weeks is to try to, and I quote, “effectively slow down your typical Experience-Sharing process to the point where you can consciously experience the typically sub-conscious, rapid adjustments you and other participants must make on an on-going basis” – got that?  So as we walked around the rain-sodden paths I limited myself to short statements.  ‘That bird is huge’ and ‘That bird has a broken wing’ etc.  Ellen didn’t say much in reply – or maybe I couldn’t hear her over the wind – but she and hippo were taking it all in.

Apart from the Red Kites and some ducks, there wasn’t a great deal to see outside so we went indoors where they have display cases of wild animal skeletons and the world’s only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum.  This contained everything and anything with a hedgehog link including aeroplanes, coats of arms, knitting patterns, church plasterwork and figurines.  Our of everything there, the item Ellen was most interested in was a Bob the Builder puzzle – the hedgehog link? – he saves the hedgehogs from being squashed by Roly the steamroller…

The World's only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum

The World’s only Hedgehog Memorabilia Museum

But the biggest hit of the whole visit was the mammal nursery, where baby hedgehogs/squirrels/voles and other small mammals are nursed back to health.  Most of them were asleep under towels but one hedgehog was obviously confused about the time of day, and much to Ellen’s delight was scrabbling in and out of his blanket, eating food and trying to escape through the bars.  We were so long at the window (at least 45 minutes) that I felt our patience was rewarded when one of the volunteers came along and began hand-feeding some tiny baby voles.  It’s a pity we were separated by the glass because I would have liked to ask her how the baby voles had been rescued – they would not have survived long in the wild without their mother, and let’s face it must have been hard to spot.  Apart from feeding, I had no idea until today how important the ‘toileting’ of small mammals is.  If they are not ‘toileted’ they can die, and I watched fascinated as the volunteer gently rubbed a cotton wool bud over the vole’s bottom, simulating how its mother would have cleaned it.  So tiny was the vole that it had to be fed by a tiny paintbrush dipped in warmed milk.  That’s dedication for you!

Ellen entranced by the injured hedgehog

Ellen entranced by the injured hedgehog

The rain was still lashing down when it was time to leave.  I was quite looking forward to a cup of coffee in the cafe, but I obviously hadn’t read the website clearly enough as although they serve coffee, the only places to sit are outside – mmm perhaps not.  But the lady on the front desk assured me that if we come back in the Spring there will be much more to see (more baby animals) and do (crafts at half-term) so we may well do that.  After all we didn’t manage to complete the activity sheet and anyway I’d really like to get a closer look at that hedgehog jumper knitting pattern…






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