Posted/updated November 2015

Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary, West Runton

A rescued goat at Hillside, NorfolkChristmas Fayre 2015

Last weekend the Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary at West Runton held their annual Christmas Fayre and we decided to pop along. It was our first visit to the sanctuary and we thought it would be a fun thing to do on a bright and mild Sunday afternoon. Before I share our Christmas themed trip, first, here’s some background information about the centre:

The Norfolk Shire Horse Centre at West Runton was originally opened by David and Jonquil Bakewell back in 1982. However, in 2007, the owners decided it was time to retire and the site was put up for sale.

Fortunately, the Hillside Animal Sanctuary, who have operated a large, well established animal rescue centre since 1995 (at Frettenham, near Norwich) stepped in and purchased the West Runton site. Hillside confirmed that they would continue to home shire horses, but also, other rescued animals too.

Since 1995 the number of animals that Hillside gives sanctuary to has steadily grown and today, both rescue centres combined are home to 1,200 rescued horses, 300 cows, 600 sheep & goats and 150 pigs! Both sites are spread out over 1,000 acres. Martin Shaw (of The Professionals and Judge John Deed) is their patron.

Shire horses and many other animals too!

During our visit we were surprised to see a huge assortment of animals besides shire horses, though the shire horses were certainly gorgeous animals to meet! Other animals included cows, sheep, donkeys, goats, deer, alpacas, pigs, ducks, turkeys and geese! The impression given during our visit was that any animal in need of love and care will always be welcomed with open arms.

The Christmas Fayre

Donkeys at the nativitySunday was a bright day and Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary was a busy place! The 100 acre site was full of people wanting to see the animals and browse the assortment of Christmas stalls. The car park was full (and very muddy) but stewards were on hand to assist.

The Live Nativity was in the first shed that we came to. There, we saw the traditional collection of animals that surrounded the baby Jesus. We saw goats, lots of donkeys, a Shetland pony (who remained very still, like a statue, throughout!) and some horses. It was lovely to watch the children stroking the animals and they, in turn, looked very content and happy with the fuss they received.

Lots to see and do

Archie, rescued shire horse


Afterwards we moved on to the main yard where along one side was the Hillside gift shop and coffee shop and the second side had 8 individual stables, each of which homed a magnificent shire horse.

Many of the horses had their heads pointing out, over the stable door. I must admit I was a little intimidated as I’d never ridden a horse and they were huge! My fears were unfounded as each horse was very pleasant and seemed to enjoy the attention. One large shire horse, Archie, next to the tombola and coffee shop, was rather feisty; he was keen to show us his teeth and nudged us fervently!

Further down, was a collection of very large sheds with a small Christmas fayre, stalls selling ornaments, another selling jewellery, more gifts from the gift shop and the last stall had lots of jars of delicious looking chutneys and jams for sale. They were very reasonably priced at £2.95 and were made by Bramble Foods but labelled with Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary labels.

The next shed contained a museum of horse-drawn domestic, commercial and military vehicles. Also inside was a book sale and two stalls with goods, all of which had been donated. These were offered at a fair price and the pretty jewellery was being sold for a small donation.

London Garden Seat Omnibus (1885)

London Garden Seat Omnibus (1885)

Close to this shed we looked at the postcards with details of the dogs that were in need of re-homing. All different breeds were advertised and it was sad to see so many photos of these poor abandoned dogs.

The last area was home to Santa’s grotto, a parrot’s enclosure and a field full of rescued animals, all looking very happy and content in their individual areas of the field. There was also an enclosure between the sheds for rescued deer.

We finished off our trip with a hot cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake. The coffee shop was busy with people tucking in to home-made cakes, jam tarts and fruit scones. It was warm and smelled very inviting.



Everyone was friendly during our visit and our two girls had a lovely time; our eldest daughter donated £4 for a bale of hay to feed her favourite horse ‘Striker’. To be honest, I think she would have brought ALL the animals home, given half the chance!

The café offered the most delicious and moist fruit cake and were happy to provide the recipe:

Eggless, Fatless and Sugarless Cake

You’ll need:

  • 6oz brown flour
  • 3 tsp of baking powder
  • 2oz of ground almonds or 2oz of desiccated coconut
  • 2 tsp of mixed spice
  • 1lb of mixed fruit
  • 4oz dates
  • 4oz apricots
  • Rind of an orange or lemon
  • ½ pint of water
  • 5 tbsp of orange juice


  • Soak the fruit in the liquid overnight.
  • Add the dry ingredients.
  • Bake in a 2lb loaf tin for approximately 1.5 hours at 160 degrees or gas mark 3 covering with greaseproof paper for the final hour.

Top Tips

Our cake was topped with marzipan and icing and tasted delicious! It was much paler in colour than traditional fruit cakes and just as flavoursome too. You can add very ripe (almost black) mashed bananas to the cake mixture, this improves the flavour and helps to keep the cake moist. Enjoy!

Hillside Animal Sanctuary, a charity organisation

DonkeysDuring this year alone, Hillside has given a safe home to over 200 horses! Hillside campaigns tirelessly against animal cruelty whilst striving to give the animals they’ve rescued the best possible care. This important work could not carry on at such a pace without vital donations from their loyal supporters.

During our visit there were plenty of opportunities to donate money by putting coins in collection pots that were positioned around the site or buying souvenirs at their gift shop. All the monies go directly to supporting the important work the staff at Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary carry out.

Different ways you can donate:

  • Make a single or regular donation by setting up a standing order with Hillside
  • Adopt a rescued animal
  • Buy their gifts from the gift shop
  • Visit them on open days
  • Donate any unwanted silver or gold jewellery (even costume jewellery)
  • Give any unwanted foreign coins or notes
  • Donate old duvets, blankets, sheets and towels
  • Promote Hillside by distributing leaflets

Go to for more information.

The Hillside Shire Horse Sanctuary at West Runton is a great place to visit.

A modest admission fee applies and dogs are welcome (on leads).