Donkey Riding


Another from camp and Jon says, “Another shanty that I learnt on FSC, it’s often sung as a children’s song.”

Well that might be true, but not this version methinks as it’s a tad salty for smalls. Mainly Norfolk has text from Hugill about the whole shanty business and as usual the verses on this are fairly slippery. The Mudcat thread makes much of the general sauciness of the song, but makes some quite entertaining reading on the terminology, although the meaning of certain phrases is clearly just as slippery as the verses. Still, good fun this one.

Bonus Track: Donkey Riding live at Farnham Maltings


You can buy the February digital album now from all good download stores.



29 Responses to “Donkey Riding”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Yes, I used to sing this as a child, but different words I can’t remember now. It is good fun, and very jauntily sung, Jon!

    @ Skyman Simon: Since we are on shanties and sailing, I have purchased a brand new (charity shoppe find) audiobook of ‘Longitude,’ recommended by you as a good read. I said I wasn’t sure it was my kind of book, but I thought I could listen to it as read by David Rintoul. Thnx for the suggestion.

  2. Shelley says:

    I too sang this one at primary school, and I can’t remember the words to the verses either. Sure they weren’t the same ones as Jon sings though!

  3. muzza(s.e.England) says:

    The local Girl Guides used to sing this…….I, being a boy scout & completely enthralled by girls, never listened to the words… but I’m sure that their version was not risque.

  4. Simon says:

    Jane I really hope you enjoy it. I thought it was a remarkable story and very well written. Let me know what you think.

  5. jim says:

    Me too. We sang this song in school in Western Canada, with appropriate words.

    Would like to hear more about the origins of the song.

  6. LadyD says:

    I like the live version. Made me chuckle.

  7. Helena says:

    I remember this from primary school (albeit with rather different lyrics).

    Just wanted to say I thoroughly enjoyed the gig last night at Farnham. Top stuff.
    ‘Songs From the Floodplain’ is rarely off my playlist for long and it was great to hear it live again, particularly ‘Under Their Breath’ which is a personal favourite. I even got to drink beer on a schoolnight.

  8. John Burton says:

    re. Bonus Live version.
    Really glad to hear that Jon is actually human, I was beginning to have my doubts.
    It is being able to pull off those moments which is the secret to it all.

  9. Shelley says:

    Tee hee – love the live version!

  10. David G says:

    Dawn and I were so pleased to be at the sing around after the Farnham gig! Hilarious!!

  11. Anna says:

    It’s a great little song, and I have been joining in loudly in the kitchen today! I’m starting to feel like I really missed out at school – I only remember learning one song there, and that was for a school play – I’m sure we never did any singing other than for plays!

  12. Jim says:

    I think this is one of those songs where you can make up your own words as you go along. I think there is a Timbuctu verse, where all the ladies are black and blue, and wiggle thier titties too. A bit hazy from my rugby song singing days!

    Anyways a great night at the Maltings topped off with some fun in the foyer afterwards. Just love the impromptu sing alongs like that.

  13. SRD says:

    I too remember it from school, Singing Together probably, and I suspect that there were no definitive versions in ‘the good old days’ of shanty singing. I do recall discussions on what ‘donkey riding’ might mean and the tieing in of the term for a small engine being a donkey, so it was doing the work that a small engine might have done, of course it might also have been something vulgar.
    The verse about the ‘Lion and the Unicorn’ presumably refers to a royal coat of arms and has 19th century political implications.

  14. Simon Ritchie says:

    Great fun had by all at The Maltings, even though it was a school night.

  15. RichardM says:

    Great gig at The Maltings and loved the singing afterwards especially “Donkey Riding”! Jon was on top form and the rest of the band shone too 😀

  16. Patrick Rose says:

    Nice version. I’m a fan of the Great Big Sea version, with much less saucy lyrics…

    As an aside, I heard tell that a donkey was some sort of engine, but I trust the internet about as far as I can throw it.

    Also, well done Jon in the live version 🙂

  17. elfpix says:

    Oh, man. Childhood, come charging back in! We had no idea, of course, but the energy was as good as 100 bottles for our purposes and the words were more interesting by far.

  18. Bobbie Banghart says:

    I learned a part of this as a small girl in Brownies. We learn a dance to the second verse.
    I couldn’t get it out of my mind as was delighted to find this. The verses I learned were not as saucy.

  19. Diana says:

    Always loved this song – funny though in the past when I asked friends what they remember of it, everyone could warble the chorus but nobody knew any of the verses. I believe that the donkey in question is not the four-legged variety but more likely a donkey engine. Well sung Jon, you enjoyed singing it I think.

  20. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:


    Did you see Folk song a day
    where lads and lasses have their say
    Cats and vests cast care away
    And spelling goes all wonkey.

    (A “wonkey” is Yorkshire for a 3 legged donkey!)

  21. Peter Walsh says:

    Re Jim’s comment, there is a Timbuctu verse, if you follow the Mainly Norfolk link it’s all there; thanks to our efficient German chum once more!
    A song that goes at quite a pace, with hardly any chances to draw a breath, so you need to be young and strong like Jon to pull it off (ooh, err…)!

  22. Daina says:


    Ooh I say what lovely stuff
    Since it’s written off the cuff
    Put a sock in in that’s enough
    Before we all go wonky

    Cats and vest
    Will stand the test
    I love them both but think the best
    Is riding on a donkey

    Your turn Muzza

  23. Muzza(NW Surrey.UK) says:

    @Diana…….you win

  24. Diana says:

    Muzza I thought your effort was excellent – at least it fitted th etune. The first verse of mine did but not the second.

  25. Maggie says:

    Back to the earlier discussion about what is a donkey

  26. Diana says:

    @Maggie – I remember reading I know not where, that the song refers to a donkey engine which was used on ships to load and unload cargo.
    However the dictionary refers to “a small auxiliary engine, such as one used for pumping water into the boilers of a steamship”. The verses of the song suggest a connection with ships so who knows.

  27. Diana says:

    Sorry Maggie I should have gone to your link and there it was, what I believed – a donkey engine. Ta!

  28. Diana says:

    Still great to hear. Brings back memories of childhood. Nice and jolly.

  29. Linda says:

    Missed your comment in 2012 Muzza had to chuckle……looking forward to some of the songs later in the month…

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