Warwickshire falconry

Here is lovely set of pictures from our outing with Bob Edwards, the Warwickshire falconer. We flew the falcons in an open field on a local farm (with permission, of course) but for the hawks woodland was necessary. Some mature trees were supplied by nearby Abbey Park woods, now located in a modern business centre but once part of the grounds of Stoneleigh Abbey. This was one of the great Cistercian abbeys of the Middle Ages and in the 12th century even the local gentry had to pay the annual tithe of a sparrow hawk to the Abbot. Far from being a nominal gesture of the “rose rent” variety, this reflects the great value set upon trained hunting birds throughout this period. A commoner who was found in possession of a gyr falcon could loose the hand that it sat upon.

So we chatted as we got to know the birds in a relaxed atmosphere that Bob seems to generate around them. He operates in a particularly intuitive style which allowed the falcons to be taken out without hooding, something that I found very extremely satisfying. Gradually, I began to find out that a lot of what I had been told about birds of prey in captivity was disputable to say the least and that a much closer bond could be formed between bird and handler than I had previously understood. The young Harris hawk, Richard, exhibited as much personality as the roistering Irish actor that he is named after and is well on the way to becoming a “dog with wings”.

Talking of dogs, Bob does not so much own Lola the Hungarian Vizsla as the other way around. What a princess! These pointer dogs were specially bred by the Magyar and have a history going back more than a thousand years; it was a great honour to meet her. Molly, who after all has her own aristocratic heritage, had come along with us and she seemed absolutely fine with the birds but was not familiar enough with the routine to come out when they were exercised. Nonetheless, Bob was very considerate and insisted that she had plenty of exercise breaks during the day and came to the pub with us at lunchtime.

We had to drive a little way further for that because the local village of Stoneliegh has no pubs. Apparently, in Victorian times, the landowner’s daughter was taunted by some “rough working men” as she peddled her tricycle to church past one such establishment. He had all three pubs in the neighbourhood pulled down to teach them a lesson. You just couldn’t make it up. Later, I asked Grahame to drive me past the Abbey itself and we caught a glimpse of the imposing Georgian building that now sits in its place. There are considerable associations with Jane Austin’s family here and the house may have formed part of the inspiration behind Mansfield Park in her novel of the same name.

I don’t think I mentioned the fact that this was a private booking for just Grahame and myself, it was immensely enjoyable and didn’t in fact cost more than other places charge for larger groups. We will certainly be going back to try out the hunting season and will look out for Bob (wearing tights, no less) at the falconry displays sometimes put on in local medieval fairs. There is a deeply satisfying connection with the countryside that comes from walking out with a hunting bird on your wrist, something that makes it more than just an entertaining diversion or a photography opportunity. As youre hawk swoops through the branches or turns effortlessly in the air your heart lifts and, for a moment at least, you are the one who is flying.

Categories: Britain, West of England

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