Hawkwalk and Falconry Experience Days

If you’ve every wondered what a falconer does, or been to a bird of prey centre and wanted to experience for yourself the magic of falconry, then David and Tracy Hughes at HawkWalk are the people to visit. Their hawkwalk and falconry experience days are second to none.

I visited them in their South Oxfordshire home, to experience a day of falconry, learning how the birds are trained, cared for and nurtured to provide a unique insight into a sport of the past which gives a chance to experience the countryside with a new pair of eyes.

If you’ve ever been disappointed in a falconry experience day because there’s so little opportunity for a real, hands-on experience, then Hawk Walk, set in a pretty South Oxfordshire village, is the place to go. I visited for the day, and found that I learnt not just about the birds themselves, but the experience gave me new eyes to see the countryside and the wildlife just a short walk from the highways and byways, yet miles from the run of the mill walks that I usually take.

The morning’s lesson – an informal session with coffee and a hand’s on session with one of the many birds that David keeps (Spook, the Snowy Owl, Squeek, the first of David’s birds, and Tiny, the Eagle Owl, amongst others) and instruction in how to tie a one-handed falconer’s knot (difficult, but not impossible), is followed by a delicious lunch at the local pub, The Bear at Home Inn.

After lunch, I took charge of my own trained, hunting falcon, an experience which opened my eyes to the mind, habits and talents of these fine birds, and the extent to which they are trained. Allowed to fly free, they demonstrate their powerful flight, turn of speed and stunning wing-span. Sitting in the trees, waiting for prey, they are still and watchful, giving me the chance to really experience the countryside for the first time: the Harris Hawks determine the pace of the walk, and I was rewarded by a new view of the world, waiting for the movement of the hawk to indicate whether there was prey to be had, waiting for the intent stare that meant a strike in the offing, or, if there was no prey to be had, calling the birds to the fist and moving to the next clump of trees.

This is a day that stays in the memory: not just because the birds themselves are so beautiful, nor because it’s uniquely hands-on. It’s also because there is a link to the past: hawks and their hunting history are alive and well, and David gives his guests the chance to step back in time, see the world from a new perspective and get just a taste of the fascinating world of falconry.”

by Helen McLeod

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