Falconry at Dunrobin Castle

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Dunrobin Castle and Gardens (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Toward the end of our Scotland Adventure, we toured the amazing Dunrobin Castle, a majestic home in Sutherland in the Highland area of Scotland.  Dunrobin Castle is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland.  It is about 5 miles south of Brora on the east coast of Scotland, overlooking the Dornoch Firth.  There are 189 rooms within the castle, making it the largest in the northern Highlands. Externally, the castle has elements inspired by the work of the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, such as the pyramidal roof over the main entrance. The French influence extends into the gardens, completed in 1850, with Barry taking inspiration from the French formal style of the Gardens of Versailles. The total landscaped area is 1,379 acres.

 

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Gardens and Firth (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Dunrobin’s origins lie in the Middle Ages, but most of the present building and the gardens was added by Sir Charles Barry between 1835 and 1850. Some of the original building is visible in the interior courtyard, despite a number of expansions and alterations that made it the largest house in the north of Scotland. After being used as a boarding school for seven years, it is now open to the public.  (Wikipedia)  The view, above, was taken from a window in the castle and only shows about a quarter of the formal gardens at Dunrobin.  The castle may have been built on the site of an early medieval fort, but the oldest surviving portion, with an iron yett, is first mentioned in 1401.

 

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The Falconer and the Golden Eagle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

A visit to Dunrobin Castle now includes daily birds of prey flying demonstrations at 11.30am, and 2.00pm on the Castle lawnThese spectacular shows feature golden eagles and peregrine falcons, both resident birds in the Scottish Highlands. Shown here feeding the golden eagle when we first arrived.  Additionally, he had Harris hawks, steppe eagles and goshawks on display.  Our show included a goshawk, peregrine falcon and owl.

 

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The Falconer’s Son and Bongo (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

The falconer’s son is in training and already handled many of the birds.  A film crew was there filming the falconer’s son and another young boy. I talked with them before and after the show. At first I thought they were doing a film on the falconer and his son, but it turns out they are doing a film on an egg collector and HIS son, both who were there. Egg collectors (never knew there was such a thing) helped track down the reason for sharp declines in hawk and falcon reproduction – DDT – making the shells fragile, breaking before they could hatch.

 

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Falconer and Goshawk (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Andy Hughes, Dunrobin’s professional resident Falconer demonstrates and explains the different hunting methods used by owls, hawks and falcons in a series of fascinating aerobatic displaysAndy took this hawk through the motions. It was fascinating. The hawk had a little bell on him so that Andy could tell his whereabouts. Apparently, the hawk likes to sneak up on him.

 

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Owl Games (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

We adored Bongo!  Andy had him skim over our heads many times so that we could hear (or not hear) just how quiet his flight is.  An owl is mostly feathers – his body is about a quarter of the size he appears.

 

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The Peregrine (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

Falconry was originally developed as a means of hunting fast or difficult prey as food for the table, and is still practiced for this purpose in many parts of the world today.  This display of falconry was one of my favorite experiences in Scotland.  Not only was the setting breathtakingly beautiful, the display was more than I imagined.  Andy and his son were very personable, chatting with us all before and afterward, plus we were allowed to tour the area where the birds are kept.  It’s a humbling experience being around such graceful and intense birds.  Andy and his son treated the birds the highest respect.

 

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Falconry at Dunrobin Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

 

If you are ever in Scotland one of the tours you simply must do is the falconry exhibit at Dunrobin Castle.  Right after you see Eilean Donan Castle.  Well, it’s all good.  It’s all good.

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10 comments

  1. Awesome experience. And although mostly feathers these large birds are still quite heavy when perched on a hand. At least that was my experience working with birds at Seattle’s Woodland Park zoo. But then I didn’t have this kind of lovely scenery.

    1. I’ve never held a bird of prey before, but have other types and they are heavier than I imagined. This eagle blew me away. I’d never seen a golden eagle before, and seeing one up close like that was amazing.

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