I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can imagine a more awesome thing to do on the grounds of an beautiful old castle than Falconry.
And yes, I mean flying birds of prey from our arms as we wandered through the neighboring forest. When they weren’t swooping onto our arms to snatch a delicious, cold chicken foot, they were slowly stalking us through the forest, totally doing their own thing.
Our two beautiful Harris hawks, Oscar (as in Wilde) and Beckett (as in Samuel), were first introduced to us by our fantastic guide and trainer. He constantly fed us information about the hawks, their nature and each of their personalities: Oscar doesn’t like to fly with many other birds than Beckett, but Beckett seems to get along with every one else. Beckett is a bit of a pretty boy and a show boat. One time he just ditched the guests flying him because he found more appealing morsels- a nest full of heron eggs.
Holding these brilliant birds of prey, looking into their intelligent eyes, and feeling the strength of their lean bodies was such a fantastic experience that I highly suggest to anyone looking for a unique experience. I was warned not to pet or cuddle it, which was tough...
This facility at Ashford Castle is the oldest established school of falconry in Ireland. Along with the tourist-friendly Harris hawks, they have a number of other birds of prey including a peregrine flacon and a large (and apparently lazy) owl.
After our introduction to our birds, we began a slow walk out of the facility and into the surrounding wood. Once there, the hawks were released into the trees, where they stalked us for the next hour as we walked through the scenic paths, each taking turns with the gloves and bait.
I had initially been concerned that an hour would not be enough time for us to enjoy the birds, for each of the 5 of us to fly them, and to have a decent forested walk. However, by the end of our time (which was actually a touch over an hour- I don’t think it was a busy day) I felt like we had really gotten a feel for the stunning creatures and each had plenty of time to marvel at them diving for food into our palms.
In fact, my arm was a bit tired……
Certainly for me, the best part was looking into the trees to find Beckett and Oscar. Sometimes they were watching us…well…like hawks, waiting for an arm to be raised as a perch, knowing that there would be a snack waiting. But sometimes they were flitting around doing their own thing, enjoying the forest. Then you would raise your arm, wait and swooop they would land and anxiously dig into your hand for their reward.
I love interesting facts and we learned quite a few on this excursion. My favorites were the falconry terms that have worked their way into our common language. To name a few:
To be “Under Ones Thumb” comes from the falcon’s leash that is held under the trainer’s thumb and “Wrapped Around their [little] Finger” to keep the bird from flying away (which, we learned they will try to do at the sight/sound of large machinery, bicycles and, especially, stroller).
To be “Fed Up” nowadays is to be irritated or done with something. This too comes from falconry, as when the bird has eaten its fill, it will stop hunting (I wish I had that amount of self control…).
A falcon’s neck feathers are called “gorgete” which makes its throat a “gorge.” When they eat, their extendible crop expands to accommodate a large meal at once, hence to “Gorge.”
Oh, but of course! I cannot forget about this beautiful castle that hosts falconry, along with many other unique experiences: you can take a small steam boat around the adjacent lake, rent bikes to ride through the grounds, ride horses from the private stables or even enjoy the snobbery of high tea in the castle. Our original plan had been to pack a picnic to eat on the grounds, but we failed in preparedness for that-plus we had expected rain all day.
Rather, we just wandered the grounds for a while to enjoy the beautifully restored facility that now hosts an 82-room hotel that is consistently rated one of the best in the world.
I had, of course, seen picture after picture of this castle on Pinterest and knew that we simply had to go. I was a bit surprised, however that is seemed a bit smaller than I was expecting. It was grand, no doubt, but without another activity to keep us there, we did not need much time to explore the grounds and place.
If you want to enjoy the grounds of this castle, I highly suggest doing exactly as we did: make an appointment to enjoy one of the (actually quite affordable) activities, which admits you into the castle grounds without the 10eu per person fee. Then, you are also permitted to park within the grounds, which gave us a fantastic jumping off point through the gardens.
*Sigh* Perhaps someday we will return and stay in one of the stunning staterooms and enjoy daily tea in the garden rooms with evening cigars in the lounge, take daily strolls (in Harris tweed jackets, of course) through the grounds before our daily activity or a jaunt into the charming nearby town. Perhaps…
Oh and a special surprise!!!
Can you imagine getting engaged at a castle?!
Well our close friends and adventure partners on this trip DID! We were recruited as photographers for the event. It was pretty special to be there.
(Now how’s that for a newly-engaged ring shot?!)
Congrats to Lizzy and Will! We were so happy to be a part of this engagement-moon and we cannot WAIT to be there for your big day, and the rest of your lives after that! We love you!
What do you think, guys? Have I convinced you to give falconry a shot?
Or maybe make a trip to Ireland and make Ashford Castle a must-see? If this castle didn’t do it, some of the others (coming up!) should!