On a farm just inside the M25 we are about to experience the ancient pastime and former royal sport of falconry.
Something for grown-ups
We are shown some of the equipment used in falconry and discover that many English phrases derive from the sport: "hoodwinked" - from hoods used to fool birds into thinking it is night; "at the end of your tether"; and "boozing" - a drinking bird is said to "bowse".
After a health and safety talk and a warning that the birds eat mouse and chick, we are ready to meet the avian crew.
Something for the children (and adults)
We begin by going for a walk with Gizmo the barn owl. We watch her swoop past our heads. The kids are immediately hooked. "This is brilliant," says my 11-year-old. "Much better than birds at the zoo."
Now it's our turn. We don thick leather gloves and James, the falconer, hands us each a falcon. They are hybrids of saker, lanner and peregrine (the fasted creature on earth) and quite majestic. We stroke their breast feathers and take them for a short walk. Boris, a barmy-looking bateleur eagle with fluffy brown feathers, is handed round. He likes to have the back of his neck scratched. An American black vulture does an unscheduled comedy act on the floor, hopping madly about and dragging a bag around.
It is lunchtime for Savannah, a large and evil-looking African white-back vulture. I am not sure I want to go anywhere near her, but my elder son is in there, holding out a dead chick. She grabs at it viciously.
Now comes the best bit. We are introduced to two Harris hawks, Jet and Jake. The boys take them outside and release them. The hawks follow us, flying back and forth as we walk along. We hold up chick legs, call, and they come. Just tapping your glove brings them in. Occasionally they land without warning, surprising us. The boys love it - and so do I.
Refreshments: Tea and coffee are freely available and lunch is in the local country pub.
Access: Wheelchair accessible.
Admission: Half day £75 per person; full day (lunch included) £110 per person or £275 for a family of four. Children must be at least seven and with an adult.
How to get there: Impact Falconry, near Watford, Hertfordshire. Parking available. (020-8421 0970; impact-falconry.co.uk).Reuse content