Weekend with the birds who gave us booze

UK OUTDOORS: Falconry on horseback? Sounds like something to leave to the experts. Not at all, says Rupert Isaacson

In recent years falconry has recovered from a dying art practised by a few committed eccentrics, to become a growing sport with mass appeal. About 20 falconry schools in the UK now run regular courses, as well as "taster" days where beginners are taken out with an experienced falconer and allowed to fly a trained bird to hunt rabbits and pheasants. Although falconry is a blood sport, something in its beauty has prevented the "anti" lobby from targetting it. The inherent wildness of the birds, their physical beauty, and their soaring aerial acrobatic ability make them attractive to many people. Some falconry schools even report vegans signing up for courses, unable to resist the romance of striding through the countryside with hawk on fist.

Falconers use a variety of birds of prey and some of these are endangered species in the wild - peregrines, merlins and goshawks, for example. But all falconers' birds in Britain are captive-bred, raised from eggs in incubators.

To take up falconry is to re-enter the medieval world. Many words in common use today derive from falconry: booze comes from the name for a falcon's drinking bowl; a mews was originally the narrow alley in a castle where the falcons were kept.

Most other terms are unique to the art: you hold your falcon or hawk by a pair of "jesses" - leather straps attached to its legs with bells on them, so that you can locate the bird by its jingling if it flies into a tree for a sulk; you can attach the jesses to a "creance", or a long string, when flying the young bird in its early training; or you can lamely attempt to calm your bird if it "bates", or throws a tantrum on your wrist, hanging upside down from its jesses, screaming and tearing at any exposed flesh it can see. The only key falconer's words readily understandable to the layman are the glove (for your protection) and the hood (to keep the bird calm when travelling).

There are two types of raptor, or bird of prey; longwings - which comprise falcons - and shortwings, which comprise hawks and eagles. The longwings take their prey at high speed, whether through a stoop - dive bombing another bird from high above - or grabbing it after an aerial chase. Shortwings tend to catch their prey on the ground, dropping on it from a hovering position atop a thermal, or from a branch or ledge.

So much for an introduction. If the romance of falconry grabs you, the Scottish Academy of Falconry, which operates in the Border hills, is offering something exceptional - falconry on horseback. You can be a complete beginner to hawking, but must be able to ride passably well.

Mounted on a hunter, you carry your peregrine or saker falcons on the wrist as you ride. The prey are crows. Accompanied by two trained falconers, you de-hood the bird and let it go once the prey has been spotted. What follows is intensely exciting. The falcon soars high into the air above the flock of crows, which scatter, alarmed, across the sky. Then the chase is on. Diving from several hundred feet, the falcons hurtle into the midst of the crows, selecting one victim from among the many. Crows are highly agile flyers too and can often evade a falcon by such tricks as turning upside-down and falling out of the air, or even trying to fight back.

If you really get the bug, the staff can help you get started on the long road to becoming a falconer, putting you in touch with a school in your area where you can take a course to prepare you for owning and training your own bird. Most schools will then provide back-up during the complicated process of training and flying. However, if an experience is all you are after, a weekend's falconry on horseback makes an unforgettable, fiercely romantic memory.

FACT FILE

Scottish Academy of Falconry, Bonchester Bridge, Hawick, Roxburghshire, TD9 9TB, Scotland, tel/fax (01450) 860666.

Accommodation

April-Nov. Double rooms in country house. Full board. Special diets catered for on request.

Booking

pounds 50 non-refundable deposit. Book three weeks in advance, but late bookings up to 48 hours in advance can be taken if available.

Children All ages welcome.

Insurance

Guests should provide holiday insurance.

Safety Staff trained in first aid.

Tariffs

Weekend falconry on horseback, pounds 250 all-in.

Access

Off the B6357 south of Bonchester Bridge. Trains to Hawick (from Carlisle), buses to Jedburgh or Hawick. Pickups can be arranged by centre (pounds 5 charge).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on