As I sit here mulling over the summer it's hot, unseasonably so for the middle of September but apparently it will break in the next day or so.
Many of you who long for the Autumn in order to get your hawks flying at game will be chomping at the bit after the moult. Some of you will have made it along to the various falconry events of the summer season and may have seen us there. We attended all three of the major falconry events in the UK along with The Festival of Hunting at Peterborough in July.
The British Falconry and Raptor Fair in May heralded the start of the show season and so Tula, the Tawny Eagle, and I packed our van and headed off to Chetwynd Park in Shropshire. Me to set up the Hawk and Hound trade stand, and Tula to join the other eagles in the BFC 'World of Eagles' weathering for the event.
Worryingly we travelled through at least 3 seasons on the way to Shropshire and at one point could barely see the road ahead for horizontal snow! Not what we were hoping for but we are nothing if not determined.
We arrived on the Friday to set up the stand along with John Mease of J M Falconry Hoods and Vada Montgomery and Grant Campbell of V Braid.
It is always a great feeling when we arrive at the event, especially after such a tricky journey, and Chetwynd Park is always lovely to get to as we arrive from the top of the hill and see the assorted marquees arrayed out below us in the dip.
The stand was busy during both days and we saw many familiar faces and lots of new ones. It's particularly nice to be able to meet, in person, a friend made initially through social media. 'Badger' McAllister from Blair Drummond Safari Park had made the journey down with Vada and Grant, I think he thought he was going to have a weekend 'off' but he was soon put to work on the stand and showed a flair for sales - there was no stopping him.
There were periods of sunshine along with the rain and these gave us a chance to dry out a little and to enjoy the displays; those put on by the children of the Falcedu Project from Slovakia were quite inspiring and give great hope for the future of falconry.
Nathalie Denolf as usual was brilliant and her little Merlin, Lintu, was quite amazing and probably the fittest falcon I have ever seen. Nigel King of The Imperial Bird of Prey Academy flew his superstar female Kestrel, Grace, and she didn't disappoint, what a fantastic little falcon and Nigel's gift of the gab is something of legend.
All too soon it was time to pack the van and head off home to restock and prepare for the next event.
The Raptor Fair held at Dumcombe Park, Yorkshire rolled around incredibly quickly and so in June Tula and I found ourselves once more on the road. Another place that it is quite lovely to arrive at after a long car journey and the friendliest of welcomes from Charlie Heap and his staff. Tula was settled in, the stand set up and then it was time to have a look around Charlie's gorgeous centre. The collection at Duncombe is large and beautifully kept and flown and the team treated us to some wonderful displays over the course of the weekend. They also put on a brilliant social evening on the Saturday night that I think some attendees will not forget in a long time (although there are those who most certainly wouldn't have been able to remember the events of the evening by the next morning). Jimmy Robinson ran a 'pub quiz" and there was a very tasty barbecue enjoyed by everyone. The flying displays during the day were excellent and memorable: Trevor Fowles' gorgeous Kookaburra, while not a raptor, certainly held her own and is something I will remember for a very long time,
Nathalie Denolf flew her team which displayed brilliantly as ever. Charlie, Jimmy, Katie McEvoy and George Daltrey flew a variety of the Duncombe team and also managed to run the centre and the event which was quite a feat but they did it with great grace and in the friendliest of ways. Tula spent the evenings socialising long in to the night and was deeply miffed when she was sent to bed - who knew I had such a social eagle?
The Festival of Hunting at Peterborough in July is a highlight in the Fox Hunting calendar. Hounds from packs all over the country come along to be judged and it really is quite a spectacle. It was particularly nice to see Mark Luxton and his Westerby Bassets do so deservedly well. This event, thankfully, was not a rainy one but it was extremely hot so I can only thank the girls from the stand next door who supplied the odd Pimms !
And so to September. Once again we packed our silver van and headed off to Newent in Gloucestershire to attend the International Centre for Birds of Prey Falconry Weekend. All was going well until about an hour into the journey and the van started to be a little difficult but we persevered and arrived in plenty of time to put up our ENORMOUS tent (it didn't look that big in the picture when I bought it). There really isn't anywhere more exciting to be than at ICBP and the centre, as always, looked immaculate. Tula's place in the World of Eagles weathering was next to Stan, Andrew Aitchison's stunning Crowned Eagle.
I'm not sure how well this went down with her ladyship as he was getting, rightly, much more attention than her. The displays were just as awesome as you would expect them to be but one of the highlights for me was Moccas, the Andean Condor, who made a daily visit to the flying ground, he really is something to behold and very inquisitive. The evening entertainment was top notch on all three nights despite the weather, who knew that Nathalie Denolf would be such a demon at Cards Against Humanity or that Trevor Fowles wears leopard print undies? Monday morning came all too soon and after a quick trip around the centre (can there be a better place on earth to see a collection of birds of prey?) it was time to pack up and hit the road again. Oh, how easy that sounds, sadly it wasn't. An hour into the trip home the van again decided to be awkward and cut out in the outside lane of the M50. Not a situation that I would recommend and not one which I would care to repeat. Nine hours later and two AA vans and a £200 tow we were back home. Tula now appears on the AA's internal media as a 'celebrity' client after I refused to allow her to travel in the towed van and insisted that she travel in the AA van with us.
It's been a great summer thanks to the people who put so much time and effort into providing fabulous events for us to attend: Ron Morris, Bob Dalton, Adam Fry, Charlie Heap, Jimmy Robinson, Jemima Parry-Jones, Holly Cale, Alan Walker, Ian Robinson and many others who I'm sure that I may have left out.
As I write Bob Dalton and Adam Fry have taken over The British Falconry and Raptor Fair from 2017 onwards and they have great plans to take it to even greater heights. This is the announcement from Bob:
Good news regarding The British Falconry and Raptor Fair. As most will now be aware Ron Morris has retired and the event has been taken over by Bob Dalton and Adam Fry. I think we can all agree that whilst the Fair has become an institution it was in desperate need of a change and some revitalisation. Accordingly negotiations with The International Bird of Prey Centre at Newent and The National Bird of Prey Centre at Duncombe have resulted in what I hope most will consider a very satisfactory outcome and the way forward for all concerned.
The British Falconry and Raptor Fair will alternate between the two centres for the next six years beginning with Duncombe in 2017. It will be there again on 2019, and 2021. The event will be staged at Newent in 2018, 2020 and 2022. The reason for starting at Duncombe is that Newent will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year and accordingly will have lots of events taking place marking that auspicious milestone.
More news will be forthcoming quite shortly and the date of the event, the first Bank Holiday weekend in May has not changed. For those that require more information straight away then feel free to contact either Adam Fry or myself direct. Traders, stall holders and exhibitors will be contacted shortly with regard to the changes. Lets get behind the event and build it back to what it was.
So, from here I will be preparing for Christmas. No. I can't quite believe it either. So until next summer.......