Wednesday 13 November 2019

Chester Cathedral Falconry

Every year I make a list of 10 places I’ve never visited but would love to go. Last year I managed to tick off 9 of these incredibly, only missing out on the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. This year I’m doing considerably worse with my list, not because I’ve not made it to some amazing place, but because they are getting more obscure and further afield making them harder to achieve logistically.

So, I made a concerted effort for my birthday weekend and even though going back to my beloved Oxford was hugely tempting I resisted and chose new ground from my list; Chester.

This historic city is certainly very pretty, even on a cold and rainy weekend. The huge array of Tudor fronted buildings give the impression many buildings are actually far older than they really are, as most are in fact Victorian. But one ancient building hiding behind a Victorian facade is Chester Cathedral, which was truly a wonder to behold (but that's another story for another blog). Nestled behind this medieval marvel, sandwiched between Georgian grandeur and Roman walls is Chester Cathedral Falconry.

As a crazy bird lady it was only natural that this would be on my hit list, especially given my obsession with birds of prey. Strangely its made me realise I've never actually been to a dedicated falconry centre before! And I cant figure out why not!
As a child we had all sorts of birds from a Myna bird called Slade to various Parrots and one of my favourite birds (which has stayed with me as a life long love); Barn Owls (named; Barney, Betty and Pebbles by me). So every Barn Owl I see I have a particular affection for, and Boj was no exception! Falconer Kieran was kind enough to let us watch Boj feed, always a fascinating experience!

We timed arrival well for the next display, managing to fit in a quick observation of the birds, watch a few feeds and also for me to slightly fall in love with Tinks the vulture a little bit before it began!
Kay and Kieran treated us to lots of interesting facts and information while we marveled at the birds and their own unique adaptations and hunting styles. As a bird of prey obsessive I was in my element!

First up Tinks the Vulture was absolutely charming. I was pleased as punch to see him outside his aviary and strutting his stuff. Of all the birds we saw Tinks definitely had the biggest personality. His comical ambling walking style and minimal effort for food certainly gave him a humorous humanesque personality. Thinking with his stomach and loyal for food, I know plenty of people that fit this description! Tinks provided smiles all around as he repeatedly attacked peoples shoes, having a pop at mine several times and almost succeeding in untying my laces a few times.

Up next was a Harris Hawk who showed us skills at catching prey on the move, and saw off a few pigeons and a squirrel in the process. The home made fake rabbit on the move using a Dewalt drill and wire was an impressive use of creativity I have to say!

Indian Eagle Owl Munch was the biggest owl we saw during our visit, and I was lucky enough to don the gauntlet and support his impressive presence.We had a little chat and I told him how gorgeous he was (he already knew of course) while occasionally buffeting me with his massive wing span. Kay also showed how silent his flight is and how precise Munch is by getting him to fly over a few peoples heads (I have a hilarious photo of one couple recoiling in horror, the sheer terror on the woman's face is priceless, but I thought I better not share those!)

Id be lying if I said I didn't find the final bird of the afternoon Peanut the Red Footed Falcon utterly adorable. I just wanted to scoop him up in my jacket pocket and cuddle him. But, don't let his size fool you. I wouldn't mess with this guy for one second. His in air hunting skills were fantastic and while hes used to hunting things such as insects, I wouldn't fancy my chances against this tenacious little guy!

In all I had a wonderful time at Chester Cathedral Falconry. The passion of the handlers/trainers was simply infectious. All the birds were beautiful, fascinating and clearly so loved by the team. If you get chance to pay these guys a visit don't hesitate. A wonderful afternoon with some wonderful feathered folk, and their devoted humans! Thanks to all the team at Chester Cathedral Falconry for making my birthday weekend a great one!


Friday 1 November 2019

Derbyshire Woodland Festival

One day entirely by chance I stumbled upon an event on social media which I had never heard of before. It turns out I've been entirely in the dark because Derbyshire Woodland Festival has been running for some time. Quite how it passed me by I have no idea! I'd be lying if I said I had no reservations about what it would be like, but any concerns were totally unfounded. The event was much larger than I had expected and in all honesty, fantastic! There were so many highly skilled, very enthusiastic craftsmen and women making all sorts, from wood, inspired by wood or relating to the woods.

There were a whole host of different skills on display from chair making, carving, basket weaving, boat building, chainsaw sculpting, wood turning, survival skills plus many more. The Viking encampment alone had; a blacksmith, traditional weaving, ink making (as a fountain pen collector and ink obsessive you can imagine how exciting this was), candle making, food, herbs and cooking, arrow making and of course, battle reenactment. There was always something to see, smell and of course eat (were always happy if we spot Spondon Bakery at an event, you know your in for something tasty!).

It has to be said the friendliness and approachability of these craftspeople was second to none. Their enthusiasm for their craft was nothing short of infectious and I loved talking to the many makers who urged me to join them with my artwork next year. I wholeheartedly support the dedication and passion that these creatives are putting into keeping these skills alive, and in turn getting others interested and impassioned about them too.

My honest highlight was the Wild Man of the Woods wandering in the forest, telling tales and singing songs. He immediately felt to be the living embodiment of the ancient oral tradition of story telling and oral history which most cultures have lost since the advent of the written word. British Folklore was founded on people like this, they held all the knowledge of their world and passed it forth to the next generation using this ancient technique. My admiration and fascination with this Green Man was honestly huge. I hadn't quite expected to react in such a way and feel so moved, but he was truly incredible. It felt as though I was glimpsing just for a while, into our pre-christian past, and I felt very at home indeed.

Another heart warming part of the day was the 'hug a hen' stall. Where ex-commercial laying hens are offered a second chance in life after being saved by the charity 'Fresh Start For Hens' who help re-home them all over the country. I didn't personally partake in the Hen hugging (last time I held a hen in my arms was a small Bantam found lost in the road, whom I subsequently fell in love with, named Effie Millais and sadly couldn't keep - best not tempt fate to go through that again!). Hens are lovely, calming creatures and both them and the charity workers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely!

The excitement of a Battle Reenactment is something I always enjoy, and the one by these vikings was no exception. An old friend of mine was surprisingly among the throng of battle hardened warriors, which bought a smile to my face and certainly made being a spectator even more interesting. I always enjoy seeing groups such as this bringing a slice of history back to life for us. Best of all they all seem to greatly enjoy beating the living shit out of each other! Perhaps I should take it up as a form of stress relief!

I whole heatedly hope that there will be another Derbyshire Woodland Festival as I enjoyed the event immensely. There was so much to see and do and so many wonderful folks to talk to it made for a wonderful day out I would recommend to any other like minded people. Maybe next year we might even get some fine weather to go with the fine entertainment!