Falconry, the ancient art of hunting with birds of prey, is a fascinating pursuit with a long and storied history. Scotland provides a majestic setting in which to experience the magic of flying a bird of prey, and visitors interested in learning about and participating in this ancient sport can get a taste of history at several of Connoisseurs Scotland’s luxury properties, where falconry is still alive and flying high.
Thought by many scholars to have originated in ancient Mesopotamia, the first possible recording of falconry dates back as far as 2000 BC. Though this early history is somewhat contentious, the sport—often called the “sport of kings” because of its association with the ruling class—reached the British Isles around 860 AD and hit its zenith in the 17th century. Though the rise of firearms as a hunting tool almost wiped out this aristocratic pursuit, a revival has been taking hold; nowadays falconry is a pastime practiced most commonly as a field sport. Traditionally, the peregrine falcon was the bird of choice for falconers, but today hawks—particularly the red -tailed and Harris hawk—eagles, and even occasionally owls, are used. Large gloves, also known as gauntlets, are worn by falconers to protect their hands from the birds’ talons, while the bird wears a hood to help keep it calm and focused while training.
Founded by Emma and Steve Ford in 1982, The British School of Falconry at Gleneagles is the first dedicated falconry school in the world and educates more than 4,000 people per a year in this exciting art. Visitors can choose their level of involvement with the sport, from a simple 45-minute introduction class to a multi-level certification course that covers everything from flying birds of prey at game to imping (repairing a bird’s broken tail feathers) to crafting a hood. Family falconry lessons at Gleneagles allow adults and kids to experience the thrill of flying a hawk on the property’s picturesque grounds. Gleneagles can even tailor-make a special program for travelers by booking overnight accommodations along with falconry requirements.
At Cameron House on Loch Lomond in the Scottish Highlands, the “Hawk Walk” program allows guests to experience the thrill of flying a bird of prey along the gorgeous banks of the loch. In addition to learning the basics of bird handling, participants are shown how to correctly call a bird to the glove and how to cast it off. From there it’s out to the grounds of the hotel, where guests experience the thrill of the hawk “following on” and landing on their gloves when called in. Families looking for the falconry experience should check out the Family Fun package, in which they’re shown the correct procedure for holding, flying and calling in a bird of prey. The group is introduced to a selection of owls, hawks, eagles and falcons and each person can hold and fly three different birds. The Family Fun package is appropriate for adults and kids ages 7 and up.
The stunning surroundings of Inverlochy Castle, located in the verdant Western Highlands, and at regal Cromlix in Perthshire, are both ideal for outdoor sports of all kinds. Thanks to a partnership with the award-winning Phoenix Falconry team, guests can learn to fly a hawk without leaving either hotel’s grounds. An introduction to falconry class exposes guests to the history and pageantry of the sport as well as the handling and training of a young hawk before each guest gets to the fly a bird unaided. A family-oriented session allows guests to handle and free-fly several of varieties of hawks, falcons, owls, buzzards and eagles to their fist. Each session ends with a photo session with “Pilgrim,” Phoenix’s huge, friendly bald eagle. Interested travelers should make reservations for falconry experiences in advance of arriving.