her base in Ottawa, Yvonne Jeffery Hope combines her love
of travel with the profession of writing. The result is
several awards -- the most recent as a finalist for Choice
Hotel's Awards for Excellence in Travel Journalism -- and
many happy hours devoted to the journey.
in England, are you far removed from water. Waves rushing
over pebbly beaches, rain pouring into gutters, streams splashing
through the woods...it's a liquid symphony.
I knew that.
I just didn't expect
it in front of my car.
To move ahead, I had
to ford a stream flowing swiftly under a medieval packhorse
bridge. My other option, a left turn, led down an alarmingly
narrow village lane.
I was five hours southwest
of London, at the village of Allerford on Exmoor's northern
reaches, searching for Exmoor Falconry and Animal Farm. With
the stream as wide as the rental car was long, I chose not
to risk the water's depths.
stone farmhouse with a difference...
Instead, I edged down
the lane and three-quarters of a mile on, found what I was
looking for: a 15th-century stone farmhouse tucked back from
the road, sporting delicately arched windows, prominent chimneys
and ivy stretching up the walls.
Cathy Powell immediately
welcomed me into the spacious guest lounge with a pot of hot,
restorative tea and a chat about my agenda of falconry and
horseback riding. She and her husband Glenn own the business,
including falconry centre, animal farm and bed &breakfast,
leasing the buildings and land from Britain's National Trust.
night at the B&B proved restful, and morning dawned hopefully
to roosters crowing and kookaburras laughing in the busy farmyard.
The breeze propelling the high, white clouds hinted of moisture,
however. Having lived in England as a child, I figured that
if the ducks didn't mind the weather, neither did I. But I
knew there was nothing colder or damper than a cloud-cloaked
Hoping to beat the weather,
falconer Mark Presley and I headed out. Since you can't fly
birds of prey over the national park itself, the falconry
centre works with a local farmer who owns 3,000 moorland acres.
The arrangement benefits both, exercising the birds and ridding
the farmer's fields of unwanted pests, like the ubiquitous
with a hawk named Kit...
us came Kit, a six-year-old, two-and-a-half pound Harris Hawk,
her dark body and mid-brown wings set off by a white-flashed
underbelly and tail. As we hiked along an open valley, then
up, onto hilltop fields and moor, I discovered that watching
Kit heightened my own senses.
I looked up as she glided
over the fields: high above, an English buzzard soared, keeping
a watchful eye on the newcomer. As Kit found a perch on a
fencepost, I kept my own watchful eye for the slightest movement
below that would indicate her quarry, my hearing alert for
any rustling in the nearby gorse thickets.
"We're purely observers,"
Mark told me. "The hawk is doing everything it does in the
wild. It's just letting us watch, which it wouldn't normally."
grey clouds and wind...
When Mark called Kit
to my leather-gauntleted fist, I barely felt her land. So
close, her silk-like, aerodynamic feathers contrasted sharply
to the beak and claws designed for the hunt.
"The most rewarding part
is setting the birds free and having them return to you because
they want to," Mark said. Kit
turned towards him, making eye contact, and there was no mistaking
Here in the open, though,
the wind now buffeted us, making flight tough for Kit. Behind
us to the southwest, dark grey clouds scraped the hilltops.
We returned to the farm ahead of the rain, and spent the afternoon
with the centre's 40-odd birds of prey.
exhilarating adventures in England...