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Her English Adventures -- She Rides Horses


From 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.

A liquid symphony...

rain cloudsNever, in England, are you far removed from water. Waves rushing over pebbly beaches, rain pouring into gutters, streams splashing through the'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.

A 15th-century 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.

A cloud-cloaked English moor...

cloudsMy 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 English moor...

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 rabbits.

I hiked with a hawk named Kit...

hawkWith 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."

Dark 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. weather vaneKit turned towards him, making eye contact, and there was no mistaking the bond.

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.

More exhilarating adventures in England...






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