Friday, 26 August 2022

Natsworthy & Grimspound - More Dartmoor Adventures in an Ancient Landscape and WWII Bomber Crash Site

It's that time of year, as the days grow long and sunny, that Carolyn and I yearn to get back out on Dartmoor and about this time last year we were enjoying the delights of Haytor Down and Yarner Wood, as we took time to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary at the Rock Inn.

This year has been a little more hectic than last, with plans for our Post Retirement Gap Year well under way, and the need therefore to fit as much in into the remaining time at home requiring much more prioritising than usual.

However with Carolyn on a summer break from work, we decided to head off into the Devon hills and with me turning to a little book, 'Fairly' Easy Walks on Dartmoor, I picked up a few months ago that contains some walks on Dartmoor that we hadn't seen before, which I fancied giving a go.

Since March this year I have been working with a new walking app 'Footpath' which I am finding very intuitive to use, enabling me to plan walks very quickly on the great selection of maps, which include Ordnance Survey and so had our route for Walk No.12 planned in in no time and all set to go on the phone.

The maps below give you an idea of the look of the system and where our route would be taking us, just north of Widecombe in the Moor over a distance of five miles.

What I really like about Footpath is the simple planning tool that lets you easily select points along the route you want to go and then the app seamlessly plots the most appropriate route using recognised footpaths and avoiding, hopefully, trespassing on to private land.

So far it has proved faultless and very easy to use.

The walk is described as the most strenuous in the book, and a look at the incline graph married up to the route shows the steepest part of the walk climbing up from West Coombe to the top of Hookney Tor. 

This happened to fit in well with our walking schedule at the moment as we are doing a bit of pre-match training in readiness for our trip away which will see us doing a bit of alpine trekking and with last months all-day sixteen mile hike around the Exe Estuary under our belt we decided a bit of hill climbing would be a good work out, not to mention this part of the moor is one of our favourite areas to go to, including as it does the Bronze Age settlement at Grimspound closely followed by a pint in Widecombe to help see off the day.

The route plan plotted out on Ordnance Survey on Footpath with the gradient plan colour coded onto the route plan and emphasising the contours.

Setting off from home at about 11.30 we arrived at our start point near Natsworthy Manor just about 13.00, to set off north through the woods around Heathercombe towards our first checkpoint (1) at Kendon.

The weather was set glorious, and with a packed lunch in the rucksack together with a flask of tea and other trail snacks, supplemented by the fantastic crop of succulent blackberries to be found just about everywhere in Devon this summer, and causing me to take a bit longer on some legs of the route, we were off.

The sign post indicating the various trail options at the start of our walk with our route off to the right and through the trees to Heathercombe.
The trail leading out through the wood plantation follows a stream in the valley to the right making for a gentle warm up prior to the hill climb to come. 

Looking back through the trees with a one o'clock sun high in the sky on a beautiful summer's day on Dartmoor 

Suddenly the tree cover gave way to this glorious chocolate box cottage at Kendon as the route changed to crossing open fields

The footpath is well signed on the route, but we found ourselves checking the map several times as we opened gates to cross near farm buildings only to find the next sign waiting around the next corner pointing back to open countryside again.

Each of the gates we passed through was marked up with an appropriate footpath sign as we easily found the trail heading over or around the fields to Lower Hookner where we would turn west towards West Coombe

Carolyn sets the pace as we head out across the fields to Lower Hookner

The short stretch between Lower Hookner to West Coombe, checkpoint (2) on the route, as we turned west, in preparation for climbing out of the valley and the field enclosures onto the open moorland above, proved to be the only really challenging part of our walk as the sat-nav signal was temporarily lost and when up again showed we had slightly deviated from our track requiring us to retrace our steps across one field to relocate the path that lead up to the higher ground.

The climb out from West Coombe lived up to its billing and was quite a climb, particularly on the first stage. That said we took occasional stops along the route, to get our breath but also to drink in the ever widening view of the countryside below, stretching out to the east towards North Bovey.

The climb up on to Hookney Tor follows a very clear path with a great view of King's Tor on the left and medieval tin mine shafts on the right, heavily over grown in summer fern cover, but an area you probably would not want to walk the dog in, with signs back in West Coombe indicating the danger of straying too far from the path.

The steep bit of our route looking back towards West Coombe as we climb up Coombe Down with King's Tor to the right of picture and the disused medieval tin mine shafts hidden by the tall summer ferns on the left 

Living the dream

Whilst scanning the ferns to our right on the path you could make out the occasional dip in the canopy of fern cover likely indicating a rather deep hole 

The forward rocky promontory of King's Tor and the view east out towards North Bovey

The locals were there to meet and greet us as we climbed ever higher and with Highland Cattle a very appropriate resident in this part of Devon.

Dartmoor is an ancient landscape and the first Britons have left their mark in the area with burial tumuli, stone rows, circular stone houses and enclosures dotted across landscape with often a preference for notable burials to be placed on some of the highest points in it, with Hookney Tor in close proximity to Grimspound being a notable example, or those we encountered on our walk to Black Hill covered in  my post from last year.

Suddenly the gradient flattened out considerably as we reached the plateau of Hookney Tor and the prehistoric burial tumuli that were dotted around on this very significant piece of high ground.

The largest tumulus is situated on the summit overlooking the southern slopes of the tor looking down on the ancient settlement of Grimspound

The panorama from on top of Hookney Tor on the summer day we were enjoying is something to be seen with God's own county bathing in afternoon August sunshine.

The top of the massive tumulus is topped off with massive slabs of granite

English Heritage describe Grimspound as perhaps the best known prehistoric settlement on Dartmoor, estimated to date from 1450 - 700 BC, and with its massive boundary wall encompassing within its 160 yard diameter enclosure, 24 surviving stone roundhouses.

Grimspound in all its splendour seen from the top of Hookney Tor, and a fine place to stop for a mid afternoon apple and a chance to draw breath, peel off the rucksack and simply enjoy the view. The purple haze of the heather in full bloom was something to be seen accompanied by the noisy buzz of very busy bees.

The top of Hookney Tor overlooking Grimspound made for a great place to take a breath, enjoy the view and get ourselves ready for the final leg, relatively downhill back to our start and the car.

The route back would see us walking down the southern slope of Hookney Tor to then walk through Grimspound on the path east back to Natsworthy but not before stopping off just after checkpoint (4) to pay our respects to a very moving WWII memorial and crash site of 49 Squadron Hampden X3054, squadron code EA-S (Sugar).

Carolyn in the entrance to Grimspound captures the view of Hookney Tor above. Behind her on the slope in the background can be seen medieval tin workings and field patterns.

Hookney Tor seen from Grimspound

Carolyn and I have visited Grimspound many times over the years but we never grow tired of seeing this stunning ancient settlement and imagining the folks that once inhabited the area, likely living a much harder life that we can possibly imagine in the 21st century.

I don't think it was the same guide we met earlier, but then again?

Just as we passed checkpoint (4) on the map we saw the WWII memorial stone we were looking for and the path leading off to the right and the cleared ground around it.

The area is the crash site for Hampden X3054, S-Sugar  of 49 Squadron, that failed to return to its base at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, from a 'Gardening' mine laying operation off Brest on the night of 21st - 22nd March 1941 after taking off at 18.20 hrs.

The Bomber Command War Diaries list 66 aircraft taking part in the op, 34 Wellingtons, 19 Blenheims, 12 Hampdens and 1 Stirling with a Blenheim lost alongside S-Sugar.

All four of the crew were killed in this crash, but I could find no details explaining the loss, although March might not have been an ideal time for navigating across Dartmoor in 1941, especially if the aircraft had been damaged beforehand.

The crew are listed as Pilot, Pilot Officer Robert Wilson age 25, Observer/Pilot, Sergeant Richard Ellis 23, Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, Sergeant Ronald Brames 22 and Wireless Operator/Air Gunner, Sergeant Charles Lyon 23.

Both PO Wilson and Sgt Ellis were laid to rest in Exeter Higher Cemetery.

The memorial stone for 49 Squadron Hampden S-Sugar makes for a very moving memorial to four brave lads doing their bit in 1941

Hamden EA-S can be seen in this picture of a group of three aircraft from 49 Squadron

The memorial was a short walk to our start point and we were back three hours after setting out, which included a few stops for breathers and bites to eat along the way, not to mention simply stopping to take in the views.

Journey's end. It's just after three and I'm ready for a beer

One last look back towards Hameldown Tor cresting the horizon

Other Sites consulted for this post

Saturday, 20 August 2022

All at Sea - Sercey off Sumatra (Game Two)

HMS Arrogant, Commodore Lucas' flagship in his action with Rear-admiral Sercey off Sumatra 9th September 1796.

Last weekend I got to give the Sercey off Sumatra scenario another run through at the monthly meeting of the Devon Wargames Group, this following on from the game played at JJ's only two days prior that produced a very hot action that saw both sides bruised and battered but with the French able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat right at the close.

This time it would be an opportunity to see if the game could be played differently with another group of friends at the club and they certainly didn't disappoint, producing a completely different kind of game but with just as much intrigue and drama as the first, confirming me in my opinion that this is indeed a challenging and dare I say balanced action for both parties.

The other star performer in our game were the rules Kiss Me Hardy, that contrived to up the tension and drama still further, as the sequence of movement and firing became critical to both sides and the dice needing to be rolled to allow the different sides to perform the manoeuvres to out sail their antagonists reached a crescendo as both sides tried to press the advantage late in the game.

If you would like to see how things turned out you can follow the link below to the club blog where I have posted a full AAR of all the fun.

Devon Wargames Group - Sercey off Sumatra, Kiss Me Hardy

Friday, 19 August 2022


I'm a great fan of the contribution Helion have made to the military books arena for history nerds that this blog is very much directed towards and indeed, I've reviewed several of their titles here on JJ's, especially, in recent times, their collection of Naval Warfare titles focussed on the Age of Sail.

In addition to providing unique and informing topics for their titles, Helion have also helped lead the growth in historical conferences, allowing interested readers to get to hear authors and academics present on their specialist subjects; and were there during the pandemic lockdown providing virtual access to those authors, which they've carried on post lockdown, making accessibility to those of us at the extremes of the UK to be able to get to interact that much easier.

Thus it was that I received the latest 'heads up' from them in my email this week of a forthcoming virtual presentation over the weekend of October 1st and 2nd with a full and comprehensive range of speakers and subjects covering Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail 1721 to 1815 and, as well as signing up for the princely sum of £10, thought readers of JJ's who've been following my 'All at Sea' collections of posts might be interested to, given the subject matter and the access to follow up recordings for any presentations missed during the live feed, not to mention a 25% discount from their Age of Reason book titles.

See the information briefing below and a link to the Helion site where you can sign up.

These kind of activities help inform the hobby of Historical Wargaming and thank you to Helion for their continued support and here's looking forward to October.

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Stratford upon Avon - Bird of Prey Experience (Raptorcare Falconry)

Eric the Kestrel, along with his fellow raptors, who were to prove the old theatrical adage, 'never work with animals and children', joining in with Henry Percy the Peregrine Falcon and the two Harris Hawks, Tobias and Arthur, to cause mayhem and disruption to a thoroughly enjoyable morning, spent with the Hawks and Owls and Tony and Tom from Raptorcare Falconry.

This week, Carolyn and I travelled up to my home county of birth, Royal Warwickshire, the heart of England, and Shakespeare country, to meet up with Will and spend a couple of days enjoying the delights of Stratford on Avon, but specifically to stay up overnight in time for an early start the following day to enjoy a 'Red Letter Day Experience', Will arranged for me pre-Covid as a Xmas present, and one that had to be rearranged subsequently.

In addition to many interests that often coincide with my principle passion of historical wargaming and military history, one that often fits in well with exploring the countryside, looking at historical monuments, buildings and battlefields, is a boyhood passion for wildlife and particularly birds which explains the many pictures that pop up amid other subject matter, as and when I spot a particularly interesting example of the natural fauna in a given area I might be visiting.

An illustration of medieval falconers from a manuscript dated to 1270

Birds of Prey also happen to feature large in the medieval history of these isles and other parts of the world as a method originally adopted for hunting food only to develop into one of the Sports of Kings, with different birds carried on the glove being as much an indicator of social rank as the clothes that were permitted to be worn across the social strata of medieval society; thus a Sport of Kings to place alongside the Hobby of Kings seems a very fitting subject for JJ's.

The Great Bard, William Shakespeare favourite son of Stratford upon Avon dominates the town of his birth as much as he does the world of great poetry and theatre seen here at the Gower Memorial a monument presented to the town in 1888 by Lord Ronald Gower
Arriving at our lodgings just before midday, we sat down for a very pleasant pub lunch before setting off into Stratford to spend the afternoon following a four mile walk around the town exploring the key sites, enjoying the odd ice-cream and lolling about in the extremely hot summer weather by the banks of the Avon.

Parking up close to the river near the cricket ground, facing the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company on the opposite bank, we crossed the Tramway Bridge and started our walk from the Gower Memorial commemorating the bard and four of his most memorable characters that capture the four pillars of his works overall, Sir John Falstaff (comedy), Prince Hal (history), Lady Macbeth (tragedy) and of course Hamlet (philosophy); the former two close to my own heart as I studied Henry IV Part One at school and still carry a few quotes from my salad days.

The historic site seeing map of Stratford on Avon that we used for our walk and available from

Sir John Falstaff one of the greatest comedy characters complete with tankard in hand, one of the 'base clouds' refereed to by Prince Hal in his soliloquy quoted below, prior to his assuming his responsibilities as a Prince of Royal blood and riding out to face Harry Hotspur at the Battle of Shrewsbury.  

Prince Hal
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world.
(Prince Henry, Act 1 Scene 2 - Henry IV Part One)

As well as soaking up the history of Stratford, the town itself is a glorious place to simply visit for its buzzing atmosphere with a great variety of shops, pubs and restaurants that compliment its theatrical heart and the river seen on a sunny afternoon with rowing boats and motor boat trips for hire or to simply stroll along enjoying it and the nearby canal make for an equally enjoyable distraction.

The restored 16th century house in Henley Street, believed to be the birthplace of William Shakespeare in 1564 and where he spent his early childhood

Hall's Croft, the home of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna Hall and her husband, Physician John Hall, constructed in 1613

Masons Court, the oldest residential property in Stratford upon Avon, circa 1485, contemporary with the Battle of Bosworth. 

We were back in Stratford that evening to enjoy a dinner out at one of the Greek restaurants before an early bed in anticipation of an early start the next day in the company of Raptorcare Falconry or more precisely Mr Tony Bryant and his assistant Tom who were there to greet everyone and take us through the plan for the three or so hours of meeting the stars of the morning and getting an introduction into the aspects of caring for and handling birds of prey as well as getting up close and personal with these stunning creatures.

Falconer, Tony Bryant taking our group through the finer aspects of handling and working with birds of prey, whilst introducing one of the stars, a beautiful young Tawney Owl, sex uncertain, but still coated in the downy feathers of an immature bird, and happy to take everything in as we all admired him or her. Tony runs Raptorcare Falconry.

The venue for our morning was Stratford Park Hotel and Golf Club, and it was fun parking up alongside some very nice vehicles and heading off towards a large green gazebo from which the occasional harsh squawk could be heard coming from inside as we were all registered for attendance and were taken through a few health and safety reminders before being introduced to the different birds that we would see as well as how to and how not to handle them.

The stars of our presentation gathered in the 'green room' or Raptorcare Falconry gazebo 

Most birds of prey if not all of them are protected here in the UK, following years of first legal and then illegal persecution from landowners, egg collectors, and suppliers of birds to the sport of falconry with certain species able to command 'Prince's ransoms' in the illegal trade here and abroad, which is now pretty much regulated and with birds now being captive-bred to supply the sport.

One of our pair of Harris Hawks, Tobias and Arthur

Chatting to Tony and Tom and knowing other folks and friends who are involved with birds of prey, having a love for birds in general and a passion for raptors in particular is front and centre of their care for these incredible creatures which was more than obvious as Tony explained how they are cared for and trained to fly to and from the hand, based on the age old tactic or reward, namely food, just enough to keep the birds at a healthy weight and in good condition but not over fed to inhibit their instinct to hunt and take prey or in this case a dead chick or piece of raw meat on a lure or glove. 

Tobias came out first and gave us a demonstration of a walking raptor on the ground, showing the similarity in gait to its likely predecessor, velociraptor as brought to life in the film Jurassic Park.

The first bird on stage was a real character, Tobias the Harris Hawk who was proclaimed to be aspiring to be a bat as demonstrated by his habit of hanging upside down from the glove when he was in the mood for a bit of misbehaviour, which it seemed was going to be the theme for the morning, and I was wondering if the squawking we had heard earlier was the birds getting together and deciding how they were intending to disrupt the choreography of the morning's plan.

The Harris Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus), also known as the bay-winged hawk, dusky hawk, wolf hawk and pueco in Latin America is native to the south western United States and is found as far south as Chile, central Argentina and Brazil.

These birds are known to hunt cooperatively in groups under a dominant female, taking birds, lizards, mammals and large insects, but able to cooperate together to take down larger prey such as wild turkey and adult jackrabbits or hares.

My first go at at falconry as Tobias and I get acquainted and as Tobias can't quite get over the shock of finding that dead chick that was on my glove a second ago now swiftly whisked away by Tony during the landing

Harris Hawks are very popular in falconry being the most popular bird in the west and known for their ease in training and for being social, and have been used in London's Trafalgar Square and Wimbledon Tennis Courts to remove large flocks of unwanted pigeons and the occasional bird scaring on airfields which as a former pilot I was very glad of on occasion.

Will demonstrates all those bedside skills he's been learning and
soon has Tobias eating out of his hand.

Needless to say it was Tobias the Harris Hawk that was to give all of us who wanted the experience of having these birds flying to and from the glove that amazing moment and the thrill of seeing them very close indeed.

Carolyn assumes the pre-landing stance as Tobias demonstrates the low approach on finals prior to a steep climb with the wings turned upwards to slow down for touchdown.

After a few false starts, Tobias got into the swing of things and was seemingly playing his part by dutifully flying on call between perch and glove as we all came up to have a go, but it seemed he was getting bored with proceedings as he refused to stay upright on Tony's glove when our sessions came to an end, to be finally banished back to the gazebo to be replaced by Arthur to complete the last few flying skills demonstrations.

Arthur the Harris Hawk, deciding to mess about!

However if we thought Tobias was in a disruptive mood, it was nothing compared to his messmate Arthur who when flown from the glove immediately kept going past the perch to settle in a large tree on the edge of our flying area.

Failing to comply with whistles and calls to return to the glove Tony was forced to head off to rein in the errant bird with a few tasty titbits that saw him come to ground only to quickly return treeward to then eventually succumb to an irresistible morsel, this time held firmly in the glove, to which he himself ended up, before also being taken back to join Tobias in the 'naughty-room'.

Next out, to be introduced, was a queen in all meanings of the term, Isabella the Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) one of the largest species of owl, with females able to grow up to thirty inches in length and have a wing span of over six feet.

Tony likes to name his birds after famous monarchs and so Isabella, who confirmed her sex by laying an egg, was named after Queen Isabela of France the queen-consort of King Edward II, defeated at Banockburn in 1314 and following a troubled reign, likely murdered in Berkeley Castle, reportedly involving a red hot poker inserted into a very sensitive area to remove suspicion of foul practice, no pun (fowl) intended!

The honour was all mine, meeting Queen Isabella, the Eurasian Eagle Owl, named after the consort of Edward II, the English king, murdered in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire. With her incredibly powerful talons, I was glad to have that leather gauntlet on.

Found throughout Continental Europe from Spain to Romania and Russia plus Scandinavia extending into Central Asia in places such as Afghanistan and into China, it appears there are now somewhere between twelve to forty pairs residing in the UK, and they are very handy at persuading noisy gulls to remove themselves from your roof top, so I might have to get one or one of the plastic alternatives that seem to abound on houses nearby.

It is worth noting that perhaps the most dangerous part of handling birds of prey and particularly large ones such as Isabella is their powerful segmented talons which are designed to allow the bird to lock them tightly to prey and to any unwary handler not wearing appropriate protection such as the heavy leather gauntlets we were all using, with Tony taking time to describe a particularly painful encounter with one of the birds who managed to grab an unprotected hand whilst having its beak trimmed.

Isabella preparing to give a very occasional flight demonstration, usually only one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Those claws are designed to help the bird hold onto and rip apart prey and one can only imagine the damage they could do to any part of the human frame they came into contact with.

Interestingly, the talons and feet are also poorly supplied with blood in these birds and long periods perched on hard or solid objects can cause pressure sores to form and so they are often perched on material such as astroturf that helps cushion against that possible effect

Owls like hawks come in all shapes and sizes and the varieties we're most familiar with here in the UK are perhaps the Tawney Owl which we often hear late in the evening calling to each other with that familiar 'toweet-towoo' and the Barn Owl with its eerie whiteness often caught looming out of the dark in the car headlights as it skims low over night time hedgerows and given the colloquial name 'Screech Owl' associated with its hissing screeching call that gave bird other dark associations with other creatures that might inhabit the night.

The Tawney Owl (Strix aluco) are a widespread breeding species in England, Wales and Scotland, but interestingly are not found in Ireland, with an estimated 50,000 breeding pairs in the UK.

They hunt at night and roost in the day preying on small mammals and rodents, birds, frogs, fish, insects and worms, and will, in the case of mice and voles, ingest the whole animal in the process, later regurgitating the bones neatly wrapped up in the skin of the creature to form an owl pellet, that as a young lad, I and friends would take to school to dissect in the biology lab to find out what poor thing had met such a grisly end. 
However despite their interesting culinary habits, this little immature owl was definitely a star of the presentation and it was great to see this little chap or lass struggling to keep those eyes open whilst perched within the gazebo.

The little Tawney Owl struggling to keep awake during some down time, whilst Henry Percy the Peregrine remains sublimely oblivious to everything under his hood.

Following the Tawney Owl we got to meet two more native UK birds and ones I often see outside on my walks in the East Devon countryside and along the cliffs on our part of the UK coastline.

Not only that but the the fun and games started by Tobias and Arthur the Harris Hawks was only a warm up for the finale acts of Henry Percy the Peregrine Falcon and Eric the Kestrel.

Eric the somewhat diminutive male Kestrel, in his fine summer plumage of mid grey head and brown speckled back and wings highlighted by his yellow beak and talons enters stage, courtesy of Tom 

The Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is a very familiar sight in the UK often seen hovering, its classic hunting flight pattern, and from where the test plane that saw the development of the Harrier jump jet got its name for being the first jet aircraft to be able to hover in flight.

These small falcons are often seen along the edges of motorways, left uncut and untrodden by the public for obvious reasons, and thus home to many small rodents such as voles and mice, the favourite snack for these birds.

The Kestrel is one of four falcons native to the UK, which also includes the Hobby (Falco Subbuteo), the Merlin (Falco columbarius) and of course the largest of the type, the Peregrine (Falco peregrinus).

Eric, named after Eric Bloodaxe King of Norway and later King of Northumbria, it would seem has a reputation for doing his own thing and as a precaution Tony attached a radio transmitter to the little chap’s leg prior to his flight demonstration that was intended to show off his hovering skills.

Eric weighing up his options now he has been released to the display perch

However Eric had other ideas and on being called to return to the glove after landing on the opposite perch, took off as commanded and proceeded to fly past Tony's proffered glove and head off over a tree line at the far end of our flying area and out of sight, forcing Tony to have to point the radio receiver in the general direction to ascertain if the errant bird was still in the vicinity.

Eric playing hard to get. perched on the club house roof

As if aware that his game of hide and seek was tumbled he later flew back over the trees and perched on the club house roof, seemingly oblivious to whistles and calls to return to the glove until, like Arthur before, finally succumbing to the lure or red meat.

Eric the Kestrel safely back in hand after his little adventure.

On his safe return, Eric was returned to the 'green room' but not before we all had the chance to admire this glorious little falcon and enjoy his antics that amply displayed these birds having minds of their own and happily deciding if and when they would comply with any given command.

Finally for me, the 'A' list celebrity made his entrance, Henry Percy, a name that should need no introduction, being part of the great Percy clan from Northumberland and bringing to mind Sir Henry (Hotspur) Percy a nickname given to him by the Scots in recognition for the several defeats inflicted on them by him and in recognition of his speed in the advance and his readiness to attack, notable attributes of the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) .

Tom brings out a real star performer in the world of falconry, Henry (Hotspur) Percy the Peregrine Falcon

The RSPB site describes the Peregrine as a large powerful falcon, with long broad pointed wings and a relatively short tail, noting it to be swift and agile in flight when chasing its prey.

The Peregrine reached a low point in the UK when its numbers had been reduced dramatically through persecution and from pesticides in the food change, but since then thanks to legislation and better protection their numbers have steadily increased and they are a regular sight here in Devon where we would encounter breeding birds in Exeter near where the Devon Wargames Group used to meet in a nearby church spire, hunting the local pigeons to feed their young.

However there is still a need to protect the Peregrine from illegal persecution perpetrated by some game bird managers and racing pigeon enthusiasts, not to mention eggs and chicks taken for collections and trade to the illegal side of the falconry market

Only a couple of years ago, whilst walking the cliffs near our home, we saw a Peregrine being mobbed by Carrion Crows in flight until the Peregrine pulled back its wings to form that classic arrow shape as it stooped to plummet at speed over the cliffs completely bamboozling the crows who had no answer to this display of flying from an ace with speed and manoeuvrability to match.

Henry Percy readies himself for a flying display second to none!

As with his diminutive predecessor Eric, it seemed that Henry had previous convictions, that saw him too have the radio transmitter attached as he flew to the opposite perch and as Tony arranged for two of our number to stand in the field close by with a slight gap between them through which Henry would be able to demonstrate his high speed flying skills.

The speed of the Peregrine is something to be seen with a reported capability to dive at some 186mph and a level fight of about 70-80mph and with the agility only perhaps matched by the Swift or Swallow.

All seemed well as Henry circled around our assembled group, to swoop in low and fast for a sweeping pass of the flight area, just as with any flying display of a modern fast jet but with more of all that natural beauty that only Nature can put on a show with.

Then despite whistles and calls from the 'control tower' Henry banked left, climbed and headed off to the same tree line favoured by Eric only to bank left again and perch himself squarely on the topmost chimney stack of the club house to assume the pose of 'Lord of all he observed' - Great fun, if a little exasperating for Tony struggling to keep the show to time, in readiness for the afternoon group and having the birds ready to perform a similar routine for them, preferably with all of them together.

Henry Percy, Lord of the Manor. "I'll come down when I'm good and ready!"
If nothing else, Eric and Henry's escapades gave me a lot of practice trying out the extra zoom capabilities of my new camera. Not bad eh!

Eventually after much whistling and halooing, Henry got bored with the view and spreading his wings he stooped to make a fast low pass between a crowd of our legs as a fast grey blur shot through our lines to rise up as the wings were thrust forward and Henry was back on the glove invoking an immediate round of applause in recognition of Tony's cool under pressure and sheer pleasure of seeing Henry and his gang put on a flying display second to none.

Like I say, never work with children or animals!

Henry Percy, back in the hangar after his little escapade. I might be wrong but I have a feeling that the leader behind the little rebellion we witnessed is quietly sat unassuming over his left shoulder. Isabella behave, you naughty girl!

Thank you to Tony and Tom of Raptorcare Falconry for an enthralling morning with the birds and helping to give a first impression of what falconry is all about. 

As always any work with animals has to respect that the creature has a mind of its own and has to be cajoled and persuaded to behave in the way the human handler would want, demonstrated here and on a trip to Sri Lanka watching elephant handlers work with their much larger more powerful but no less endearing charges, and the relationship of trust engendered between human and animal is the lynchpin to gaining any cooperation, so amply demonstrated in the display we all witnessed.

If you would like to see these impressive birds up close and personal and get a feel for the ancient Sport of Kings that is falconry then I have put in links to Raptocare Falconry in the post and below should you want to contact them direct. I can recommend the experience if you do.

Next up, I'm All at Sea with more fun playing Sercey off Sumatra in our playthrough at the Devon Wargames Group - more anon 


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