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Dunrobin Castle Falconry

There can be no better backdrop for a display of the ancient art of falconry than in the fairytale setting provided by Dunrobin Castle and its gorgeous gardens.

The Dunrobin Castle falconry display tops off the visit to one of Britain’s oldest continuously lived in houses that dates back to 1275.

Dunrobin-castle and castle grounds with manicured gardens. Castle has conical spires overlooks the garden
Dunrobin Castle and gardens
Launch-of-a-Harris-hawk at Dunrobin Castle falconry
Harris hawk launching for the Falconry display

However, falconry began long before Dunrobin Castle appeared. Evidence suggests that falconry, the art of training birds of prey to hunt and kill wild prey for humans, began as far back as 6000 to 4000BC on the plains of Mongolia.

It wasn’t until the 6th century though, that falconry became popular throughout Europe and was the prevailing sport of royalty. By the 1600s, rules dictated who could own and fly certain birds of prey, with falcons reserved for the aristocracy; the lowly servant was able to own a kestrel.

The Dunrobin Castle falconry display, performed by Manor Falconry, explained the history of this specialised art and its connection to the castle.

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Dunrobin-Castle-Harris-hawk-low-to-the-ground
Fully focused on the food

The Falconry Display at Dunrobin Castle

The Dunrobin Castle falconry display was a fascinating mix of aerobatics and information. The incredible skill of both bird and trainer was astounding. The presenter, and falconer, Andy, was engaging and kept the audience enthralled throughout as he led the birds through their display.

We watched the Harris hawk and the peregrine falcon show off their unbelievable skills and learnt how man and bird worked together before guns and modern-day hunting practices dominated. To be honest, we knew very little about falconry and I was unaware of their use in hunting.

I had thought it was all just for show.

How wrong I was.

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Harris hawk in the Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display
Peregrine-Falcon-portrait
Peregrine falcon at Dunrobin Castle
Harris-hawk-at-Dunrobin-Castle
Be prepared to feel the swoosh of air or a feather brushing your skin as the birds swoop around the Falconry arena

About the Falconry Birds

An incredible amount of care and hours and hours of training are involved in falconry. The best way I can describe this relationship is to think of it as an owner and his dog. A similar relationship exists between the owner and the bird of prey.

All of the birds on display have been born and raised domestically because it is illegal to take a bird from the wild in the UK. Indeed, life in the wild isn’t easy for birds of prey and many falcons do not live past 12 months.

The average age of a hawk is 7 years in the wild but can live for up to 30 years when owned. It is hardly surprising that those born into falconry outlive their wild counterparts because falconer birds receive the correct food, exercise and healthcare.

Tethered-falcon on a brown stand and stood with its feathers spread wide
Tethered falcon on Dunrobin Castle grounds

The precision at which the birds weaved their way through the crowd and the incredible speed at which they could swoop was astonishing.

Peregrine-Falcon-low-flyby between crowd
Falcon swooping in above the crowd from the left

You may be surprised and even feel sorry for the falcon or hawk wearing a hood when brought into the display arena, but this is to keep the bird calm. If it can’t see anything, it thinks nothing can see it, so remains relaxed and chilled when blindfolded. It’s hard for us to imagine because we are the opposite!

hooded-falcon on the gloved hand of its trainer
The hood on the falcon keeps the bird calm

At the opposite end of the lawn, there are other birds of prey, including more falcons and owls. They are tied to their tethers beside a tray of water. Again, this may be perceived by some as cruel, but birds of prey naturally sit quietly for long periods to preserve their energy for hunting.

It is like keeping a dog on a lead — it stops them from getting into mischief. Normally the birds are kept untethered in their aviary and exercised daily.

Harris-Hawk-reflection in water tray
Flying can be thirsty work
Falcon at Dunrobin close up of top half
Falcon at Dunrobin Castle
Barn-owl-at-Dunrobin
Barn Owl — great for killing small rodents on farms

Photography at Dunrobin Castle Falconry

If you are a keen photographer, then Dunrobin Castle offers plenty of opportunities to practice your skills. With the diversity of scenery: inside the castle, the gardens and the falconry with birds moving at such speed, the camera will be working hard … And so will you changing ISO, shutter speed and F stops.

The peregrine falcon can reach speeds of 242 miles per hour, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t nail a crisp photo in flight.

Peregrine-falcon-grabbing-a-bird-leg and flying past the crowd
Peregrine falcon is coming in for a piece of meat being thrown up in the air
Peregrine-falcon-flying-to-lure
Peregrine falcon trying to capture the lure
Peregrine-Falcon-just-off-the-ground
Zeroing in on the lure
Peregrine-falcon-taking-to-flight at Dunrobin Castle
It’s easier to capture a photo of the birds in flight just as they take off from their perch
Falconer with bird of prey at Dunrobin Castle
Falconer with his Peregrine Falcon

Dunrobin Castle

Sitting pretty, overlooking its exquisite gardens and the Moray Firth sits Dunrobin Castle. Through the centuries it has been home to the dukes and earls of Sutherland.

The Sutherland clan was one of the seven ancient earldoms of Scotland, acting as protectors of the realm and the main lay advisers to the king.

Dunrobin-Castle-and-roses growing on wall
Dunrobin Castle viewed from the garden

Dunrobin Castle’s conical spires are reflective of many French chateaux and give it a fairytale quality and romantic ambience.

Once inside, you are guided through the castle, stepping back through time, from the newest to the oldest parts of the castle. It is a self-guided tour with plenty of information boards and members of staff dotted around to answer any questions you may have.

Dunrobin-library with wooden bookshelf floor to ceiling with books
Dunrobin Castle Library
Dining-room-Dunrobin-castle - a clock with angels either side a a refective ball above in which you can see the dining room reflection
The sitting room — see the reflection in the clock’s globe

Dunrobin Castle Gardens

Dunrobin Castle gardens were designed by the architect Sir Charles Barry in 1850 with inspiration taken from the gardens of the Palace of Versailles in Paris.

These formal Victorian styled gardens are a delight with a collection of topiaries, box hedges and flowers filling the air with heavenly scents. You’ll also unlikely miss the giant rhubarb plant, a native of South America, with a leaf span of an enormous eight feet.

The falconry display takes place on the lawn at the bottom of the garden.

Dunrobin-garden-and-falconry-lawn with purple flowers in the foreground and the sea in the background
Dunrobin Castle Gardens with falconry area at the back lawn with seating
Taking-photos-at-dunrobin-castle-gardens
So many angles from which to capture the beauty of Dunrobin Castle notice the giant rhubarb at the end of the avenue
Poppy-in-Dunrobin-garden
Getting up close and personal with a large red poppy
White turreted castle with foreground green gardens
The expansive tendered gardens of Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Victorian Museum

Hidden behind an old stone wall rests the Castle’s museum. Not to everyone’s taste, with animal heads and stuffed animals adorning the walls and cabinets. But is representative of the sport of hunting, a predominant pastime of the upper class in Victorian times.

The museum contains a large private collection of taxidermy dating from the early 1900s, with many of the animals shot by the family both in Scotland and on safari in Africa.

There are also Pictish stones and other archaeological relics in the museum.

Open 11am – 4pm daily

Dunrobin-Castle-Museum with animal heads on the walls and stuffed animals in glass cabinets
Dunrobin Castle Museum

Dunrobin Castle Falconry Extra Info


Where is Dunrobin Castle?

Dunrobin Castle is about 50 miles north of Inverness.

Address: Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, KW10 6SF

Handy Notes for Your Visit to Dunrobin Castle

  • Dunrobin Castle Opening times: 1st April – 31st October (For daily opening times and current prices check the Dunrobin castle website here)
  • The car park at Dunrobin Castle is free
  • You can’t buy tickets to Dunrobin online, you buy tickets at the entrance.
  • Tickets give you access to the castle, the gardens and the falconry display
  • You can only buy an all in one ticket,(ie. not just for the garden)
  • If you have a backpack or large bag you will need to leave that at reception while you tour the inside of the castle but can collect it again to tour the gardens
  • There is a gift shop and tearoom in the castle on the ground floor
  • The tearoom also serves hot food at reasonable prices (eg I had a chicken coronation stuffed jacket potato with salad for £8.50)
  • Dogs are not allowed in the Castle gardens
  • Photos can be taken throughout the castle, but no flash photography
  • Drones are forbidden
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View of the ocean from Dunrobin Castle Gardens
White castle overlooking its green gardens
Dunrobin Castle … what’s not to like!

Handy Notes for Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display

  • Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display Times: 11.30 am and 2.30 pm daily (from 1st April to 30th September)
  • The falconry display is popular so we recommend arriving 20-30 minutes before the start if you want front row seats (especially if you notice the tour buses have arrived)
  • If you are spending the day at the castle you can watch both displays (the falconry display often uses different birds and the performance is slightly different)
Harris-hawk-fly-by

Dunrobin Castle Falconry Display … That’s a Wrap

We spent most of the day at Dunrobin Castle and watched both the morning and afternoon Falconry displays.

The visit to the castle itself is interesting and the gardens are a delight to wander through, but the addition of the Dunrobin falconry display and learning about this ancient art made the trip extra special.

The display melded together with the history of Dunrobin Castle, brought to life the way our Scottish ancestors … of which I have many…. but I’ll leave that tale for another day.

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