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 falconry Dunrobin Castle display tops off the visit to one of Britain’s oldest continuously lived-in houses that dates back to 1275. However, falconry began long before Dunrobin Castle appeared.
We spent a whole day at the Castle on one of our road trips around Inverness and were so enthralled by the morning display we stayed to watch the second in the afternoon.
Dunrobin Castle Falconry
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 4000 BC on the plains of Mongolia.
It wasn’t until the 6th century 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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The Falconry Display at Dunrobin Castle
The Dunrobin Castle falconry display was a fascinating mix of aerobatics and information. The incredible skill of both the bird and the 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 the show.
How wrong I was.
Most Popular Tours, including Dunrobin Castle Falconry
About the Dunrobin Falconry Birds
Falconry involves an incredible amount of care and hours of training. 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 taking a bird from the wild in the UK is illegal. 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 seven 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.
The precision at which the birds weaved their way through the crowd and the incredible speed at which they could swoop was astonishing.
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 that nothing can see it, so remains relaxed and chilled when blindfolded. I wish that worked for me!
At the opposite end of the lawn 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 Dunrobin Castle falconry birds are kept untethered in their aviary and exercised daily.
Photographing the Falconry at Dunrobin Castle
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 change 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.
Dunrobin Castle sits pretty, overlooking its exquisite gardens and the Moray Firth. 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’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 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 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 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
Handy Notes for Dunrobin 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)
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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