In the words of wise and owlish Jay at The Owlery, 'you could go to a restaurant, or spend the same money here and have the experience of a lifetime, with memories to last forever'. I could not agree more. I had a wonderful time visiting this special place and will be returning with my family very soon. Nested in the barns at Newton St Loe Farm 3.5 miles from Bath, this superb organisation offer Owl and Hawk experiences and encounters, both indoors and outside. This is very much a 'hands-on' and immersive experience, as I found after a few minutes. Jay introduced me to a wonderful family of owls, and then to Charlie, a very noble Harris Hawk. It was incredible.
What you can do, and where you do it
The owls are arrayed in bright and airy enclosures spread in a horseshoe shape within the barn. Facing these is an open enclosure with seating and perches, where visitors can enjoy an 'Owl Encounter'. The barn is well-lit and full of carved wood and plants. It made me feel very at ease, whilst listening to all of the different hoots, chirps and wing beats of the owls. I was fascinated to see their different movements and ways of greeting Jay, who seemed to be able to chat away to them by reading their body (feather) language. We then went to the falconry area to meet the hawks, who were about to be taken to sheltered outdoor perches facing the barn.
I loved meeting Charlie, who is one of the older Hawks at West of England Falconry and is taken on 'Hawk Walks', where visitors can walk around the fields of Newton St Loe and feed the hawks, 'calling them' to feed off their gloved hands. These walks can be undertaken by individuals or small groups, and all of the hawks are very well versed in interacting with people. Not to be outdone by the hawks, there is an enclosed flying area for the owls in the barn, opposite the seating area. The video clip below shows the majestic Siku flying from her enclosure to the flying area. What a sight!
A real highlight of my visit was meeting Florence the Burrowing Owl. She is a delightful and inquisitive owl, about the size of a mango. Jay told me that she is wonderful with children, and I felt very touched when she hopped up to me to nibble gently on my finger. She was so affectionate and had eyes full of kindness and mischief. When she hopped off to her burrow, she looked like a cheeky toddler off to play hide and seek. What struck me deeply today is how very interactive this experience is, and how moving it was to see these happy and relaxed beings. Even the rescue owls and birds recuperating from accidents had a calmness about them, and I felt a keen sense of kinship between them.
Florence (named after the owl-loving nurse Florence Nightingale), who is a friendly and incredibly cute little lady.
This experience would be perfect for a family get together, or perhaps to celebrate an important birthday. For me, it is something that I would love to experience with loved ones, as much to experience their reactions as to enjoy my own. I would love to take part in a Hawk Walk, but I know that my son would adore an owl encounter. The Facebook page is very useful in terms of looking up prices and getting more information, and has some lovely footage of the day to day activities of the birds - have a look here.
A testament to this lovely place is the International reputation that it has. Visitors have come from around the globe, with Australia being one of the foremost countries to come! The Facebook page also reads like a community newsletter, and it is obvious that past visitors keep in touch long after their experiences. With several TripAdvisor certificates of excellence, this is definitely a very efficient and impressive organisation. I cannot wait to return.
A map of visitors from Australia. Folks from 'down under' nearly outnumber visitors from the whole of Europe!