This summer has been all about Britain – well, mainly England. Our first trip was down to Hampshire for a long weekend. It all started with Mark’s Aunt Margy’s 80th birthday surprise party. The family is spread from Essex and Leicestershire to Somerset, so it was decided that we should meet somewhere sort of in the middle which turned out to be a day at the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover.
Eyeballing an eagle
I hadn’t known what to expect and truthfully, my expectations weren’t that great, but I really loved it. There are around 150 species of raptor here, from tiny pygmy owls to huge strange waddling prehistoric monsters and strutting secretary birds. And the setting is beautiful, lush and green, with wide skies beyond. I would be happy to spend days there watching peregrine falcons wheeling over the open meadows and lumbering vultures swooping low over the heads of nervously giggling tourists. I came eyeball to golden eyeball with a disdainful American bald eagle, while the boys learned the fine art of falconry with a red kite on one arm and Aunt Margy made friends with an inquisitive owl.
You need to plan your day if you want to take in all the various flying displays – it’s non-stop action with only short pauses for people to stroll around the pens between the different arenas. It takes quite a bit of walking but there are benches for those who need breaks and it’s all wheelchair-friendly. They were even able to lay on a wheelchair for us to borrow for the day.
Mark’s sister, Davina, had laid on a picnic worthy of Enid Blyton and Daisy Ashford for the festivities, crowning it with a perfectly splendid chocolate birthday cake in the shape of an owl. Even better, the Trust has an indoor picnic room where we could lay out our birthday feast, at trestle tables with chairs, safely out of the drizzle, and away from ants and wasps. (There is, of course, also a café.)
If I had one tiny gripe, it was that while there was a tea stall at the top of the site, the only toilet in the whole place was down near the entrance, a long walk from the upper display arena for elderly aunts and those of us with arthritic knees and walking sticks. A second loo block at the top of the site would be welcome. Apart from that, this place makes a really, really brilliant family day out – and also does good work conserving, researching and rehabilitating birds of prey. They even run a bird hospital.
Most importantly, Aunt Margy also loved the day – and the cake was a triumph!
If you are in Hampshire, also think about visiting the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.