Kaddy Lee-Preston's official blog


Falconry at Leeds Castle

Learning how to fly birds of prey is not your usual spare time activity of choice – not because it doesn’t sound amazing but because you probably didn’t know it was a possibility. But it’s a growing trend; apparently 30,000 people in this country have birds of prey, as pets, as a hobby or as a business. However if you or a loved one just fancy having a go, then there’s no better place to learn than Leeds Castle with one of their half day, full day or week long courses.

Leeds Castle is the perfect setting in which to do private falconry lessons. They already do a captivating birds of prey display each day in the grounds for visitors to the castle so the birds are already well established as castle residents. They have a range of owls, Harris hawks, eagles and falcons, even a laughing Kookaburra which is a delight to listen to once you’ve been reassured that it isn’t laughing at your mint green trousers…

Mark and Hannah who run the display centre have over 25 years experience with birds of prey. Dressed in traditional costume they introduced us to all the birds, lovingly explaining each of their individual quirks and characteristics as well teaching you avian facts like how eye colour indicates their hunting patterns. Black/dark brown eyes they would hunt at night in the wild, yellow hunt by day and orange eyes mean they are crepuscular hunters; at dawn or dusk.

 

Kaddy Leeds Castle Falconry

Kaddy Lee-Preston experiencing falconry at Leeds Castle, Kent.

Each bird has a gorgeously adorable character and although you might not like to see caged birds, they have a pretty cushty life of top veterinary care, a nutritious diet and if they did want to fly away during the displays, well they could, but they choose not to. Once the oohs and ahhs of the intros had been done Hannah took Mozart the owl out for a spin. Hannah hand reared Mozart from the age of 3 days so he thinks of her as his human mummy and you sense that they do have a bond. He listens to her call, takes off and flies for her, pretty much when she asks (but seemingly only if she has food on her glove). With time he starts to recognise us too and flies to and from us like we’ve been doing this together for years. Once Mozart gets tired it’s time to take Texas the Harris hawk out into the woods where he hides in the trees and then swoops down onto your arm to retrieve his food before flying off again and repeating the ‘game’. There’s something wild, primitive and yet traditional about a stunning hunter soaring through the air then coming to land gracefully on your arm. It’s beautiful. Their eyes (and sharp pecky beaks mind) are only centimetres away from your face. It’s an intimate yet vulnerable moment, perhaps for both parties. As they savagely tear into their reward (parts of a baby chick) you’re reminded that they’re birds of prey, not budgerigars. However, casually strolling through the ancient forest, with Leeds Castle perched within the moat on one side and vineyards and rolling countryside on the other whilst carrying a majestic bird of prey is a memory I will treasure for a very long time.

Kaddy with a Harris Hawk at Leeds Castle

Kaddy flying a Harris Hawk at Leeds Castle

After a few hours flying the birds you can quench your thirst and enjoy a tasty snack or meal in the newly revamped Great British Kitchen restaurant. Hearty British staples using local produce make for some exceptionally tasty grub in the 17th century oak beamed restaurant overlooking the stunning 900 year old moated castle. Shame you have to leave at all. Well, actually you don’t!

Kaddy goes Glamping at Leeds Castle

Four-poster glamping at Leeds Castle

After a successful launch last year, the Leeds Castle Knight’s Glamping is back. Eight splendid striped pavilion tents based on a medieval design are set within the castle vineyard. After 9 nights in a tent up Kilimanjaro recently I wasn’t that keen on reliving the camping experience…but once I took a look inside our ‘Devonshire’ tent I was wooed by the romance and decadence of it all. A four poster bed, quality cotton bedding, carpeted floor, a log burning stove, tea and coffee making facilities – not to mention dressing gowns, dressing table and fairy lights strung from the ceiling creating a delightfully magical ambience.

Kaddy Glamping at Leeds Castle

Glamping at Leeds Castle

 

We had our own little veranda and picnic table too, plus a communal BBQ area if you wished to cook your own feast. A cottage next to the tents provides a lounge area with television, fridge and kitchen equipment, plus the best camping shower and toilet facilities I have ever seen. Laura and Lauren who run the experience live on site and are always on hand to refill your wood supply, fetch more bottled water, or even bring you a hot water bottle to warm your tootsies. Not exactly roughing it then.

Leeds Castle has so much to offer you can’t possibly do it all in one visit.  Next time I’ll be doing the punting on the moat, getting lost in the maze, (warning, don’t go in there if you are on a tight schedule!) doing a Segway tour and of course marvelling at the quirky dog collar museum – the only one of its kind in the world I believe.

Falconry lessons make an original and exciting gift. A half day experience is £75 per person, £30 per spectator. Click here for more info or to book, and remember to say Kaddy recommended you try it!

Leeds Castle also do huge monthly events and festivals so keep an eye on the website for more information.  In August, 23rd-31st, their first Medieval Festival takes place – a week long medieval spectacular!

 

 

 

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Growing up in a compound in a Saudi Arabian desert, extracting water from a well when I lived in Cyprus and then studying Climate Change as part of my Meteorology degree have meant I have always been environmentally aware.  In fact, I think I’m rather annoying over it.  There’ll be no taps left on whilst teeth are brushed on my watch, and the only lights that might be allowed to stay on would be ultra-efficient low energy LED Christmas lights.  And even then only for Christmas.  Christmas Day. ;-)

But to put my money where my mouth is and actually sign up for solar energy, well, that’s a big financial commitment and not something for the short term.

 Greenman Solar

I knew there were huge variations in the price and quality of solar panel components and the way that they’re installed so I was keen to use a reputable and established local company.  If you are toying with the idea of solar power you should take some time to check that the solar modules and inverter that are being proposed to you are of a high quality from a well-known manufacturer. European components are generally considered to be the best.

Fortunately finding the right company was relatively easy.  I compered at an Energy Fair in Ashford last year and met some fantastic Eco companies.  One of which was Greenman Solar, based in Kent, who have established themselves as THE solar company in the South East and have already fitted over 7000 solar panels in just 3 years and are renowned for not only their competitive pricing and high standards, but also their customer care in making the whole process as easy as pie, which is just what you want when you’re dealing with something as hi-tech as solar panels.

Although solar panels only seem to have sprung up all around us over the last couple of years, they have actually been used since around 1958.  Initially they were so rare and expensive that only spaceships and satellites were important enough to use them. If you have a calculator at home it probably has a little solar cell to power it, solar panels are just much larger versions of this bolted to your roof.

The way solar panels work is quite simple; the very thin silicon slices under the glass covering of the units capture some of the suns energy (photons) and convert that light into electricity (called a photovoltaic or PV process).

Solar PV can be considered as your own maintenance free, totally green power station which silently generates free, clean energy for your home year after year. There is another type of solar panel which is sometimes confused with Solar PV; this is known as a solar thermal system, which helps to heat the hot water system in your home.

Kaddy on a roof 3 small (3)

Once we’d decided to go solar the process was simple.  Greenman Solar came to our house and assessed how viable our home was.  Ideally it needs to have a roof that faces the sun for a large chunk of the day.  A north facing roof is a no no, but if your home stares lovingly towards the sun for at least a few hours a day you’re probably on to a winner.  Like many people in the SE I’m prone to a touch of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder –  which I think just basically means the winter grumps from lack of sunshine).  So I already knew our house pointed her toosh in a SSE’ly direction – perfect for lapping up those leccy generating rays.

Whilst I am obviously not qualified to install a solar array, I got stuck into selecting the panels, learning about the process and of course getting up on the scaffolding to take a good look.  Think about it – if you love sunshine now, imagine how it fills you with glee when it is earning you money AND giving you free electricity.  Each day when (or if?) the sun pokes her little face through the clouds and beams at you, your solar panels are stepping up into overdrive and you race around getting all your washing, dishwashering, and hair drying done whilst it’s all provided free.  It’s seriously cool.

The South East is best placed for a solar array too as we consistently receive more sunshine hours than anywhere else in the UK.  Even on a dull winters day, you will still be generating power.  Perhaps now those Christmas LED’s can stay on into the New Year too…

How does it make you money?

A typical 4KW (16 panel system) will cost around £6,900 (incl VAT and installation).  You are paid for all the energy you produce, whether you use it or not, so you will be paid about £675 cash per year by your electricity company, guaranteed for 20 years.  Plus of course, you will be not paying your electricity company for your daily use of electricity as your panels are providing that for free, which will save you hundreds of pounds per year too.  Kerrrrching!  Any electricity you don’t use (which you will have already been paid for) will go back into the National Grid and help to provide energy for the rest of the country.

A sun tracking system is even more efficient, as the panels actually follow the direction of greatest light in the sky and can generate up to 50% more energy than a standard, fixed roof installation.  It also makes quite a statement in your garden, looking like a big solar panel tree!

PV Solar tracker

 

Want to see my solar array’s electricity production graphs and stats yourself? Click here to see real data from my own array which is connected to the internet and updates every hour.

If you are interested in talking to Greenman Solar about the possibility of your own array, just fill in this form on my site for a no obligation chat with them and a special deal for mentioning me.

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