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Ski Club of Manchester Cumbria Weekend — Muncaster Castle Visit — Sunday 19th May 2024

Reporter: Helen Richardson

Three of us, who fancied a relaxing day at a slow amble, visited Muncaster Castle, near Eskdale. The Castle is well-known in the area for its gardens and birds of prey displays.

The weather was beautiful, and the rhododendrons and camelia bushes were in full bloom, with a wide array of colours to enjoy. At a different time of year, the gardens would have less variety of colour to offer, so this was an ideal time to visit. Views towards surrounding fells were superb and added an extra dimension to our enjoyment and relaxation in the sun.

We walked through the aviary area, noting the wide geographic origin of the many varieties of owl and eagle. Soon it was display time, in which we were introduced to several owls and eagles, alternately flying high and swooping down — some very close to our heads — to obtain food placed on posts. The young trainers’ enthusiasm for the birds in their care, and the rapport between trainers and birds were remarkable. The commentary provided an interesting insight to the birds’ characteristics and their natural habitats. A few examples of those we saw were a Tawny Owl, a tiny Eurasian eagle owl, a very small Southern White Faced Owl, and by way of size contrast, an Eurasian Great Grey Owl.

After our picnic lunch, it was time for another bird display. This time, eagles, falcons and vultures were the main attractions. Each bird was brought in, introduced, then encouraged to wheel and swoop following moving ‘prey’. We learned how valuable vultures are to keeping ecosystems healthy. They scavenge debris after death, including decaying carcasses with toxins that kill other animals, thereby preventing spread of disease. However, they are threatened in the wild, particularly by poison bait intended for rats and for terrestrial predators such as foxes.

Our visit ended with a walk through other areas of the grounds and gardens, including through more informal, hilly and wooded areas. The interior of the Castle can also be visited, but we stayed outside in the sun! I would highly recommend Muncaster Castle gardens for a pleasant, relaxing and interesting day.

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