Image: Gabriel Allason
January 24 2011
The true test of a hotel is when the plans o’mice and men gang agley. And our journey to Olga Polizzi’s delightful Hotel Endsleigh in the hill country of the Devon border with Cornwall had gone badly awry. After two major traffic diversions and almost seven hours in the car from London, the children were fractious. And we had missed the keenly anticipated dinner. At that point wonderful things started happening. Despite the late hour, dinner was delivered, course by course, to our lovely old room accompanied by smiles, and a chocolate brownie bonus for the little boys.
As sun streamed through the windows the following morning the telephone rang. Would we like to explore the grounds? Well, yes. They are certainly spectacular, having been laid out in 1812 by Sir Humphry Repton for Georgina Duchess of Bedford when she had a castellated gothic hunting lodge built in the most dramatic position in the family’s considerable west country estates. Waterfalls cascade down to the river Tamar but, having missed the fishing season by a day, it sounded as if a country walk was on offer. However, awaiting us on the lawn was falconer David Buncle (pictured), and a Falkland Island caracara with a four-foot wingspan.
What followed was a spectacular flying display over the steep valley that culminated in the two boys launching and landing the hawks to their gauntlets. An American kestrel even sat watchfully on the head of Raphael, aged six.
These beautiful falcons, owls and hawks are working birds, used not only for flying displays and to teach falconry but to deter wild birds from sensitive sites such as military air stations. Learning to handle them connected us to an ancient country tradition, adding an entirely unexpected dimension to a memorable stay at an enchanting small – 16-room – country hotel. Recovery factor? Ten out of ten.