Dartmoor. Home to countless cuddly-looking, free-roaming, pint-sized ponies. Also, Bovey Castle. Also, raptors.
Yup, raptors. AND snakes, owls, lizards, falcons, tarantulas, giant African millipedes and golfer-eating bald eagles. This family-friendly estate’s menagerie of on-hand fauna is pure holiday catnip for animal-loving children (provided you steer clear of the grumpy Russian Steppe eagle, which apparently ‘took down’ a golf player once*). There’s even a sociable parrot in the drawing room (Beaky, the African Grey). These are the top reasons you should stay there, according to our six-year-old son (a recent guest and now ardent one-kid PR campaign).
There’s more to this child-friendly hotel in Devon than critters, of course: there’s a twinset of parent-pleasing restaurants (with kids menus), an Elemis spa, indoor pool, a renowned golf course and raft of moorish country pursuits to keep you busy (when you’re not taking tea in the prettily refurbished Adam Room or sipping highballs in the impressive baronial hall).
But a stay at Bovey Castle isn’t complete unless you’ve met resident falconer Martin Whitley of Dartmoor Hawking (below), whose free daily morning display on the terrace gives guests a chance to meet some of his amazing birds, including an acrobatic trio of Harris Hawks; Wol, the adolescent barn owl; and Rosie and Artemis, the eagles, as well as his dog Monty.
If your little people are nature-obsessed, treat them to one of the excellent Bovey Rangers kids’ club sessions with Andy from Dartmoor Reptiles, with handling sessions for both birds of prey (Fly an owl! Hold a hawk!) and reptiles and insects (Burmese pythons! Tarantulas!). Our small person was so excited after his sessions we managed to drag out the retelling over a three-course meal in Bovey’s glamorous Great Western dining room.
Let me just run that past you again: three courses, after 7pm, with candles and wine, and a conversational small person. Not even a colouring pencil in sight. Yes folks, we saw the future that night, and the future is liberation from babysitters and eaten-in-silence room-service meals… hallelujah!
So in honour of our first grown-up evening meal out, here are some owl-related facts, shared in the name of journalism/familial harmony by my small Bovey Ranger:
THREE OF THE BEST OWL FACTS
Fact number one: owls are not waterproof These birds of prey are superhuman in many ways (amazing night vision; satellite-dish-accurate hearing; stealth-mode soundless flight), but water is owl Kryptonite. Especially barn owls. Barn owls are the sponges of the bird world.
Fact number two: a tawny owl can crush a tennis ball with one foot Yes, ‘foot’ sounds weird, as though owls have Monty Pythonesque human feet, but the 6YO insists on factual accuracy, and claw/talon isn’t accurate.
Fact number three: owls are a bit dim Contrary to received wisdom and popular culture, owls are ‘a bit thick’. I’m quoting verbatim there, from two independent owl experts.
*Martin’s something of a stand-up, so the running commentary is often laced with tongue-in-cheek tales. This may or may not be one of them.
Find out more or book a family break at Bovey Castle with Smith & Family (0330 100 3180)