From the age of 13 The Hawking Centre was my dream, to spend every day doing something I love. My parents allowed me to have a Barn Owl, and I hand-reared Lucy from three weeks old. I was fascinated, in awe of this ravenous, squawking ball of fluff, and so excited I couldn't sleep properly for weeks!
School in Tunbridge Wells was an unwanted distraction from my new focus, but one day I saw a guy in the common room practising tying the falconers knot with a piece of cord on a chair leg. We bonded straightaway, and the over the next three years Adam Vaness and I trained and flew our birds together in the nearby villages and local Kent countryside. We joined a falconry club, and had great times gaining more knowledge and experience during those days together.
Through my teenage years my passion for bird-flying just grew stronger. At 16 I received a job offer at a falconry centre over 5 hours away from home, across the country in Wales, and I didn't hesitate. I upped sticks and left friends and family to follow my dream. The experience was amazing, but having £40 cash paid in wages every Friday night was not a sustainable lifestyle for a 16 year old. After six months of fantastic training I came home (hungry), and spent the next few years being a teenager, planning my future, and learning how to make a week's wages last longer than two days!
In 1997, when I was 19, The Hawking Centre was born. I had a clunky old word processor, and a £3000 loan from the bank. My first move was to go bird and equipment shopping...next I wrote letters to all the tourist attractions in Kent. My first reply was from Doddington Place Gardens, and my second from Farming World. I had my first bookings for that first summer; DPG for two days and Farming World for six. Discussions followed soon after, and almost before I knew it, The Hawking Centre had become established at Farming World full-time. My first falconry centre was being built, and soon my passion became a shared one. Jo joined The Hawking Centre in 1999 as my partner, and we followed our dream together.
Fast forward eight years, and life had moved on apace. Married with two children, Jo and I were invited to move The Hawking Centre to Leeds Castle, and we loved giving demonstrations and flying experiences in Henry VIII's old hunting grounds. The next eight years seemed to fly past as quickly as the first. But eventually it was time for change, to move on and create a strong and exclusive brand for the future, for both our amazing, loyal clients and for new ways forward. New birds, including some of the world's largest Eagles, character-filled Vultures, stunning white Gyr Falcons and beautifully unusual Owls and Hawks were the additions to our team, and we moved to our new location of Doddington Place Gardens. It was so good to return to this exclusive, gorgeous and picturesque private estate, where it all began 16 years ago!
With a current team of 15 members of staff, a beautiful location, amazing reputation and a team of birds that even a 13 year old boy couldn't have imagined of owning, we are looking forward to what the future brings...