With only one spare day at the the Lake District, it was quite hard to choose which of the areas wonderful day-out offerings to go for. I'd picked up a bunch of leaflets at the hotel and there's a lot I'd have liked to have seen, but the promise of owls had me driving to Muncaster Castle.
When I set off, it wasn't raining. This changed by the time I left the car park, and I spent the hour drive from Barrow-in-Furness telling myself 'I'm sure it'll stop in a minute'.
In fact, despite being a seemingly popular destination on a spring Saturday, the nice lady at the ticket office told me I was the first person to visit that day. By the time I left in the afternoon, a few more folk had arrived, but it certainly never got busy!
Of course, that might have been something to do more with the fact that people knew that the actual castle wasn't open. Oops. Apparently I missed it by a week, but I was still able to walk around the gardens.
I'd been given a map at reception along with some guidance with some nice routed to take. I headed first to the terrace walk, as it looked (to the naked eye) a but less muddy and treacherous that some of the other places to explore.
One of the terraces best features is the view it offers of Scafell Pike and the western Lakeland fells... even on the day of my visit, when my view was 60% fog and 20% rain, it was still pretty special - I can only imagine what a great lookout this is on a clear day!
I'd gone out for the day in my most sensible boots, but I don't think I was quite prepared for the obstacle course that was walking though the woodland in that mud! The uphills were squelchy but doable, but by downhill descents mainly consisted of undignified skidding.... but I still managed to stay more on less on my feet throughout which was more impressive than it sounds!
This woodland 'path' led back to the castle for a closer view of the grand building, and out the cannon bank - home to the herons! I missed the heron feed they do here in the afternoon sadly as I had to make my way back, but it was lovely see to see them!
Of course, my favourite feature of any day out is the obligatory tea-and-cake time, and after all my soggy wandering around I really appreciated a sit down with a hot drink in the cosy tea room! They had a tasty looking if not particularly extensive cake selection - the coffee and walnut cake was delicious but deceptively big!
Then it was time to meet the birds! The gardens were lovely but this is what I'd come for really - I love owls and birds of prey, and was looking forward to meeting the feathery chaps at the Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre.
The birds are there for visiting all day of course, but they have a flying display in the afternoon where you get to see a few of them in action.
Despite not being the prettiest bird at Muncaster, I quickly developed a soft spot for the African Hooded Vulture, Moriarty. I was very sad to hear that these birds are now on the 'Critically Endangered' list. One awful contributing reason for this is that the vultures in Africa are frequent victims of poisoning.. poachers will lace the carcasses of animals they have killed with poison in order to get rid of the vultures they fear with give their position away. It's layer upon layer of tragedy, totally heartbreaking.
(Sorry to be a downer! Here's Cavalli, the pretty Verreauxs Eagle Owl to lift the mood!)
The Muncaster Hawk and Owl Centre is run in association with the Hawk Conservancy Trust, who's mission is to conserve birds or prey.
Just before leaving we got to meet the newest bird at the the centre, week old Phoenix as brought into the cafe for a quick visit. Baby owls are so ugly-cute, all angles covered in skin and fluff.... but ever so sweet.
I had a lovely if wet day at Muncaster Castle, and I think it's be a great place to revisit with the family when the weather is better and the house is open... but if there's one thing that will guarantee I'll return soon it's that I want to see how little baby Phoenix is growing!