Roy adds author to his many talents

Roy Bebbington is a countryman and many other things in his own right. Chris Berry talks to him about also becoming a published author today.

By night he's a paramedic, by day he's a falconer and sometimes he even sleeps. He was a drummer in a punk rock band and his handlebar moustache has become his trademark. He's now an author. Life is certainly not mundane for Roy Bebbington.

His book, financed by saving two years' overtime pay, is all about the Hungarians he and his wife Brenda live with.

They are their dogs – the Wirehaired Vizsla, a hunting breed which Roy has trained for falconry for the past 15 years from his home in Hudswell, near Richmond.

"Our dogs and falconry are my absolute passion," says Roy. "I work six days a week from eight in the evening until eight in the morning as a solo response paramedic.

"I cover mainly Catterick Garrison and the whole of Swaledale from Richmond to Keld. That means I can spend the daytime with the hawks and the dogs, so I don't sleep much."

Roy was born in Manchester and his hawking interest was aroused in his teens when he visited a wild bird hospital.

"I always had a passion for nature and, in particular, I loved birds. In the summer holidays I would travel to this wild bird hospital just outside Bury.

"It was run by a Polish lady who saw how keen I was. After I'd been going for a couple of years she gave me a disabled kestrel to look after. It only had one wing. Funnily enough my mum would let me have a hawk but wouldn't let me have a dog, mainly because the hawk lived outside.

"She didn't want anything other than people in the house. I think I've made up for that now."

Having started his ambulance career in Manchester, he and Brenda decided on a change in lifestyle with the countryside in mind.

"I just stuck a pin in a map one day and it landed on the Isle of Skye. I wrote to the chief ambulance officer for the Highlands to see if they had any vacancies and it happened to be perfect timing as they were starting to recruit paramedics."

Six weeks later the couple were heading north to the Kyle of Lochalsh where they spent three years. They swapped one beautiful area for another when they moved to Hudswell, in order that their three sons would have better employment prospects.

"We got our first hunting dog whilst in Scotland, a German Wirehaired Pointer. When it came to retirement age I decided to go for a different breed. It wasn't that I didn't like it, I just didn't like it enough. I wanted a coated dog because of the weather. We get quite a bit of it up here. The type of country I work on most for hawking and shooting is done on white grass moorland and that's pretty open and exposed, so the dogs need to be hardy.

"Out of the blue a friend told me about the Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla. I wanted to see how they would work, how far they would run, whether it had a good nose and how biddable it would be.

"Hunting together is all about co-operation. You can get some dogs that get beyond a certain distance and then they're hunting for themselves not for you.

"When we were looking for our first one, there were only 40 in the country. Trying to track one down was nigh on impossible."

Persistence paid off and he trained the first Wirehaired Vizslas in the art of falconry in the UK. His dogs also work an almost equal number of days per season for various parties of guns.

Each year, from mid-July throughout August until early September, his whole kennel of dogs – known by the kennel name Gonegos – move to Scotland for the red grouse.

"Around here they hunt rabbits predominantly. Their job is to hunt out, scent the game and then freeze on point. Then I go up and instruct the dog to flush. The dog then goes in and sits – its job done. The hawk then chases the rabbit, or if I shoot the rabbit, then the dog will sit until I send it for the retrieve."

Vizslas are also used for deer stalking. "If a deer is shot and it runs into a forest before collapsing, it can be difficult to find in the undergrowth and cover. The dogs follow the trail."

Watching the dogs relaxing in Roy's home brings to mind teenage lads lounging around. "They don't take a lot of looking after and one of the brilliant things about them is that you have a really good working companion. Yet when you bring them home, you also have a first class pet. They love gathering around our wood-burning stove like a set of hearth rugs. I have also shown them and won at Crufts."

Having started with a lame kestrel, Roy has had everything from a hawk to an eagle. "It was an Australian Wedge-Tail Eagle. I think it's the only one that has ever been flown in this country. We called it Edna, after Dame Edna Everage. On the whole it has been goshawks I've flown. Hawking had a real resurgence a few years ago and I don't think there have ever been as many people involved in the sport as at present. The biggest and oldest society is the British Falconers Club which has just short of 2,000 members."

Roy is also involved in another club in which he's not allowed to be a full member.

"I joined the Handlebar Club where you can't become a

full member if you have a beard.So I get classed as a Friend of the Handlebar Club. It all started off as a crazy wager. I had a bet with a friend of mine that we wouldn't have our hair cut on our face for a year.

"Both of us stuck to the task but then he did the sensible thing and had his beard cut off. I quite liked mine and just started growing it and crafting it. I'm now a world authority on hair spray."

The Wirehaired Vizsla, is available from today in Roy's local pub, The George and Dragon in Hudswell. Or visit: www.gonegoswirehairedvizslas.moonfruit.com

CW 15/1/11