Fairways aren't the only way to enjoy Scotland's Gleneagles

Associate editor Grant Flowers recently spent a few days at Gleneagles, a resort in central Scotland. His report follows:

FalconryAUCHTERARDER, Scotland -- Except for the golf courses, there's not much to do at Gleneagles -- unless you count horseback riding, target shooting, trout fishing, off-road driving, falconry and otherwise basking in the lovely Scottish scenery.

Gleneagles, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, is well known for its golf courses, rated as some of the best inland courses in Scotland. But what many travelers might not know is that there's more to the hotel than golf.

The resort opened in 1924 and has been a popular spot for the well-heeled ever since.

Gleneagles is located in a wide valley (a glen) about an hour's drive from both Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the county of Perthshire. The estate encompasses 830 acres, much of it devoted to golf but a good bit set aside for the other activities.

At the center of the grounds is the hotel itself, a large manor-like structure made from grayish stone. A look to the hotel's flagpole will indicate that this is a place where regional pride is taken very seriously: The Scottish flag flies instead of the Union Jack.

About half of the resort's customers are vacationers and the rest are there for meetings and incentives. The hotel gets a lot of return business (47%), and about 65% of its clients come from the U.K. Despite its distance from the U.S., nearly a quarter of Gleneagles' clients are Americans. The busiest months, of course, come during the summer -- June to September -- while Easter and Christmas are also popular.

Guests who come for golf will find courses with regal names: the Monarch's, the King's and the Queen's. The five-year-old Monarch course was designed by Jack Nicklaus. During peak season, rounds cost about $130 per person and rates drop to about $90 per person November through April.

For those with other interests, the property offers a number of activities.

For starters, there's the falconry. In a matter of minutes, guests can get a tutorial in the basics of the ancient sport, don a pair of Wellingtons (the British version of swamp boots), put on a glove, and then handle the birds themselves.

The birds are actually Harris hawks, and as the instructor says, to them the human guide is nothing more than a mobile tree trunk. So there's no reason to worry about a hungry bird pecking at one's nose.

Anyone with a taste for nature should appreciate the sport, and it's great to watch as the hawk glides in for a gentle landing on a gloved hand. (For those curious about why birds would return to the "mobile tree trunk," the secret is that the human puts little cubes of meat on the glove to get the hawk to come back.)

If guests want more than the 45-minute, $90 introductory lesson, there are half-day and full-day hawking excursions available. The falconry school, like other activities, is not run by the hotel, but most customers are Gleneagles guests.

The company that runs the falconry school also operates the off-road driving academy.

The vehicle of choice, a Land Rover Defender, can tilt 45 degrees to the side before tipping over. Ian Smith, one of the instructors at the off-road school, comforted me with this fact as the Land Rover lurched forward on what seemed like two wheels.

Getting stuck in the mud isn't much of a problem, because there's no more scenic place to get stuck than in a field of heather. Best of all, the student doesn't have to set up the winch to haul the vehicle out of the sludge.

Near the off-road course is the Jackie Stewart Shooting School, founded by the former racing champion. (Stewart is also a shooting enthusiast.) A full lesson costs a little more than $100 per person. For that price the student gets to blow clay targets to bits. First-timers, in fact, comprise about 80% of the school's business. Traps simulate grouse, pheasant, teal and rabbits.

Other activities include horseback riding, which can be done either outdoors or in the hotel's Equestrian Center, and fishing for trout in the estate's private lake.

If a guest is looking to concentrate on a particular activity, the hotel offers two-night packages that tie in the specific sport along with all meals. For example, the shooting package, for the standard room, starts at 510 pounds per person during peak season.

The hotel also has its own version of the all-inclusive package, the Carte Blanche Tariff.

During the peak season, May through October, rates start at 415 pounds per night per person, and that includes everything: meals, afternoon tea, and all activities (including all golf fees). Off peak rates (November to April) for the package start at 290 pounds per night.

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