IT features one of the world's largest collections of arms and armour but it was a little ferret called Scratchy who captured my daughter's imagination.

Before we entered the main galleries at the Royal Armouries Museum, we had taken a diversion to the nearby Menagerie Court where falcons and hawks take centre stage.

The falconer told us about their long involvement in hunting, and about how ferrets are traditionally used to go down rabbit holes and "ferret out" the rabbits so they could be caught by the birds of prey, before we had a chance to stroke Scratchy.

Next door was the Tiltyard, quiet on the day of our visit but the scene of spectacular displays of jousting tomorrow and on Easter Monday. Three teams from around the globe will be battling it out against the Armouries' own team to win a Sword Of Honour twice a day, at 12.30pm and 2.30pm.

The museum opened nine years ago, after a £42.5 million investment, as the new home for the national collection of arms and armour. Situated just outside Leeds city centre, it is easy to get to by car along the A64 from York, with good parking in a nearby multi-storey car park. However, it's a good 15-minute walk from the city railway station. In recent years entry has been free, apart from the jousting displays.

The main complex features five spacious galleries, each focusing on different arms themes: war, tournament, the Orient, self defence and hunting.

Exhibits include Henry VIII's tournament armour and another suit of armour specially created in 16th century India to be worn by a huge elephant, which weighed a staggering 118 kgs.

But the most breathtaking display was in the Hall Of Steel, a 100 ft high exhibition of 3,000 pieces of armour that can be seen from a circular staircase that ascends several storeys of the building.

Fact file:

Royal Armouries Museum, Armouries Drive, Leeds. Tel 0113 2201999.

Open daily 10 am to 5pm.

Disabled access: good.

Admission free, apart from jousting. Tickets for this cost £14 family, £5 adult/single, £3 child, £4 concession. Pre-bookings qualifying for discounts can be made by calling 0113 220 1985 between 10am and 5pm.

Updated: 08:46 Saturday, March 26, 2005