Sadly my first arrow missed the target by several feet and embedded itself into the grass. Fortunately, I was away from the main practice area at the Washlands Sports Club where members of Burton Bridge Archers were warming up for a shoot. I noticed rather glumly that my target was less than half the distance away of their ’s.
Fortunately, I had an expert teacher, the club’s president Jan Creasey, who spotted my faults in an instance. Elbow in the wrong place, string nowhere near my chin, holding on to the shot too long and getting wobbly. I was also pleased to see that she adjusted the sight – so I had a bit of an excuse for my wayward arrow.
Jan has been a member of the club for 27 years and has a lot of patience with beginners like me.
She explained that, at first, archery is a bit like learning to drive, lots of things to think about in order to get something that looks so simple right.
Feet in the right place, head still, one eye closed. Elbow still and in the right place and where is my chin? After all, I can’t see it so how do I know when I have got my hand under it?
“A lot of people can’t find their chin at first,” says Jan.
Thump. This time the arrow hits the target; nowhere near the centre but definitely a score.
After 15 minutes my ‘grouping’ is getting better and I have had two arrows hit the gold area.
I’m starting to enjoy the thud of arrows and I’m getting a buzz from finding the target. It’s also surprisingly relaxing. It helps that the club meets at the Washlands and that it’s a glorious summer’s evening.
But before I get too cocky, Jan tells me that there’s no wind tonight to take into account and that rain knocks an arrow down.
How could I learn to allow for the weather when I’m still trying to find my chin and my elbow is all over the place?
“But you soon start to achieve,” says Jan. “You have in half an hour.”
If I have it’s down to her guidance but I can already see why archery is a fast growing sport and the club has a waiting list of beginners.
“Over the last two years the membership of Archery GB has grown by 50 per cent,” says Burton Bridge Archers’ secretary Geoff Fisher.
“That’s almost unheard of growth. It’s down to the Olympics and there has been countless films that have helped including The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games and even Brave, the animated movie and the Arrow TV series on Sky.”
The club has 110 members and a waiting list of 19 for its next beginners’ course.
It’s the second biggest club affiliated to Derbyshire.
Geoff says: “It’s an even spread of ages and a family thing. We get children shooting with parents and couples joining. What we focus on as a club is that it doesn’t matter how good you are as long as you enjoy it. It’s very safe, you don’t really hear of any accidents and injuries and on the beginners’ course you are taught all the safety rules.”
The club has plenty of youngsters taking part, with eight the recommended age to start.
Geoff says: “It’s an unusual sport in that it’s open to any age, any disability. It’s a very open sport in that almost anyone can do it.
“But it does help fitness and you start to build up muscles you never thought you would use. But a lot of it is technique. You don’t use your arms so much; it’s more about the weight across your shoulders. The more you shoot the stronger and fitter you become.”
There are summer and winter seasons in archery.
Geoff says: “In the winter we shoot indoors at a sports or school halls. We also once a month do the frostbite round – which is well named – where we shoot outdoors rain, shine or snow.”
Geoff started in his teens, lost touch with the sport when he left home and got his first job but five years ago he was looking for something to do and came back to it.
“It’s very addictive,” he says. “We find that with beginners as soon as they start they want more of it.”
Geoff uses traditional longbows.
“I have never been interested in the modern bows,” he says. “I’m qualified in engineering and I know the modern bows are very clever whereas my bow is a stick with a bit of string on it. It’s much more instinctive.
“On modern bows you have sights, stabilising rods, a little clicker to make sure you draw exactly the same length every time. All of this helps you get a more consistent shot. With the longbow, it’s purely down to your skills. It means you miss a lot more but it’s more of an achievement when you hit the target.
“I’m also good on the DIY practical side of it. So I make the bows, the arrows and that part of it is a lot of the interest for me.”
Geoff says that if you are buying a bow it can cost as little or as much as you like.
“Beginners’ bows are £50-£60 but you can spend thousands if you wish. Like me you can make your own longbow or if you go to a professional you will pay anything from £300-£600 depending on the timber used. Yew is traditional for longbow archers but is hard to come by now and expensive.”
“And if you want it there’s so much depth to it. Just talking about arrows there is the balance point, the size of the feathers, the flexibility and dynamics. Or you can just go to the shop, pick up the standard arrows and shoot with them.”
The club is all run on a volunteer basis and regularly runs courses for those who want to take up archery.
Geoff says: “It’s a sport that’s open and welcoming to people from any age and from any social standing. “
Jan and her husband Tony joined the club 27 years ago and she’s now the president.
She says: “We have been doing it a long time now. We have shot for the county, the region and abroad. We have had a lot of pleasure out it.
“Originally our son joined when he was 13 and he decided he would like his dad to do it as well rather than just standing watching. My son then saved his 50p a week pocket money and paid for me to do a beginners’ course. I said I don’t want to do archery but after one week I was hooked.
“It’s a constant challenge and when you get it in the gold it’s such a nice feeling. I love coaching new people, knowing that they will then get the same kind of pleasure out of it.”
Jan says there aren’t many sports that the whole family can enjoy at the same time.
“We have members as young as eight right up to their seventies. We have had one member of the club who was on the Olympic squad and we have had several people on the national squad. We can train them up to regional standard and then they move to another level of coaching. So if anyone has ambitions we can help with that.”
But most members just do it for the enjoyment and relaxation.
Jan says: “It’s a lovely spot here, so peaceful. Archery is a calm sport so it suits me well. I love it.”