Shropshire's archery clubs

PUBLISHED: 16:52 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:46 20 February 2013

Darren Middleton

Darren Middleton

Julie Phillips visits one of Shropshire's 26 clubs dedicated to the ancient art of archery

The clouds are gathering over the Shropshire countryside bringing with them the threat of rain, but this hasn't put off the hordes of visitors who have descended on Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, as they take in the architecture of this stunning 18th century mansion owned and run by the National Trust. There is the gentle tinkle of laughter and the cheerful voices of old friends who have come together as they have done so many times before. But they are not here just to admire the beautiful scenery. They are here to engage in the ancient art of archery.

Archery has been around since the late Paleolithic period of around 9,000 BC and is well represented in mythology. Historically, archery was used in warfare and hunting, but today it is a fast-growing and popular sport regulated by FITA (International Archery Federation) and GNAS (Grand National Archery Society, now known as Archery GB) and is an Olympic event.
Shropshire provides the ideal diversity in terrain for archery, from fields, hills and forests and as a result there are 26 archery clubs with many more based in schools. There are a couple of children competing today. The sport of archery is so vibrant and popular in Shropshire that it has produced two archers: Paralympian Kay Lucas and Alison Williamson who has represented Great Britain in the Olympics five times and trains in Lilleshall. Both are members of Long Mynd Archers. There are many talented archers training towards the Olympics in London in 2012, including disabled archer Peter Higgins, also of Long Mynd Archers. And there are many more amateurs indulging in this sport all over the county.

Approaching the field, the soft, intermittent thwack of arrows hitting their target fills the air amidst encouraging shouts of Good shot, well done. A half empty bottle of mead sits in the arm pocket of a camping chair and there is a faithful old urn bubbling and steaming away, ready for that all important cup of tea at break-time. There is a table of raffle prizes including more bottles of mead to tempt the competitors at the end of the shoot.

We were worried about the rain coming and stopping the competition today, says Dick Hilton, 60, retired computer programmer and member of the Bowbrook Archers, Shrewsbury. They are hosting today's Bowbrook Heritage shoot. These Architectural Heritage shoots are held at sites around Shropshire of architectural interest and each club in the county takes turns to host these events. He says: I shoot because I enjoy it. When I used to come home from work and I'd had a bad day shooting a few arrows was good stress relief. Archery is very good for your health!

Bowbrook Archers were founded in 1984 and have around 80 members. They hold regular have-a-go sessions for beginners as well as having many experienced bowmen in their club competing at national level. Shropshire has certainly seen a surge in interest, and this is because the sport once deemed elitist is now seen to be more accessible and open to all, young and old and all abilities.

Alan Preece, 72, a retired butcher, also of Bowbrook Archers shakes his head when asked if archery is just for young men and the rich. It was his son, who was suffering from a serious illness, who finally encouraged Alan to take up archery, a sport he had admired from a distance. I've always loved archery since I was a young boy and I went on one of the clubs have-a-goes and really enjoyed that, so I joined and I haven't looked back since. He is living proof that archery isn't just a sport for the young. There's no age limit for archery. You can sit at home and just deteriorate or get outside and do something really. That's how I look at it.

The clubs have a variety of bows from the more traditional and low-tech long bow to the recurve bow used in the Olympics, which is a modern version of the long bow, and the high-tech compound bow and engage used in competition shoots like today, field shoots out in the woods and clouts where the target is flat on the floor. They shoot and train in most weather even having frost bite shoots in the winter something to wrap up warm for.

Alison Coggon, 48, one of the many women competing today, works for the Forestry Commission in the Wyre Forest, and is a member of Long Mynd Archers founded in 1978. It is one of the biggest clubs in the UK. She has been an archer for three years ever since she went to one of the clubs have-a-go sessions at a local fete. I prefer the long bow because you can just pick it up and shoot and that's it. The pressure is on with compound bows and recurves with lots of sights and weights. We definitely need more women shooting longbows. She is keen to see more women and children involved in the sport.

Dick Hilton notes that there has been an increase in the number of technical gadgets from when he first started 15 years ago. There are more high-tech gadgets like telescopes and some people take it very seriously, but you can take archery as high or low-tech as you like.
The emphasis for Dick and Alan is relaxation and encouraging people to take part and they insist that they don't take the sport too seriously at all. These county shoots are a nice introduction for beginners and encourages them to try. It gives them confidence and experience in competition shooting, Dick says as he sips his tea.

Alan agrees: That's where I think sport goes wrong, when they take it too seriously and get really competitive. You've got to enjoy it or there is no point in doing it.

It is clear from the relaxed banter of competitors between all the clubs here today that this informal county shoot is enjoyed by those are competing and spectating. And with a buffet afterwards, including an optional glass of mead, a long held Bowbrook Archers tradition, it all adds to the friendly and easy going atmosphere.

Dick agrees: Most of the time, when you are shooting the only person you are in competition with is yourself and all you are trying to do is improve your own personal best score.
Darren Middleton, aged 26, one of the younger competitors today, works in IT and is a member of Shrewsbury Bowmen. He has been doing archery with a recurve bow for nine years and revels in the camaraderie at the county shoots. I don't really like the big shoots because they are a bit too serious and I'm a recreational archer more than anything else, but it' s nice to come down to these county shoots when I have time as they are relaxing.

He manages to fit in around 10 archery competitions a year. It's something I've always wanted to do since I was quite young but I never really got chance to do it until I saw an advert in the local paper for a Sports For All event run by Shrewsbury Bowmen so I went along, had a go, loved it and joined the club.

The enthusiasm and passion for archery for those who practise this ancient art is infectious and the clubs will be holding their have a goes at a fete of show near you.

So why not pick up a bow and try it for yourself? As Alan says, if he can do it at the age of 72, so can you.

Archery GB www.gnas.org
FITA www.archery.org
Bowbrook Archers www.bowbrook-archers.btik.com
Shrewsbury Bowmen www.shrewsburybowmen.co.uk
Long Mynd Archers www.longmyndarchers.co.uk

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