Archery! It’s a whole new world of knocks, shafts and quivers.
Having grasped the basics, and decided that a stick was the weapon of choice for me, I was invited to a longbow event - Shooting at the marks! So, very early on a Sunday morning, Jeff, Malcolm and I set off for The Englefield Estate near Reading to take part. We had a great journey there, helped by sunshine, three flasks of coffee and some flawless map reading! We were the first archers to arrive and stole the only shady parking spot. We were warmly greeted by Alan, Bill and Gary from the Medieval society and followed our noses to the food tent for breakfast.
Other archers slowly arrived, including a few celebrities, and bows were extracted from vehicles and strung ready for the day. When everyone was strung and quivered and breakfast had been enjoyed we were gathered for a briefing. The ‘marks’ which we had come to shoot were crosses on plinths set up some distance apart around the grounds of the estate. The first ‘mark’ was nominated and the number of arrows to be shot at it (between 1 and 4) was chosen. The aim is to shoot an arrow as close to the ‘mark’ as possible, scoring 7 points if it falls within a bow’s length and 5 points, within 2 bow lengths! The archer with the arrow nearest to the ‘mark’ scores 12 points and nominates the next ‘mark’ and number of arrows to be fired!
So, under a cloudless sky we stepped forward, heavy bows first, to let loose! Once all arrows from the heavy bows had been fired we walked forwards a number of yards for the lighter bows and then again for the juniors. 55 archers with longbows makes an amazing sight and a garden of colourful fletchings was quickly planted ahead of us! We walked forwards collecting our arrows on the way and hoped that we may have been close to the ‘mark’!
Jeff and Malcolm did pretty well during the morning and scored some points. My arrows fell a little short but I had fun and when we stopped for mid-morning sherry and biscuits, I ‘scored’ a celebrity pic with the charming Shane Ritchie, who turns out to be a ‘lightweight’! Feeling a little like my grandma, smelling of sherry and shortcake, we continued to shoot at a few more ‘marks’ before heading back to the marquee for lunch! After a relaxing hour another of the day’s celebrities arrived... Robert Hardy. I knew him from ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ but I discovered that he is also well known for his passion for, and knowledge, of the longbow! He spoke to us all and was ceremoniously presented with a longbow and arrows. He is the patron of The Medieval Society. He then joined us for the afternoon’s shooting.
Jeff decided to change arrows for the afternoon and this paid off as he scored on nearly every ‘mark’. Malcolm continued to add to his score, I continued to fall short but my second celebrity pic was in my sights and when I posted my ‘Robert Hardy snap’ on Facebook, I discovered that he is better known as Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic from Harry Potter, and so I also scored some ‘cool points’ with my daughters! After the last few ‘marks’ we all headed back to the marquee for cake and to wait for the results to be announced!
Two slices of cake later, the prize-giving began. First the juniors, who did incredibly well. Then the lightweight bows, where Malcolm’s consistent good shooting had gained him second place and a silver medal. The prizes for the heavyweight bows were last and were announced in reverse order. When they got to the first prize and Jeff Hicks’s name was read out as the winner, you could almost hear his jaw hit the floor! He stood up, stunned, and walked to the front to collect his gold medal and wooden trophy from Robert Hardy. And for once Jeff was speechless!
I was asked to collect Jeff’s camera from his car to record this special moment but returned to find him sitting, surrounded by organisers and score keepers, looking bemused and dejected. It seems that another archer’s morning scores had been overlooked and Jeff hadn’t won after all, but was second! The trophy and gold medal were taken back and replaced with a silver version. So, we headed home after a great day and I guess you could say we took all the silverware!