How to get involved in archery in Buckinghamshire
PUBLISHED: 11:44 21 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:44 21 August 2017
Arrowing on a sport which attracts people of all ages and abilities, Sandra Smith meets the toxophilites of Newport Pagnell
How many sports clubs do you know whose members range from 10 year olds to octogenarians, training takes place in the open countryside, and disabled competitors are as welcome as their able bodied peers?
If you’re struggling to come up with an answer (and why wouldn’t you?) let me help you out. Newport Pagnell Archers ticks all the boxes. And more. For instance, the President of this organisation is an Olympic silver medallist. If that isn’t impressive enough, having spent the morning watching the skills of these toxophilites, I can vouch for a pervading atmosphere of support and enjoyment which is echoed by their Treasurer.
“I like sports which involve skill,” Carl smiles during a break from shooting. “I’d always fancied having a go and came along to an Open Day a few years ago. It’s relaxed here and the Club has lived up to my expectations.”
We’re standing on the edge of a dedicated field at Caldecotte Xperience in Simpson where targets, positioned at 10 yard intervals up to 60 yards before jumping to 70m Olympic range, include small flags designed to provide an indication of wind direction. Despite the proximity of Milton Keynes, unbroken countryside stretches for miles, a setting appreciated by Captain, Jenni Miller: “This is fun and it feels healthy. If it rains, we still shoot outside. I only joined in September last year and now I keep some waterproof gear in my car!”
Inevitably, the safety aspect of archery is vital. The 15 members present today are all positioned behind a shooting line and only begin to shoot once the Captain has checked the field is clear before blowing her whistle. Three blasts indicate the end of shooting after which members are allowed to walk to the targets to retrieve their arrows. Badges are awarded once distances are achieved and competitions take place each month though the Club also hosts County open events.
Inclusivity is also a characteristic of this welcoming organisation. Indeed, the current President, Valerie Williamson, achieved silver medal status at the 1980 Paralympics, a feat that seems to have defied the odds.
She explains: “I was born very premature and have been paraplegic from birth, so I’m wheelchair bound. But when I had a go at archery it bit me like a bug. I was at Stoke Mandeville when an NPA member asked who coached me. I said, ‘What’s coaching?’ They said they’d do what they could to help me and I joined in 1977. After being spotted I was chosen for the 1980 Olympics. What an amazing experience! There’s nothing like watching the Union flag go up the pole when you’re are the bottom of it. I was still new to the sport and I grew up in a time when a lot of people had an attitude that if you’re disabled you can’t do anything. Now here was something I could do. I was in full time work and had to take the time off as holiday but these days competitors are Lottery funded. The Olympics took place in Arnhem, Netherlands, because the Russians wouldn’t give visas for the disabled Games.”
The 78-year-old explains how disabled archers shoot the same distance as their able bodied peers. In fact, this was the first sport which recognised disabled athletes.
“In the 1988 Olympics,” Valerie continues, “three archers representing the ladies GB team were from Buckinghamshire, two of whom came from our group. In Seoul they won team and individual gold medals.”
From 14 year old Laurie, who comes along with his dad and is currently finding consistency his biggest challenge, to Jackie, whom several members tell me is the Club’s best archer yet only discovered the sport by accident when living in Zambia and now shoots three times a week, ages and abilities are mixed but everyone is equally enthusiastic. Members quietly support each other, use binoculars to check where colleagues’ aluminium arrows have landed and boost each other’s confidence.
The archery bows used are recurve style, an Olympic standard. This is the most popular style of archery in the UK with the limbs, which come in different weights (starters usually begin with 20lb limbs), curving away from each other. Bows, which might cost around £350, collapse for ease of transportation with mid range arrows available for around £120 per dozen. Club members buy their own equipment.
As new member Simon Smyth champions both the Club and the sport (“NPA made me welcome immediately. Everyone is very friendly and archery is addictive!”) Hari Bakhshi shares further details.
“Everyone starts with a one day beginners’ course which covers safety and basic techniques. We currently have over 100 members plus some associates – members of other clubs who use our facilities. Adult membership costs £6 per month or £3 for juniors.”
Wearing a hat adorned with numerous badges which indicate the distances he has achieved over the last couple of years, Hari is also keen to spread the news of a forthcoming event.
“On Saturday, 9 September we will celebrate our 50th birthday which ties in with Milton Keynes anniversary. We’re planning a hog roast, tournament and there’ll be opportunities for families to have a go.”
The roots of this recreational activity can be traced back several centuries. Yet despite archery’s origins in hunting and combat, nowadays courtesy and etiquette are paramount. This may not be the sort of sport which involves running around, but there’s still an emphasis on maintaining a good physical condition. Furthermore, an ability to concentrate is crucial. Personal discipline and respect for others is part of the ethos of Newport Pagnell Archers so why not give it a try? Maybe you, too, will discover an inner archer you never knew existed.
Local archery clubs
Newport Pagnell Archers meet three times a week, shooting at Caldecotte Xperience all year round as well as an indoor venue (Millmead Hall) between October and March.
Europe’s largest archery centre is based in Buckland where Chiltern Archery welcomes shooters of all abilities.
Whiteleaf Bowmen’s dedicated field in Lacey Green is available 365 days a year with official target days each Sunday plus Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
All bow styles are included at South Bucks Archers’ Slough shooting ground with coaches and instructors offering help and advice.
As well as promoting archery in the county, the Association provides information about local clubs.