Saxon Archers: Blackpool bowmen aiming for a few post-Covid bullseyes
If one wanted to be pedantic, they could correctly assert that it is still technically the law that every English male over the age of 14 must complete two hours of longbow practice every week thanks to a decree passed down in 1511 by Henry VIII.
An unrepealed law from the Middle Ages, the archaic demand isn’t met by many, but amongst the choice few of those who do meet the threshold are the Saxon Archers.
A small, friendly Blackpool-based archery club run by and for the members, Saxon Archers allows local enthusiasts to get together with other like-minded folk and practice their bowmanship under the watchful eye of their Archery GB-qualified coaches.
Prior to the pandemic, the group would meet at Palatine Leisure Centre twice a week to partake in a sport with a history best measured in the tens of thousands of years.
“I don’t think I’d ever tried archery before - unless it was at some sort of holiday camp where you had a quick go - and I never paid it much mind, but I took the kids along to the club’s basic archery course,” says Nigel Evans. “We learned the basics of shooting and all that and the kids did the typical thing of going ‘I’m bored’, so I just said ‘well, stuff you, I’m going to carry on’.
“I found it really interesting and quite enjoyed it,” adds Nigel, 57, now club secretary. “I wanted to get better at it.
“I quite enjoyed just using the different bows - we’ve got a number of bows of different strengths and you’ve got to match the arrow to the bow,” adds Nigel. “A flimsy arrow fired by a really powerful bow could actually break as you’re launching it.
“Arrows flex as they fly, which is a bit more important with longbows because of the archer’s parallax, which is where the arrow actually bends around the bow when you fire it.”
Founded just over a decade ago, the club has between 40 and 60 members, depending on who returns to practice post-Covid, and last managed to meet up over summer when lockdown restrictions were slightly eased. As well as member get-togethers, the club also runs training courses and free ‘have-a-go’ sessions for beginners.
Nigel himself joined the club eight years ago and started out shooting a flatbow before switching to his now-favoured longbow.
“Shooting with a longbow is a little trickier, but I find a longbow more satisfying; it’s simpler - it’s me and the bow,” says Nigel, originally from Hampshire. “Most people at the club use a standard recurve bow, which is the kind of bow you see at competitions, and for which you can get all different types of sights and dampeners.
“A longbow is what it is,” he continues. “It’s old school and I think it lends itself to more instinctive archery.”
Whilst archery might have a violent history, it’s actually a remarkably safe sport thanks to regulations and the precautions taken by those involved. In fact, according to the US National Safety Council, archery is more than three times safer than golf, with just one injury for every 2,000 participants.
“It’s a very physical activity - when I first started shooting my longbow of a Sunday, my shoulders would ache until about Wednesday, so it’s a fairly brutal activity and you’ve got to respect it as a sport,” says Nigel, who has lived in the North West since 1998. “Archery’s rich history really appeals to me, as well.
“It’s a small, family-friendly group which looks to bring archery enthusiasts together and I think the group really helps raise the profile of the sport in the area,” Nigel adds, with members also attending local events including carnivals, fetes, and archery open days when able to. “People come and people go, but there’s a hardcore group who have stuck around.
“There’s a really good camaraderie amongst us - sometimes people come down and don’t even shoot, they just have a chat,” he continues. “And going along to events is great because you meet people from all walks of life.
“I’ve missed it in lockdown.”