For more than 40 years a group of enthusiasts have gathered at Appley each week to display their skills in the noble art of archery.
There had been flirtations on the Island with the sport long before that, initially at Ventnor and then at Brading. But the formation of Wight Bowmen in 1970 heralded the start of a club that has subsequently grown in numbers and kept pace with the many changes in technique and equipment over the years.
Wight Bowmen’s membership stands at 70 and continues to increase, with men, ladies, juniors and disabled enjoying the thrill of trying to strike gold on the target. A breakaway West Wight group also competes regularly.
Many simply associate archery with the long bow – the type Robin Hood and his Merry Men are said to have used around Sherwood Forest. The long bow is still an integral part of the sport to this day, and should be six inches longer than the height of the archer. But there are now the far more complex Olympic competition recurve bows, American flat bows, and compound bows. Arrows are normally made from carbon fibre for outdoor competition, but are also made of aluminium mainly for indoors, while wooden arrows must be used for long bows – those are the rules!
Wight Bowmen club chairman Stuart Dyer, a member since 1990, said: “With archery you are not competing against anyone but yourself. Even in competitions, you are trying to beat your previous score; trying to achieve a personal best of even a club or County record. We hold beginners’ courses which are very popular, and are fully booked up until May. We take youngsters from the age of 11, and our oldest member is 83, and we have quite a few families involved.
“Our club motto is ‘archery is to enjoy not to endure’. There is a lot of friendly rivalry, but it is a sport that has to be respected and there are strict rules, especially when you consider the modern arrow can travel at over 300ft per second. Every shoot has a Field Captain who controls the shoot, and shoots are held under Grand National Archery Society rules.”
Bowman shoot at targets as far away as 90 metres – or 100 yards – away, but when competitions are held at shorter distances then the size of the target is reduced accordingly. Competition is ‘healthy but friendly’ with the Wight Bowmen often visiting other clubs along the south coast. The club’s Master Bowman Lee Grace from Bembridge travels much further afield to compete.
In the summer the Wight Bowmen shoot on Sundays and Wednesday evenings at Appley, and move indoors in winter, competing at the IW Table Tennis Centre, Smallbrook. The Vectis Open Tournament is run by the club in March and held over two days. The tournament includes the National Five Spot Championships for compounds which is shot on a target designed by Wight Bowmen and attracts archers from all over the UK.
A flat bow costs as little as £120; a good long bow between £400 and £600, but beginners can use a full £200 kit, which the club will initially hire our for up to six weeks. Then a coach or more experienced archer will assist with the beginner’s first purchase. A recurve, for more experienced archers starts at around £900, while the modern high-tech compounds can cost up to £1,300.