By: Adnan Akgun
Day one, 20/04/2012 Friday, Journey to Tiverton
As some of you know, I am living in London for some time now. Since I was already in the UK, I thought I would go and attend the St. George’s Shoot. We had long been wanting to go as a group (Tirendaz), but either due to scheduling conflicts or financial issues, we were never able to. The shoot was held in a village called Stoodleigh, eight miles from Tiverton. After an early morning meeting on Friday, I went back to my place, changed my clothes, got my gear and headed to London Paddington train station. I missed the train I had a reservation for by just three minutes. The next train was an hour later, so I started waiting. The ticket was still valid on that train; I had just lost my reserved seat. Talking about reserved seating; due to the fact that train tickets are sold above the seat capacity, even if you have a reservation, there is quite the chance that someone has tried his luck and is sitting in your seat. You will end up asking the person unkindly to stand up and give up the seat; which in turn will make all the other commuters, who do not have a reservation, look at you as if you are an unsympathetic snob. I was lucky to get a seat, but dozens travelled in the aisles on foot. Later did I found out that a lot of Londoners do leave the city on Fridays and overcrowding such as these are quite common. Nonetheless, after a tiring two and a half hour journey I arrived in Tiverton Parkway train station, which is nine miles from Tiverton central. Thanks to email correspondences I had earlier with Hilary Greenland, a gentleman named Dennis Couling, with whom we would become quite friendly with in the following days, was waiting for me. Because I had neglected to book early, I was not able to find a place to stay in Stoodleigh and had to opt for a bed & breakfast in Tiverton instead. The other option was to camp at the shooting ground but I did not go for that, as it was cold and I lacked camping equipment. Consequently, from all the shooters who took part in the event, I was the only person staying in Tiverton. Dennis carried me around the whole weekend and for that I am especially thankful to him. I was pleasantly surprised to find Peter Dekker, who is an expert on Manchu Archery, inside Dennis’ Jeep, when I entered it at the station (Peter would not shoot arrows due to an injured shoulder; he would be taking awesome pictures with his fancy new camera instead). Apparently he had left the shooting ground with Dennis to buy himself a pair of Wellie boots. That’s when I learned, that the shooting ground had become quite muddy due heavy rainfall. I did not know then of course, that Dennis would take me to buy the same sort of wellies the following morning. We left the station to stop at the shooting ground before driving to my bed & breakfast.
The shooting ground was actually the Ashmoor Stud Farm, an establishment consisting of quite a large grassland and a small forest. Hayley Bishop, whom I would meet in person the following day, was training a magnificent Arabian stallion when I arrived at the farm. Despite all my unfortunate experiences with them, not even an ounce of my affection towards horses has diminished. Therefore, the pleasure of watching a real Arabian move, in flesh and blood and not in a video, is indescribable. Elegance, splendour, pride…
While I was gazing at the horse, Hilary Greenland, who was preoccupied with preparing the site, stopped by and that is how we met in person. Hilary, with all her cynical humour and liveliness that makes you say “I wish I was a few years younger”, is a woman, incredibly pleasurable to spend time with. Even though she ruled over the weekend with an iron fist, there was not an instant she did not make us smile with her presence. What’s more, she also is a bowyer of over 20 years (more on it at http://www.sylvanarchery.co.uk) and the founder of SPTA (Society for the Promotion of Traditional Archery; the organiser of the St. George’s Shoot: http://www.traditional-archery.org). Right after her Richard Hornsby arrived. Richard is a very sincere and knowledgeable person. It is deductible from our talks that he has given years to archery and is still willing to learn more. He asked me to have a look at his thumb release as his arrows were not hitting where he would want them to hit. Despite agreeing to it, we never got the chance to get together, because of the tight schedule of the weekend as well as the competition taking longer than expected. So, Richard, my promise still stands, we will look at it some other time. After agreeing to meet at the (not “a”) Thai restaurant in Tiverton at 7pm, Dennis gave me the lift to my accommodation.
I began waiting in my room. When I saw that it had stopped raining, I stepped out to see more of the town. Tiverton is what you would call a typical “sleepy town”. There are few people out on the streets after 5pm. The huge and very green grasslands that encircle the town are visible from everywhere. There is a rural feel throughout. After having a walk along the canal and photographing the old church and castle, I went to the pub next to the restaurant about 6:30pm to wait and have a drink. Funnily enough I found Hilary and Co in there. While having our drinks, the pub suddenly lit up when our three French friends entered the scene. It was great to see Raph Rambur and Bruno Badia-Canes again as well as meeting Emmanuel Kim finally in person. We proceeded to the restaurant, had a surprisingly great meal. At the end of the night those with houses went home, I went back to my bed & breakfast.
Day two, 21/04/2012 Saturday, Roving Marks
The following morning Dennis and his wife Ali picked me up. Ali too is an experienced archer and they both take part in re-enactments. Dennis asked me for how long I had been doing archery. I thought he was joking when he replied “New boy then, eh?” upon hearing that I had been doing it since 2006. It appears he had been at it for 42 years! After getting my Wellie boots (£15.60) from Tiverton, we arrived at the shooting ground. There was quite a commotion around the large tent, mainly caused by setting up the barbecues for the breakfast service (English Breakfast of course, the most important meal of the day). Richard’s wife Collette and Rebecca Jaques, who would be serving food the whole weekend, had already taken their first orders. Having worked in catering and having waited tables before, I know how difficult it is to keep people supplied with food. A big thanks to you both. Right about then something has happened, I will never forget in my life. Dennis had asked me to help him to carry something from the farmhouse. We drove up with his Jeep to pick up the item. Upon our return, while I took the item out of the boot and was carrying it to its spot, I realised a gentleman was pointing me to a little one, who I assumed was his daughter, and whispering “Adnan, Adnan”. Because all my shyness had faded away in previous months while trying to keep my business afloat, I directly went to them and introduced myself. It turned out that this Welsh gentleman, Jonathan Thomas was a fan of our Tirendaz website and as well as trying to learn Turkish style shooting on his own, he also was mimicking especially my technique by watching our videos! While I could not think of anything but a dull “thank you” from all the surprise, he immediately introduced me to his daughter as “The famous Turkish Archer”! If I were to say that I was embarrassed at that moment, I would be faking modesty. I quite enjoyed it.
Nonetheless, in such a situation, you feel the words escape you and you do not know how to thank the person. The excitement Jonathan has for Turkish Archery is many times greater than the excitement of having met me, and he definitely knows how to shoot. The affinity he has towards us is so great, he had been carrying a lapel pin consisting of Welsh and Turkish flags on his hat. He gave me this pin as a gift and I proudly carried it on my hat the remainder of the weekend. His daughter Angharad, who shoots an Asiatic bow with three finger release, is also an archer with very good technique.
Once the breakfast session was over, Hilary invited everyone over to the “bar” tent. No need to be prude and say “My, my, alcohol in the morning!”; we were all given just a shot of either plum wine or honey liqueur, also known as “mead”, for a toast.
Having read about it in “Beowulf” and being curious, I opted for mead. We raised our glasses to the “archers of old” and downed our drinks. Mead is a nice drink; it tastes a bit like white wine with honey mixed in it. But I have to say I was disappointed. I was expecting something that would make a seasoned warrior cough, but mead is only slightly stronger than wine. Afterwards Hilary began to explain the rules for the day’s event, “Roving Marks”. To summarise quickly: There are poles with feudal shields on top of them and these are placed on various spots all over the farmland (the poles were stuck to the ground by a gentleman named Big George, who had a 37 inch draw length and a sense of humour proportionate with his huge size). The idea is to hit the ground around these shields as closely as possible, while shooting from medium to long distances. However your arrows must be stuck vertically around the target, meaning you have to raise your bow. Therefore, most of the time, you are not actually coming to a full draw. Being from a school where we stress the “importance of a full draw”, there were many times I felt I was cheating, but all the same, I have to admit that it was quite a fun and different kind of game. Just as Richard said, it is interesting to observe how your bow behaves under different conditions/draw lengths. The competition began after the collaborative shoot of whistling arrows, distributed to us by Richard (they were made with Ping-Pong balls, great sound, watching them fly all at once was great too). Once we arrived at the target to collect points, Hilary would direct us towards the next shield. Lacking flight arrows on long distances and not being able to get the hang of short draws on medium distances, I cannot say I was very successful with Roving Marks. Still, what matters is the experience. Nobody cared about points the whole weekend anyway. People were there just to have fun and enjoy themselves.
We continued the shoot after lunch break and ended the competition around tea time (meaning about 5pm; the most important time of the day). That’s when the lady of the farm Sally Bishop came along with her four dogs. Apparently, besides horses, previously there were also dogs bred at the farm. I particularly was drawn to the Utonagan dog, which I learned was especially bred to resemble the Wolf. All the dogs had great temper and none of them did mind being petted. After tea, we went to another corner of the farm to do some flight shooting, just for fun. Again, the lack of appropriate arrows as well as my bow not being able to keep up with the 80-90 lb. ELB’ s, I performed somewhere in the middle.
For dinner we had Chilli con Carne, prepared by Rebecca Jaques. It was delicious. During dinner we had an interesting conversation with Peter and German archaeologist Jurgen Junkmanns (whom I had met the day before and who is not only an expert on primitive bows on a doctorate level; he also produces top quality selfbows) about the transition to firearms. Peter, recommended me a book on the subject.
While we are on it; I had a chance to look at Jurgen’s primitive selfbows. They are very elegant masterpieces, produced almost by listening to the wood material itself. I was really impressed with the craftsmanship. Similarly all the longbows I examined throughout the weekend were beyond just being simple sticks. There is accumulated knowledge and craftsmanship behind it. I actually had in mind to shoot a few arrows with an ELB for this weekend. But because of my preference of having a few instructions before plunging into a shot, as well as time constraints, this wish did not come true.
After it got dark, we were told that we were going to light a bonfire with fire arrows. We were all given an arrow. Then they were all lit. All by command, we presented our bows, pulled and released. Guess what!? All our arrows went out mid-flight, way before reaching the pile of wood 10 meters away. After a second failed attempt, we just lit the damn thing manually and proceeded with the festivities. I had a nice conversation with archaeologist Maren, who also happens to be Jurgen’s girlfriend, about Ibn Fadlan and other Arabic travellers. Just when I was entertaining my favourite campfire pastime, which is showing off my astronomical knowledge to others (I know the Big Dipper and the North Star, that’s about it really), we had to leave, because Dennis’ home was a bit far away. But seeing how people were hungover the following day, I came to the conclusion that leaving early was not such a bad idea after all.
Day three, 22/04/2012 Sunday, Field Archery
After a breakfast session much like the day before, Hilary gathered us together with her usual tenderness (she threatened to burst our eardrums by blowing into a whistle) to explain the rules for “Field Archery”. Here goes the summary: There are four pegs in front of each target. White and red pegs for grownups, yellow and blue ones for children. Each grownup is supposed to shoot only one arrow from the red peg. If the target is hit from the deadly zone he/she gets 10 points, 5 points for wounding and obviously 0 points for hitting blank areas of the target or missing. Right after the first shot the archer has to decide whether to take a second shot. However, the second shot has to be taken from the white peg and a miss will mean -10 points. And shots taken from the white peg are usually more difficult than the ones from the red. Same rules also to apply children, only they use the yellow and blue pegs. Right at the start Hilary said that people were there to have a good time and that usually everybody went for the second shot. She even said that at the end of the day, they would give a present to the person with the lowest score.
People teamed up with whom they wanted. Jonathan proposed to be in the same group, naturally I accepted. Scott and John joined us too. With the addition of Jonathan’s daughter Angharad and John’s grandson Alf, our team was set. Branches especially placed between the shooting spot and target, courtesy of the angel of compassion Hilary, proved to be a serious issue on most of the tracks. In competitions we have among us in Turkey, the branches only block the shooters vision; on this track however, I have broken three arrows just by hitting those branches. I was generally displeased with my performance save for a few shots and finished with a negative score. We got involved in a friendly contest with my team mate Scott at one time, but I do not know how that ended. Right after the Field Archery was what I call the “Eccentric Tracks”. The first one was the Mongolian “Zurkhai”, where you shoot at two rows of tin cans placed on top of each other and the more tins you are able to knock down, the more points you get. The next target was shooting at rubber ducks placed on a horizontal beam. After that we tried to land our arrows vertically in a bucket. The one after that was quite interesting. This track, which was named “Horse(less)back Archery” by Hilary, in her usual witty style, was similar to the classic Kassai track. The only difference was that there was no horse. We had to run to each of the five pegs and take a shot. If you were to run the track under 45 seconds you would get extra points, if you were to run above you would get minus points. Of course you needed to be accurate too. I must say it was one of the tracks I enjoyed the most. If I had not been let down by my nocks I could have done it in 30 seconds. I twice finished in 35 seconds. And my shots were alright too. As it usually is the case with me, the moment I have other things than the target to focus on, my accuracy increases. The following track was shooting at a target with multiple vertical lines. The last one was speed shooting. We were supposed to shoot as many arrows as possible within a minute. I shot quite a lot of arrows, but they were mostly off target.
Jonathan was very good in the field archery track as well as the eccentric tracks and finished on a high positive score. But, since nobody could be bothered to add up and compare the scores we did not find out who the winner was (apart from the children category, which Angharad wiped out). If a winner was announced, it did somehow escape me. However, the lowest scorers indeed did get presents. The organisers, the helpers, the cooks, the owners of the Ashmoor Stud farm who let us use the land, were applauded in appreciation.
I had to leave quickly because it was about time for my train. I apologised to everybody whom I promised I would be exchanging contacts but could not and promised I would be sending my details over to whoever replied to my message on the Facebook SPTA board. Just when I was about to leave, Hilary had me applauded and I had to pull my hat to cover my face. And I was not faking it.
The journey back was fine, there were many empty seats. While there was the all too familiar, at times sweet, at times annoying ache of having shot arrows the whole weekend in my back and shoulders, there were also thoughts of new acquaintances, old friendships, experiences gained in my mind.
You can have a look at some of the pictures taken during the event here: