When I was a boy I loved playing cowboys and Indians so a trip to Banknock’s Cloybank Estate to do it for real was highly anticipated.
Robin Hood was also a favourite of mine in my formative years so I was especially looking forward to emulating the great legend - less the tights obviously.
So with youthful exuberance, a bow and quiver full of arrows I bounded up to the range with my coach Moira Taylor, a highly experienced archer who coached the British team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Not one to boast, but my very first arrow hit the target dead centre. “Bullseye”, I screamed. When I got back to the office to tell everyone I got the feeling they were thinking bull-something else.
I kept up my good start with more shots close to the centre thanks to Moira’s coaching. The target stand was only set up 10 metres away, mind you. In the Olympics it will be 70m away from the competing archers.
However, I was proving to be a natural, although where I grew up we were more used to dodging the big boys’ arrows rather than aiming them.
Moira, as I learned, also shot for Scotland at the 1982 Australian Commonwealth Games, has been Scottish champion five times, GB champ and has competed all over the globe in the sport.
I couldn’t have been in better hands, especially going through the safety procedures. I had to be aware I had a lethal weapon in my rookie hands and that it wasn’t the time to be clowning around. Safety is paramount at Cloybank.
Moira is also full of fascinating facts. For instance, if your name is Fletcher, chances are your ancestors made arrows in the olden days. Bowmans or Bowyers would have manufactured bows. A number of terms in modern-day archery relate back to Medieval times.
The target is made up of five colours with two sections in each. The centre is yellow with the first section worth 10 points and the second worth nine. Red is the next colour with two sections worth eight and seven points, followed by blue, black and white, all the way down to one point.
The bow I used was a recurve bow as it has curves extra curves at the ends. It’s 66 inches in length and fires arrows at 100mph, while the string travels at 100 feet per second. Precautions like wearing an arm guard must be taken.
The arrows are 30ins long and made of hollow aluminium, designed to flex through the air as it makes its way to the target.
The sharp end is called the ‘pile’ and the end which attaches to the string is the fletch end as it has three ‘fletches’. These would have been feathers in Hood’s days.
One of the fletches is a different colour from the other two and points out away from the bow to ensure the fletches don’t hit the bow when the arrow is released.
All this technology makes the sport an easy one to to get the hang of and enjoy. After about ten rounds of six arrows I was hitting the centre of the target fairly regularly and couldn’t wait to pull them out again to fire them back in again.
The first thing Moira told me to do was aim at the centre of the target and pull. If the arrow doesn’t hit the centre then you adjust accordingly.
When one of mine peeled off to the top left, at about the number 11 on a clock, I simply aimed at the opposite end of an imaginary clock and hit the centre again.
Moira’s passion for archery is unquestionable and I get the feeling that what she doesn’t know about the sport isn’t worth knowing.
She runs classes at Cloybank through MRM Archery, with fellow professionals who have a combined 60 years’ experience of pulling the strings.
She said: “Archery is very much tailored to the archer. The size of the bow and arrows depends on the size of the person using it. You can’t fire an arrow that is less than your arm’s length. It’s just not safe.
“The great thing about archery is that it’s fantastic for people of all ages. Maw, paw and the weans can have a go. It’s a great family sport.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, since the days of Robin Hood it seems. In fact, I think he was in one of my first classes.
“Seriously though, you can be hitting the target within five minutes of starting, however, it is one of those sports which is easy to learn and hard to master. It’s similar to golf where it’s you against you.
“It takes dedication, practice, experience and judgement. It takes sacrifice, but there’s a real family in archery.”