For this February half term, Warwick Castle has turned into a haven for archers across the country. The castle’s archers put their skills to the test each day, showing off both their accuracy and speed-shooting skills. With clout events, crossbow challenges and target competitions, there’s something for every flavour of archer to get excited about.
We caught up with Nikki and Jay, two of the castle’s expert archers, to find out what they love about the festival and if they can spot talent from a hundred paces (or down at the have-a-go).
Nikki: I was thrilled. It's amazing. We get to do a clout shoot and I never have the opportunity to do that normally. We're getting the chance to display skills that we wouldn't normally wouldn’t. The response from the people is amazing as well and that really buoys you up.
Jay: Archery can be the same thing: nock, draw, loose and the arrows go, and they hit the target. It’ll either be a good shot or a bad shot. Whereas, for the Festival of Archery, we’ve tried to bring the fun out of it as best as we possibly can. Whilst we start off with a very traditional archery competition, we try and do things like shooting at a distance and shooting at speed, showing off the things that made the longbow the weapon that it was but also trying to talk about and demonstrate the skill of it.
Nikki: It's an opportunity to impart knowledge to people while they're having fun, so they don't feel like they're being given a lecture.
Nikki on the right in blue with some of the castle's expert archers
Jay: We have a Beat the Archer round, so children or people who have done well on the have-a-go archery range win a ticket and, at the end of the day, four of them will have the chance to come up and shoot against one of our archers. We make a big deal of it with the children, talking how it doesn't matter if you hit it, how it doesn't matter the castle archers are better, just have as much fun as possible. And, every single time, the children come straight back up to us afterwards wanting to know more about it.
Nikki: I think it’s the final round for me. So, teams of castle archers accrue points throughout the day and those points translate into arrows for each team in the final, which is incredibly tense and the most exciting thing to be part of.
Jay: Yes, it’s really amazing. You've got all the children screaming and cheering, and we're encouraging them to boo the opposition. Every day that we've run this so far, you could hear a pin drop in the courtyard. Everyone is quiet because they're just willing our archers to make a good show. It’s incredibly tense for people, which is nice because it brings the seriousness of archery back into it at the end.
Nikki: People get really invested. So, they’ll have been following you around all day and just as you’re stepping up for a really difficult shot, you'll just hear a child in the crowd scream “Go Nikki!” I just love it.
Nikki: I think so. There are times when, generally, you can look at someone and think “You're going to be good at this”. There are times that surprise you, like when someone steps up and you’re really not sure about them and then they shoot an amazing shot. It’s just, wow.
Jay: I think you can see with some people when they pick up a bow for the first time and they just get it. Sometimes you see someone draw a bow and they start to do something where you'd normally go to correct it, like they've drawn low or something, but they end up getting an absolutely incredible shot out of it. So, fair play!
Jay riling up the crowds of excited children
Nikki: I encourage them so much. I think 6-year-old me would be so happy if she knew what I was doing right now. Especially if they're quite young. I’ll always wander over the parents after and say how they’re really good and that they should look into doing it. Whether they do or not, obviously that's entirely up to them but it's nice to be able to see someone to go “Wow, okay, you’ve got affinity for this. You should pursue it.”
Jay: You have to manage expectations, though. So, I encourage them but also make them understand that if they've nailed that gold like four or five times in a row, that’s awesome but they're not always going to have that experience. The last thing I want is a child to go to an archery club and miss a lot and get disheartened with archery. So I spend time explaining that sometimes you’re going to be good and sometimes you won’t. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.
The festival is on at Warwick Castle until 26 February.
Find out more at Warwick Castle
If you can't make it to the castle but want to find an archery taster session or have-a-go near you, click on the button below to search.