Shooting an arrow into the air towards the markThe practice of shooting at the mark dates back over six hundred years (Agincourt was in 1415 and archery as a weapon of war, was very well established by then). It was used to train archers in, what was then, probably their primary use, that of artillery i.e. dropping arrows from a height down on the heads of the enemy, preferably from an unseen position.

 

The mark was probably a stone or staff in the ground at an unspecified distance, usually 180 to well over 3-400 yards away. The skill lay in getting one's arrows to drop close to that mark (today we use a 'circle' of approximately two bowstring-lengths radius and our furthest mark is likely to be around the 220 yard distance).


Often there would be obstacles such as trees, rivers, lakes, hillocks in the way, and this is where our modern Roving Marks is very similar to the old practice.

 

In our Roving Marks, to replicate shooting 'blind', we are allowed to see the mark (a staff with a shield-shaped device on it) then taken further away and have to shoot by remembering where we think the mark is, in relation to where we are now. It's very interesting to watch the flight of arrows then! Sometimes we've shot out from within a wood...fun, but scary.

 

Originally, a scout would have given the position of the enemy to the archers.

 

In Roving Marks we are shooting in open and wooded land, sometimes privately owned, but we have also shot at Leeds Castle, Godinton House, Windsor Deer Park and Hever Castle. We shoot at the first mark, score (or not!) and then are shown our second mark at which we shoot. In this way we walk around a long course.

 

Setting out a Roving Marks course is very tricky. It has to make the archer think about elevation and wind speed/direction, without making it either too easy or difficult. For example, a mark may be placed 10-20 yards beyond a huge oak tree/pond/ditch; or the same distance in front of one, or between rows of trees.

 

The thinking required to get arrows near the mark, and not in the trees/pond/etc. is considerable. Which is why some of us use our oldest arrows and send them on their way with words of encouragement and curses at the gods. Sometimes, there is a clear line to the mark and then one just has to gauge the distance, but that mark may be in a dip or the shield may be half-way down the staff...tricky stuff.

Archers shooting arrows towards the mark


It is not unusual for the odd arrow to be left in trees at the end of the day: you hope that it's just not too many!!

 

At the end of the morning session, we have a speed shoot. Thirty seconds to loose as many arrows as possible at a target anything from 80 to 120 yards away. This is to replicate archers having to shoot rapidly at charging cavalry...always French for some reason!

 

At the end of the afternoon session, we have a distance shoot and some archers bring special 'flight' arrows for this. Winning distance is often over 300 yards.

 

If this kind of day appeals to you, but you don't have a longbow, don't worry. The group who organise the ones near us are called the Fraternity of St George and will do a training session on the Saturday, lending you a bow, which you can then borrow again on the Sunday should you choose to do so.


Renny, Trefor, Allison and Richard tend to just shoot on the Sundays and are happy to chat to anyone who would like to learn more about this rather different way of shooting.

 

You can see more pictures of a Roving Marks shoot here.