“The first thing they’d do when the French captured an English archer was to chop off his fingers,” muttered Yannick Bour darkly.
I suppose I should have known better than to mention Agincourt, but in a chat about the history of archery it was bound to come up eventually. I changed the subject to Robin des Bois – Robin Hood – and the smiles returned.
Tir à l’Arc is growing in popularity, and after the lassitude of summer it provides an excellent way to get back into sport without damaging too many joints. I visited the largest club in the region, the Compagnie d’Arc d’Antibes, at Trois Moulins, near the Antibes autoroute exit.
“I find that archery is a sport that is very ‘zen’,” says Yannick’s attractive and engaging wife Evelyne. “The main quality one needs to summon up from within is a sense of calmness, also of concentration. You will not do well at the sport if you are too crispé – tense.”
Along with this pair, I was enjoying a delicious lunch at their “canteen” with archery instructor Jean-Pierre Levy and hot-shot bowman Pierre Preti. It is certainly to the club’s advantage that the hungry archer can end a session of twanging with first-class scoff at Sophocle, nestled in the pinewoods in what is to all intents and purposes an upmarket industrial estate. Back in the UK it would be salmonella and chips from Fred’s Burger Van.
The club’s home is an impressive, purpose-built facility opened by the Antibes council four years ago. The compagnie was founded at the end of the Second World War, the first sheaf of arrows fired are displayed above the bar in the clubhouse.
After the team gave an impressive demonstration of long-range shooting using the new-fangled arc à pulley - called a compound bow in the UK - I was invited to try my hand at the “classic” bow. I was grateful that Jean-Pierre had me stand about 10 metres from the target; with my eyesight it would be difficult to hit a double-decker bus at the 80 metre-plus range the pros can use.
With the emphasis firmly on smooth, steady movement when drawing back the bowstring, I let fly with reasonable results. It was pleasing to find that at least some of the arrows had found their mark.
Bows are graded according to the height and physical abilities of the archer, a weakling like me generating around 10 foot-pound force (Yes! All measurements in archery worldwide are imperial, so it’s all livres and pouces to the French) against the supposed 200 of the medieval longbowman.
As an apprentice archer progresses through the sport, a fascinating world of technique and technology comes within his or her grasp. The new pulley bow is more like a machine than the simple wooden weapon of Henry V’s day, complete with telescopic sight and power-enhancing mechanics, and can despatch an arrow with unbelievable force and precision.
Archery competitions take many forms, and a handicap system similar to that used in golf means that players of different levels can enjoy an interesting bout. Further down the line, the archer can take part in tir en campagne, which involves hitting targets at various heights and positions in a natural setting such as a forest. Hunting game with the short bow is also an option.
The first step along the road to mastering this precision sport is to contact the club via the number below and book a free try-out session. If after that you want to take a shot at becoming a competent archer, then expense will not be a hurdle. Club membership, which includes the compulsory licence, costs €137 for a year. All equipment can be hired at a reasonable cost, and excellent tuition is available from the friendly and dedicated initiateurs of the club, which is accessible for the disabled and has special facilities and training available for those with limited mobility.
To book a trial session, or for any other information, either consult the website www.arc-antibes.fr or phone 04 93 65 97 17 and leave a message, one of the club officials will contact you.