Archery Archive: Fair Day 2011
By Nils Visser
Last Saturday evening found me in the ruined bailey of Teylingen Castle, near the city of Leiden in the Netherlands. It was the end of Fair Day, an annual archery fest filled with outlandish targets and ten times a dozen traditional archers, bowyers, fletchers, blacksmiths and a few other oddish folk.
Fair Day is an event organised for archers by archers and over the years it has gained a fair reputation as the annual Low Countries event not to miss. It’s followed on Sunday by the Fair Flight, a large clout shoot and an official flight shoot where the war bow (read heavy heavy monster bows, usually self-bows of Yew wood ranging from 100 to 150lbs) guys and gals compete in the English War Bow Society’s Standard, Livery and Quarterpounder classes, as well as the Dutch Warbow Society’s Crécy and Poitiers classes. Usually there is an actual flight shoot (distance) involved as well, but the available distance (300 meters) was deemed insufficiently safe, due to the presence of candidates with prime Asian composite bows. Both days are fortified by the awesome cooking skills of Cindy & Co in the "Kitchen of Yore", if you've never tried Cindy's soups in between bouts of intense physical activity, then that alone is worth visiting Fair Day for.
Much of that evening’s chatter in Teylingen’s imposing ruins concerned boasts about expected results in the clout and flight the next day, and an evaluation of the 29 spectacular and interesting targets we had sharpened or shattered arrows on that day. There were clear favourites. Most of the targets set around the castle itself were among these, shooting traditional bows in an actual castle lends a very nice flavour to your archery, and to this one can add the tension of knowing that your arrow is almost certain to shatter if you miss the target and the arrow impacts the castle walls.
Another included the organizer’s (Fairbow) interpretation of the so called King’s Shoot, or Bird Shoot. This is an ancient tradition of the town militia archers, which most Dutch and Belgian towns in the Middle Ages would have had, and which still exist in many places in the south and east of the Netherlands, most notably the provinces of Brabant and Limburg, as well as Flanders in Belgium. In this case the King’s Shoot consisted of a rubber chicken dangling from a wooden construction at a height of twelve-and-a-half meters. For safety’s sake the arrows we shot had flu-flu fletching to ensure that they wouldn’t fly very far and rubber blunts on the tips, after all, the last thing we wanted to do was to bring down one of the passenger planes making their descending run towards Schiphol Airport. Not inconceivable if you ask war bow archers like Magén Klomp, Kevin Janssen, Ruben den Riet or Bjorn Peeters to loose their quarterpounder-bodkin-tipped-small-tree-trunks-with-half-a-bird-on-the-back arrows at an almost vertical angle with their 120lbs+ Yew bows ( ;-D ).
More popular targets included the Nerd’s Corner, which boasted a spectacular amount of old laptops, dvd and cd players, old speakers and the like (I did particularly well here, a chance to get some revenge for all those ill-timed electronic malfunctions and meltdowns) and the caravan. Most archers deliberately missed the targets stuck on the caravan as it was much more fun to try and demolish the caravan itself, though this cost a few archers valuable competition points. As for my score? Well I was beaten fairly and squarely by my sister Anne on her second outing as an archer, it simply wasn’t my day (but I'm very very proud of her).
The Fair Day isn’t a re-enactment, there was no public, costumes varied from the contemporary casual, the symbiotic mixture of 13th and 21st century gear and full medieval costume. Oh, and Hans of course, in his own fusion of Conquistador, Highland Warrior and Medieval Archer. Anyone else would be denounced as the ultimate Farby*, but Hans is one of those few priceless characters who can pull it off. Even better, at events with public attendance I thoroughly enjoy the sight of fuming and hyperventilating Panty Pedantics** whose painstakingly gathered valid gear is ignored by the public in favour of Hans’s widely varied and historically outrageous outfit, which the public presumably recognize as authentically enthusiastic, and therefore real enough for them. When I grow up, I want to be just like Hans.
Hans illustrates the sort of eccentricity one can encounter at an event like Fair Day, definitely one of those aspects that makes the day especially fun. Hans, at any rate, revels in the controversy he causes, and apart from the few Panty Pedantics who had to be led off the field for immediate internment in the nearest sanatorium , most appreciate the good humour with which our Scottish Conquistador, armed with English war bow, challenges etiquette, just like they can raise a smile for the archer who pointedly hangs a replica light sabre on his medieval belt on account of “never having found anything in any medieval documents that suggests medieval archers did not have light sabres”.
Anyhow, there I was, on Saturday evening, a warm summer’s eve in October (oh, the times we do live in), with fires casting a warm glow on the bricks of the inner curtain wall and the towering edifice of the keep of Teylingen Castle. Two pigs were being roasted on a spit, bottles of mead and ale were opened and a small folk band called the Teetotallers were enthusiastically launching into one familiar folk tune after another. I stood near one of the fires, engaged in an earnest debate with an authentically dressed Manchu archer, an accurately dressed fifteenth century Free Company archer, a Farby archer in sturdy garden work boots and myself, wearing Doc Martens, jeans and a t-shirt depicting an orc dexterously emptying a nostril with the tip of its tongue***. Most of the folks who attend these dos will probably be surprised to note my attempts to describe the scene, being utterly used to this type of location and historically cross-dressed crowd, but I’d like to assure them that there are people who may well be somewhat surprised to find out how some members of humanity spend their Saturday nights.
The inevitable subject of our conversation was archery, and once the Fair Day targets had been exhausted, our attention was drawn to so-called whistle arrows and whistling arrows, partially inspired by the presence of Peter Dekker, the Dutch specialist in Manchu archery, who had brought along some fine specimens of these arrows which he was kind enough to demonstrate in the Clout shoot which took place the next day, another spectacularly sunny day which saw a succesful Clout as well as a highly interesting Flight Shoot.
Can't wait for the 2012 edition of Fairday, the five year anniversary promises to be something special.
Registration for Fairday 2012 is now opened, see www.fairbow.nl
*"Far Be it for me to question/criticise” or "Fast And Researchless Buying”, originally an American Re-enactor’s definition of anyone considered to be a lesser Re-enactor due to ignorance or lack of interest in historical accuracy.
** A term of my own invention, used to describe those who would get their panties in a twist over perceived historical inaccuracies if they were actually wearing them, seeing that panties are decidedly historically inaccurate. Be wary of these people, they’re capable of very tedious and tiresome monologues about the smallest obscure details gleaned from mysterious sources which must not be named, probably because it would invoke the curse of some headless Templar Knight charged with the eternal duty of safeguarding the secrets of inner-seam sewing patterns.
***The logo of the Orc’s Nest games shop in central London.