There are very few sport contests with such a vibrant history, vividly brought to life by a rich tradition stretching back over 400 years, as the Silver Arrow Competition. Nor are there many sports so steeped in historical and mythological narrative by a panoply of significant events as the art of archery; an activity that combines the skill and fairness of sport with the deadly machinery of war.
Archery’s early popularity in Scotland can largely be attributed to Robert the Bruce’s famous declaration of 1457. In his decree, Bruce demanded that all men who possessed goods equal to one cow were required by law to own a bow with a shaft of arrows. The decree encouraged greater proficiency at firing arrows, and further indirectly triggered the development of several archery competitions in parishes across Scotland.
As archery became a progressively more recreational activity, competitions such as the Silver Arrow became sporting events, attended by a community of enthusiasts and aficionados. One of the Silver Arrow’s earliest citations comes from Mackay’s ‘Journey through Scotland’ in 1723 where he makes reference to the iconic silver arrow shot by students in St Leonards. The winner of the competition in the 18th century received a silver plate engraved with a silver arrow appended above their coat of arms. This year the event took place on Saturday 2 April on the University outer football and cricket pitches, where the calm and mild weather contrived to create the perfect environment for shooting arrows. The winners today sadly don’t receive a silver plate; however, the Ladies Silver Arrow winner does get awarded an equally magnificent prize in the form of a silver arrow.
The Silver Arrow competition is run by the St Andrews Archery Club and in close partnership with the Kate Kennedy Club, who revived the event in the 1970s. Macgregor McGeehee, one of the coordinators of the event, remarked that the competition was originally reinstated to both uphold the traditions of the town and to create an event where town residents and students are brought together to engage in some friendly competition.
The event has grown considerably from these humble roots, now enjoying nationwide status as one of Scotland’s biggest student archery competitions. This year the Silver Arrow saw a total of 24 competitors hailing from all over Scotland, including students from the universities of Napier and Strathclyde, and many others who were new to the competition. The organisers are even hopeful that they can extend the competition across the whole of the United Kingdom and get even more archers involved next year.
The Silver Arrow itself is a traditional target archery competition. All the competitors aim for several different targets approximately 100 yards away. As the morning gives way to the afternoon and the archers tire, the targets are moved slowly closer till they are approximately 60 yards away. Over the course of the day the archers are expected to shoot more than a hundred arrows, an exhausting task for amateur and pro. Nine points were awarded for hitting the bull’s-eye, seven points for hitting the next ring, then five, three, and one respectively.
Witnessing the archers fire simultaneously was a mesmerising spectacle, and the consistent thud of arrow into target, punctuating the overall serenity of C2, was evidence of the deadly accuracy of many competitors. Indeed, one of the competitors this year was said to have even represented the Scottish Commonwealth team. The competition is particularly unique for the variety of bows that competitors selected to use, a diversity this is reflected in the multitude of different medals that can be won. Some archers had bows with all the bells and whistles, precision sights, stabilisers, axles, and flashy colours, others opted for ‘bare bows’, bows with only the minimum amount of kit.
In spite of the greater difficulty of firing an arrow without the sight, the bare bow archers still managed to be extremely accurate. Although the Silver Arrow was competitive, the atmosphere was generally relaxed. There was not only a barbeque on the go during the competition but also an ice cream truck in tow, providing welcome refreshment for the competitors.
Matt Kaminiski, the main organiser and president of Saints Archery, stated that the event always generated a friendly and inclusive atmosphere, where students from different universities could gather and chat whilst enjoying a cheeseburger from the grill. Furthermore, as there are a range of different awards, most of the participants received a medal for their efforts, reinforcing the friendly and relatively relaxed approach to the archery. That being said, many of the archers revealed a steely determination as soon as they stepped up to fire, something evoked by a steady and unwavering scrutiny of their target.
There were records to be broken as well. Surabhi Desai, a student at St Andrews, successfully managed to break the ladies’ record for points scored with a bare bow, setting it almost 200 points above the previous record, an extremely impressive achievement. Other highlights for the event was a superb 868 out of 972 score for Alex Blake of Strathclyde University, demonstrating how strong young Scottish archery is at the moment. St Andrews students performed well themselves, with both Surabhi and John Murray winning the male and female barebow categories, and others receiving silver and bronze awards.
It was evident from the number of competitors and spectators that the decision to revive the Silver Arrow was a very successful one, both showcasing the healthy status of Scottish archery, whilst simultaneously continuing one of St Andrews’ oldest traditions. The excellent performances of many of the St Andrews’ students further reflects the continued strength and popularity of the club and society today. The club are going from strength to strength at the moment and you can contact them for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.