Welcome to the Issue 8 of the Archers Review Magazine

A very mixed bag this month, I spent a week in the South West of England at the annual South West Challenge while Geoff hunched over his vintage Underwood like the old hack that he is recants a famous battle which most people have the totally wrong impression of. 

We also have a feature on the true heroes of the field archery scene, the course layers. We talk to one of the best in the business, Keith Stay, we know Keith and the team at Fleet Ibex Field Archery club are some of the best, because we have shot there many times. We also talk to South Cox the current custodian and bowyer of Stalker Bows. 


South West Challenge

Back in April we did a feature on the South West Challenge, a 9 day archery event which takes part annually in the South West of England. I had taken part in this event last year with Steve and Geoff and was caught up in the fantastic spirit of the event. There are many people who take archery very seriously, shooting most weekends, evenings and practising for many days, however at the South West Challenge you meet people on a slightly different level. People so in love with the sport that they are happy to commit a whole week of their busy year totally to archery and it is a big commitment because this isn't a quick shoot and then off for some fun, this really is a challenge. 

Unfortunately Geoff and Steve were unable to attend the challenge this year so I was joined by my wife Wendy and a friend and archery fanatic from work, Phil. The previous year we had based ourselves in a wooden lodge just outside Holdsworthy however the lodge was unavailable so we found ourselves a converted barn just outside Tiverton. The week is nine days, eight of which are split in to four separate two days shoots with one day break on the middle on the Wednesday. The accommodation was relatively central to the shoots so provided a very good base, we travelled down on the Friday so that we were fresh and ready for the shoot early on Saturday morning. 

The first shoot was at Tavistock Company of Archers close to Dartmoor, we arrived nice and early. One thing to consider with the South West Challenge is that the archers taking part tend to be those most dedicated and getting out of the car and looking around the car park represents a who's who's of the UK field archery scene. Everywhere you look there are national champions of any number of different bow styles, some a master of many bow styles and while the week is about so much more than winning you cannot get past the fact you are shooting with and against some of the best archers around. We registered and had a quick warm up, but nothing too strenuous as there would be plenty off shooting to be done in the coming days. I was on the peg with Phil, as I would be for the whole week, along with Simon shooting Barebow and Bob shooting crossbow. We had a short walk to our peg and got the usual introductions out of the way, before the horn sounded and we were under way. Normally at this point I would rattle of a blow by blow account of the shoot target by target. My shoot reviews on our club forum are legendary for their depth and detail but given we have 8 shoots to get through we can leave that for now and concentrate on other matters. Lez James the shoot organiser at Tavistock had said that it was national 3d preservation day and he is know for the length of his course, this shoot was no exception as this was a real test of your longer range shooting. Personally I love a challenge and it made for an interesting day and it was only four targets before Phil was given his first taste of what the challenge is all about, a fantastic shot up hill in framed in one of the most wonderful scenery. We all had a good days shooting given the course and I eventually came in with 434, ordinarily that might have been disappointing but this was a tough course and on the grape vine it was no bad score. 

The second day was much the same as the first, however Lez this time informed us that the targets had been moved a little closer so as to make the day a little shorter as there would be medals at the end of the day. Phil and I were joined by Wendy and Chris, a bare bow archer who was excellent company as we once again did battle with Lez's course. It was a little easier this time around and I managed to have a more fruitful day coming in with 552. Medals are given for each two day shoot so we gathered to hear how we had got on. I had done well the previous year yet but failed to get in to the medals and this year I was hoping to grab one somewhere in the week, as it happens that target was reached on the first shoot as I managed to get myself Silver, more on that one later. Top man for my class was Lee Philips, the real man of the moment, as news had it that he had been winning everything this year. The south west is a great way to see who is hot for the up coming nationals as it is a little outside our normal shooting area so there are plenty of archers we ordinarily wouldn't shoot with or against. With medals in hand (Wendy also got silver in ladies HT) and stories a plenty we headed back to base for a well earned rest and pint of beer. 

Gentleman Archer Mike List
The second shoot was at Ashcombe Valley, the previous two days had been standard rounds however it was time for something different and we were shooting a 2 shot round. This involved taking two shots at every target scoring 5, 10 and 15 for wound, kill and inner kill respectively. Phil and I were joined by Steve a longbow archer, this was our first time at Ashcombe and it was a fantastic course with terrain that the marks out the south west from anywhere else we shoot. It was a tough day, very tough in fact and there were complaints that things were to hard as people were struggling to register much of a score, I think complaining is a little harsh as this is a challenge after all and the effort which goes in to laying on a course shouldn't be dismissed. We had a fun day and I eventually came in with 325, seemingly low but it was right up there for men's HT.  

At the start of day two of Ashcombe the news that the targets had been moved a little closer was met with a cheer, it seemed some people had really had a tough time registering scores just in to double figures. Phil and I were shooting with Gina and Sam and a mother and son who were again very nice company. Gina was a teacher so Phil and I were on our best behaviour! The course was back to big game scoring and a little easier. We managed to score on most of the targets, even if the terrain was still pretty tough with plenty of up and down hill shots. From 36 paper face targets I managed a decent return of 516 and we once again gathered to see how we had all done. I was starting to exceed my expectations for the week as I managed to get another silver, again hanging on to the coat tails of Lee and more surprisingly in front of the excellent Mike List. Mike, at the time of writing is the current national champion so to be up there with him was both an honour and privilege. He had a few sage words for both Lee and I, something along the lines "I'm going to have to kill you both", which if you have ever had the great fortune to speak with Mike is both hilarious and out of character for one of the true gentlemen of the sport.   

After so much archery it was great to have the Wednesday free to give ourselves a little recovery time and we took full use of it to recharge out batteries and also repair a few broken arrows, we were going to need them as is was Lamberts Castle next. 

Lamberts Castle was the longest journey of all the shoots so we set off extra early. We found the site in plenty of time so had the usual bacon sandwich and cup of tea before we gathered our kit together and given the safety briefing. Phil and I were joined by another mother and son team this time in the form of Jennie and Alun, we had been warned that the course was stony in places and it proved to be the case, as any misses were usually accompanied by the sound of snapping wood as the tip broke from the front of your arrow. This was more of a problem as we were shooting a woodsman round, which required you to shoot a maximum of three arrows, only stopping when a kill had been scored. Often it was difficult to tell when you had killed the animal so we were shooting plenty of arrows. The course was another fantastic one and we all had a great day, well I say all as Alun found it difficult at times especially at the end when he said "I never knew people shooting wooden arrows could score that many points" when it was revealed I had beaten him by some margin. I did indeed have a good day coming in with 740 which was considerably more than most. 

The second day was another standard 36 big game round and Phil and I were joined by father and daughter Chris and Rebecca, we also had the pleasure of Anne who didn't shoot but did a great job of keeping us entertained and scoring a set of cards for us. The course was similar but we all faired a little better, not missing and therefore breaking so many arrows. It was another good day for me with a personal best at the time of 546 from 36 mainly paper targets, so good in fact that this time rather than having to settle for silver it was top spot, gold. Silver went to the pensioner assassin Mike List and bronze to Andy Betts, another great HT archer who maybe didn't have the rub of the green the second day as he had beaten me on the first day and maybe deserved a little more. Wendy got herself another medal, bronze this time.

Given I had started the week looking for a single medal somewhere in the week, to have two silver and now a gold was absolutely brilliant. I was going in to the final weekend not only looking for a medal from each day, but also the possibility of winning the whole week, it was a long shot as Lee had shot exceptionally well the first two shoots and had an equipment malfunction at Lamberts Castle. We had moved base from the barn to a hotel about 4 miles from the next shoot so we travelled there on the Friday night, had a great meal, a few pints and it was off to bed. 
Views of the course at Dunkery 

The final shoot was at Dunkery, this is the legendary shoot at the south west, with extreme terrain and some of the most stunning views you will ever see on an archery course. The car park is located at the top of a huge hill, as is half the course, there other half is located at the bottom of the huge hill and you spend the first 15 minutes working down to the assembly area. Phil and I were joined by Wendy once again and set off shooting a Dunster, another two shot round. However the effects of the week were now starting to take their toll and with weak arms and legs we all struggled to get the best out of the course. I came in with 720 which while I was far from disappointed with was a little less than the 400 at half way had promised. However talking to people in the car park suggested that I had done better than I had given myself credit for at it later proved to be the second best score of the day in HT and by some margin. 

One final day to go and when we signed in we were given our certificate to prove we had completed the full 8 days, shooting for that length really is a challenge, add in the terrain and the tough courses and it makes for something very special. For the first time that week I wasn't shooting with Phil and instead was joined by Ronald, who travels all the way from the Netherlands to compete and also Alberto and Sonia Martinelli. I had shot with Ronald at last years south west challenge so it was nice to catch up with him. Again the week proved to be exhausting and I once again struggled to post a score I felt would have pushed me in to the medals, I came in with 474, my lowest score of the week. I was a little disappointed that I hadn't managed to get myself over the finishing line, but was more than happy with how I had shot over the course of the week and to come away with 3 medals from 4 shoots was more than I could have every wished for coming in to the week. But all was not lost as when it came time for the medals I was both stunned and excited to hear my name called for yet another silver medal. It was genuinely unexpected and it seemed that while 474 was relatively low the 720 from the previous day had given me more than enough of a buffer to get me the medal. As it turned out Lee had come in with an astonishing 880 the previous day and a 504 on what was an exceptionally difficult course. This of course gave Lee the overall title in HT for the week and it couldn't have gone to a more deserving person, it had been a real pleasure to do battle with him during the eight days but there can be no doubt the better archer came out on top, he was simple phenomenal and deserved everything he got, if for no other reason than he is such a lovely fella.  Personally I was more than happy with second place for the week as I hadn't expected anything so fantastic. Wendy got another bronze which was enough for her to also get second place over all in Ladies HT. 


The Art of the Course Layer 

We haven't been everywhere, that would be a silly thing to say, however we do get about. During those travels in search of ultimate archery madness we have stumbled across some great shoots and some terrible ones. One place however never fails to disappoint and when these guys announce a shoot it will be booked out in days.

That's because to lay a course which challenges but also offers the opportunity to strut your stuff and more importantly the chance to have some fun is more than just stringing 40 targets together around a wood, it is in fact an art. Like most art the best practitioners have "the eye". At Fleet Ibex it seems they are blessed with 5 course layers that posses "the eye".

We often hear from folks wishing to start laying course at their own club but have little idea where to start. The whole experience can be daunting. For some while we have been intending to catch up with the guys at Fleet and try to find out a little more regarding the black art of course laying. After the recent shoot there which was probably the best laid, most attractive and the most devious I have ever experienced, we cornered Keith Stay and bombarded him with a list of questions as long as your bow and asked him to tell us, in his own words, a little of what goes into a shoot. First though, a little background......

 ............................I started Field archery 11 years ago now and its the best sport/ pastime you could wish for in my opinion , meeting great people , being out in the elements in all weathers and doing the odd competition along the way. I started with a Longbow and had great times with it until I injured myself quite badly, so the only way I could see to continue in the pastime that I love, I decided to buy a recurve bow which was of lighter poundage , and gradually like most NFAS archers one thing led to another and I now own about 7 bows including AFB’s as well which I have done a few comps with ( unsuccessfully , I should add ) 
What got me into the helping / running of my club ...... well , one day I saw a man staggering down one of the fire breaks with a butt and tools ( this man was Terry , who has become a very good friend , and is now our club sec ) and without thinking , I said the words “ DO YOU NEED A HAND ? “ and that was it , about 9 years on , the work at our club never stops .!! From general upkeep of our permanent courses , to cabin-making , butt-making course laying and too many others to list here. Many hours of hard work by some in our club , has turned it into a great place to be and many new friendships have developed over these years.   

Talking of course laying, what makes a good course layer ?
A good start is , before you ever think of getting involved in course laying , go to as many Open shoots at various clubs and see what others do . Look , take note , talk and listen , much can be learnt by doing this , as some of these courses are laid by archers who have been in this sport a lot longer than you . I’m not saying that all they do is right , and you have to copy them , but it does give you an insight as to how a course layers mind works .  So to move on............ 
We are in the very fortunate position in our club , of having 5 main course layers who set out the course’s for our NFAS Open Shoots. Two of which normally set about 14 or 15 targets and the other three (myself included) the rest, to make up the 40 target course.    

The first thing we decide , is which part of the woods are allocated to which group , and this immediately decides that no over shoots will come into the other groups section. We then decide which way we will go around the woods and normally we lay 3 separate loops , so as archers will have at least a couple of stops ( if wanted/needed ) at a tea tent. At this point , I would like to add that this is normally done , far in advance of the shoot day , normally 4 – 5 weeks before , and upon deciding the rough routes , this is walked a few times , and gradually the shots are worked out with utmost care about safety ie overshoots , deflections etc etc . At this point some coloured tape is attached to various trees, bushes, to denote target positions and shooting positions. These are replaced later with the appropriate target numbers and directional arrows , which are very important to get right , and notes taken where any targets that will require a backstop net , shooting instructions signs if needed and areas to be taped off to avoid archers from walking into a dangerous part of the course ( with the actual taping off done the day before the shoot ) , it is important that these notes are written down as on the day or day before , there are so many other things to do , that some bits may be forgotten.........  Some of the shots/ targets can be decided upon very quickly, but some others seem to come a lot slower , but gradually the course starts to take shape. 

Also, I think that variation is a good thing when laying courses , so no archers are faced with, lets say  3 or 4 long shots and then 3 or 4 short ones or 3 turkeys one after the other which would be boring. No targets at any of our shoots are measured out , and that no target has to always be set at the same distance every time you lay a course , as this will again become boring  , sometimes a larger 3D set closer than normal ( in the right/ different location ) can be just as difficult .  

Another element  that can come into course laying is the use of light and dark areas of woodland , as I feel shooting out of dark areas into open light areas can in some cases make an archers slightly misjudge distance , especially if some kind of sights are relied upon. Also another element that can alter shots completely is the weather ,  some targets that where set out the day before, using overhanging branches , and where just how you wanted them, can be completely unshootable the following day , when rain has fallen , making the branches come down and stop any chance of making the shot . The reverse can happen, as we found out at one of our recent shoots, bracken was cut and manicured the day before , to give a what I thought was just the right gaps/heights etc to make the shot perfect . But as the day was wet , what we didn’t bargain for was that on shoot day , it was very warm and with a slight wind blowing all day , the shot that was great looking at 10.30am was virtually unshootable later in the afternoon , as the bracken had dried and lifted so much that many had trouble even seeing the target.  So, there is no magic formula to courselaying as even the elements, can catch you out ....!!  You never stop learning......   

With peg placement , in general the first peg is almost always the most testing , but this does not mean that the 2nd or 3rd shooting pegs should be just moved forward and made easy , far from it , a hit from these other pegs can also be missed if concentration is lacking .     At this stage, when placing pegs , it is important that not only the arrow flight route to the target is checked ( to check that weaker poundage bows can get to the target safely ) also look around you and also look upwards to make sure the longer bows do not get impeded by overhanging foliage or branches , and also not too close to trees / stumps etc that could catch the lower limbs of any type of bow on release.

I have found that one topic seems to be talked about many times, and that is whether backstops should be used, ie; butts.      In my opinion, if butts are used they should be hidden as much as possible as not to ruin the look of the shot, also if netting is used, it should be placed in such a position that it is still the target that is noticed more than the netting, so a net should be further back behind bushes and natural features if possible so why not leave some trees etc between the target before the netting to break up the outline.
At this point , it must be stressed , never rely on backstop netting as a failsafe way of stopping arrows, yes it will stop certain wooden arrows , ( not all ) and almost certainly not arrows from the more powerful compound bows used today.         
In my opinion the shot always looks better with natural backstops , ie mounds or banks  , so when an archer comes across a target, it looks as it would in the wild, far more pleasing to the eye than when it has a manufactured backstop behind . I know many would dispute this, and is probably better left to another discussion and as for an apology for not having a butt behind a target, I’m afraid one would not come from me.              
Another thing when setting a course is whether to have any one arrow shots, or predator-prey shots or multi-shots. Again personally I don’t think any of these variations are a bad thing , but too many can cause problems , especially multi-shots , as you can get build ups of groups at these , and before you realise it there is major problems with groups finishing at one time and others finishing very much later ,so I don’t think that more than one of these kind of shots should be included in a course .  One shots? again I think that one or two are OK , but no more , as an inexperienced archer could go away from your shoot with a lot of blanks and feel very disappointed , where as a few 4 pointers doesn’t feel like a disaster on the day .  

At our club we are in a position of being able to lay a complete course of 40 x 3D targets , and at some clubs , all the targets are positioned as you see them in the catalogues , side on and completely visible , why ? ................  Is this how you would chance upon them in their natural environment?..Answer = no , not always , so another good way of presenting the targets to the archers is to quarter them  , angle them , call it what you like , and also to have them coming out from behind trees / bushes etc to make them look as natural as possible , but it is important that the animal can still be identified and hittable . I think that the aesthetics of the shot is very very important .
Trust me, archers do remember when they come to their next target and the first thing that is said , is , wow , yes I like that..!!     As all archers are different , have different views , bows , styles , it is very difficult to get every thing exactly right for every archer at every target , believe me , this is impossible ,  you will not achieve this , but try to vary the shots as much as possible , a straight long shot maybe easier for a compound archer than a Longbow , but try a short shot of , say , 3 yrds down a steep  bank , and the longbows will find this easier than the compound archers , ( don’t think some of the sighted archers have 3 yrd pins )  .  As long as the target is achievable with any type of archer and bow, I think you will get a well laid course.

On a final note , I have been asked ,  “ Are you looking ( as a courselayer ) to catch out the archer , and do you lay shots with the intent of fooling them “ .......I must answer this honestly I suppose , and yes of course we do ....!!!  That is why when an archer stands on a target , thinks , Oh yes its one of them at 25 yrds  and then misses and only to then find out about the dead ground or other optical element he / she didn’t notice , that’s mission accomplished ..!! 

Always listen to any body who has had a problem with any course , as you can learn from this , I don’t think any courselayer minds constructive criticism , it can help for next time.... and at the end of the day , 1 archer coming up to you and saying thanks , had a great day , makes all the effort worthwhile....    
          Happy shooting to all , and don’t let the courselayers catch you out....................
                 Keith Stay ...........................  Chairman, Fleet Ibex Field Archers

10 Minutes With... South Cox 

How long have you been involved in Archery and how did you get started?

When I was five years old, I found an old wood laminated recurve under a neighbor’s house.  Despite the fact that my mom was a vegetarian, she was very supportive of my interests and financed my first quiver of arrows (which didn’t last very long).  I packed that bow with me everywhere for years.  Though I didn’t have a mentor, I spent much of my youth in the woods “hunting”, though I never posed a legitimate danger to anything until I was in my teens.  The hunter instinct must have run deep, or maybe I just didn’t care for Tofu too much. I was Robin Hood for Halloween several times.

South Cox 
When did you make your first bow and what was the result?

In addition to archery, my other passion was woodworking.  I don’t remember when I built my first bow, I’d guess I was 8-10 years old.  I built many self bows before I ever new there was a name for them specifically.  I made my own arrows and tied on feathers, made Broadheads out of deer antler and wondered how you made an arrowhead out of a rock—never figured that one out.  I didn’t make them necessarily because I was trying to become a bowyer, but because I needed a bow to shoot.  I hunted quail with the last one I built and can still remember the only arrow I shot at one with it.  I missed and hit the board fence the quail was perched on.  It was very disappointing at the time to have gotten less that 7-8 yards and have come up empty handed, but I still remember that day clearly.  It was the first of many character building experiences I’ve had while shooting a bow.
What's the one tool in your workshop which you couldn't do without?

There are so many, but I think the one I really like the best is my wide belt sander/thickness sander.  I love resawing my own veneers/especially when you get a piece of wood with some really wild grain.  

What do you think the next big innovation in bow building will be ?

That’s an interesting paradox for me.  I’ve enjoyed the transition from the compound industry to the tradition industry because of the simplicity.  I’ve always been a gear junky and pushed the limits with whatever I was using/whether it be a backpack, water filter or a bow.  For that reason, I’m always interested in what new materials  are becoming available for bow building.  But major innovations, hmmm, maybe putting wheels on a bow?  (oh yeah, that has already been done).
What materials do you enjoy using the most ?

I love working with wood, the wilder the patterns and grains the better.  I think the thing I enjoy most about building bows as apposed to building a staircase or a piece of furniture is that I can find one outrageous board and make several bows out of it.  I feel better about a more efficient use of materials and know I’m building something that will be really appreciated from that one board - as apposed to being one boards lost among hundreds of others.  It seems every time I visit a new specialty exotic hardwoods store I find another species of wood or variation of a species I haven’t seen before.  I about spend myself broke buying up all of the unique boards I find.

What is it about your bows or the way you make bows that sets you apart from other bowyers ?
There are a lot of great bowyers out there and many, many beautiful bows that they build.  Most all of the bows out there are solid, dependable bows that will serve the shooter/hunter for years.  Any shoddy bowyers fall by the wayside pretty quickly.  Sure, there are certainly some bow designs that’ll yield better performance and shoot-ability than others and I’m always trying to be at or as near the top as I can with my bows - but for me, what really sets one bow apart from the others is a combonation of the design, the woods incorporated and the lines of the bow.  For me, it is one of the biggest draws to traditional archery.  To carry a weapon that is not only deadly effective, but is also a work of art worthy of hanging on the wall.  I think there is hardly a better place that old cliché "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" fits than when picking out a bow.  I guess I’m a conissouer of beautiful bows, and being admittedly somewhat biased, I’d have to say my bows are about as pretty as most any out there.  The last bow I shipped out was to a client who had never seen one of my bows.  He called when he received it and said his non-hunting wife was clearing out a space on their living room wall to hang it.  Now there is a compliment!  I just hope she’ll let him take it down every once in a while to shoot it.

Do you still have time to shoot ?

I struggle with this one.  I love shooting my bows, but I also feel the pull of work obligations/meeting shipping deadlines, still managing a few employees in my construction business and family obligations.  I have to remind myself that going out to the range and launching a few arrows is not a time luxury, but important for my business and therapeutic for me.  

What's the best shot you ever made ?

I shot a tree once that was trying to save the life of a big bull elk.  I should have taken a picture; my buddies had a hard time believing I was able to make the shot.

How many bows do you make a year ?

I haven’t reached my capacity yet, but I’d put the number about 150 or so before I need to bring on some help.

What bow are you currently shooting and what's the spec on the arrows you shoot, if it's wood which one ?

I’m shooting a 58/56# Striker made of Cocobolo and Bocote with the Sitka arrows by Grizzly Stik. I just started playing around with the Grizzly Stiks  a few months ago and have been really impressed with their durability and the way they shoot.

You can get more information about stalker bows from their website at...


Stirling Bridge 12th September 1297 

Rise! Is there anything more annoying than ingratitude? You do everything possible to help people, their troubles, their lack of a good, fair and just ruler,  they then throw it back in your face. Well, I’m afraid this face* has turned from soft and smiley to solid granite. And a chip from this block, Wallace, old chap, is coming to a place, near you, very soon…

The 7th Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne was tired, cream crackered, if truth be known, at 65* he was getting a bit too old for this sort of thing, war is a young man’s game. ‘By the lamp of St Peter’ his old bones ached. Too many long days’ in the saddle, too many damp fogs, camps and hard grounds, too many fights, especially those! Inclined to make you cautious, by now a case of daring don’t rather than daring do. All he really wanted to do was retire to his lands in Surrey and put his slippers on and feet up. Edward though had other ideas’ and had ordered him North, fast! This frightening man expected much so he will obey his Liege Lord and give of his best. Unfortunately he had that fat, parsiminious wretch de Cressingham on his back, forever whinging about the cost of the campaign. ‘After all is said and done! Quoth he, Wallace is not a ‘gentleman’ and the treasury is not to be overburdened with bringing this, bloody man, this common brigand’, to heel. Enough!

Battle of Stirling Bridge

De Cressingham was indeed corpulent, a knight and a bishop*, one of Edward’s inner circle entrusted with the gathering of cash and loot ( tax ) from the good people of Hibernia. At this time, the year of 1296, despite de Cressingham’s rifling through their sporrans* the Scots’ still hadn’t gotten too uppity, a state of sullen rage rather than outright rebellion,  consoling themselves with a passionate hatred of him and all things English, ( except footy ). It was when Edward, claiming liege by right of conquest and insisting that the Scots send men to join his armies in France, that things started to kick off. It is why de Warenne and his second in command Hew de Cressingham were at Stirling Castle along with 20,000 men in the Autumn of 1297. Reluctantly acting on instructions from Edward ( who was in France ) to give the rebels a ‘frightfull shoeing’, de Warenne had headed North from Berwick to root out the leaders of the rebellion and put and end to? Well, frankly, just about everything. Edward was most explicite about this. He was known as the ’Hammer of the Scots’. The leopard*. There will be, must be, much pain. He… will… not… be… crossed.  Clear….?

Well, dear reader, the sorry tale that I now tell, ( If you be Saxon) is one of the sheerest for incompetence, bad judgement and hubris. If from North of the border? A joyous bell ringing singing eck wringing tale much more easily told.* If you, whoever you are, (or may be) and hold no brief for the English, ( heaven preserve us) I invite you to sit back, quietly quaff your favourite wet and await the telling in gleefull anticipation.

The torch of rebellion now fully alight, all Scotland in uproar under the leadership of the charismatic William Wallace and his comrade in arms  Sir Andrew de Moray. The Barons, ever vacillating ( much to lose, scared witless of Edward) started to come over to him, but reluctantly, they regarded him ( Wallace) as low born and not ‘one of them’. De Moray was the instinctive attachment. It was the so called ‘small folk’*who were his real companions and core of his army, the Barons ( not by any means  all ) would melt away when their interests conflicted with their politics, rather than with their patriotism, which was, by and large, solid. To Wallace and the ‘sma folk‘, Scotland ‘was’ their patriotism, their interests ‘were’ Scotland…naught else! They, also, had much to lose and were not frightened of Edward*…

Wallace, Andrew de Moray and the Scots army were camped on the Ochil hills which overlook the town of Stirling and it’s vital strategic fortress. In the vale below, the river Forth flowed strong, wide and deep in long lazy loops. Within one of the bends opposite the town a bridge made of boulders and logs, just wide enough to let two riders pass, spanned the river. On the side  away from the town a causeway led Northwards, from the bridge over waterlogged and marshy ground, leading to a place called Causeway Head, approximately ¾ of a mile long, ending just under the Scots’ positions, which stretched from Spital hill to  Abbey Crag, a front of around a thousand yards. Surrey was a worried man, he may have seen two battles too many, but his years of experience were now a twitch in his bowels.

Layout of the battle field

Going on past experience, fighting the Gael with heavy cavalry should be a piece of cake, but… still? Some of his most senior commanders were concerned about the narrowness of the bridge, which would slow the transfer of troops and their support into the bridgehead,  swampy ground either side of the causeway, the left flank a yawning invitation, open, good ground to the North West once the flood plain was crossed, damnedly little room for maneuver, the obvious tactical astuteness of  Wallace and de Moray, the strong Scots position. It was a deadly place to have a battle, anyone who went over by the bridge would surely get a good kicking. They must seek another way.
The younger blades, egged on by the oily Hew were all for getting across the bridge, charging up the causeway and getting stuck in,   ( aren’t they a hoot?). Quarrelling broke out, Surrey’s weak leadership bedevilling the situation, he now, however, had a fit of obduracy and decided to wait. Under the influence of the Scots Earl of Lennox and Sir James Stewart ( Scots Nobles fighting for the English) they, thinking that Wallace was in for a severe thrashing and wanting the the sma’ folk preserved, persuaded Surrey to instruct de Cressingham to send in two of his Dominican friars and negotiate terms with Wallace and offer the Scots’ pardon with the King’s peace, (or else). This he did with much complaint at the delay, the cost ( to the exchequer ) of that delay. Wallace and de Moray answered Surrey’s offer scornfully with the words;

‘Tell your people that we have not come here to gain peace, but are prepared for battle to avenge and deliver our country.
Let them come up when they like and they will find us ready to meet them, even to their beards.’ *

Enter at this juncture Sir Richard Lundie, another Scots defector ( hated Wallace more than the English)  who addressed the council of war ordered by Surrey.
‘If we gae ontae the brig we are deed men, there is a ford no far frae here, the ford o drip, aboot a mile awa*, horsemen can cross sixty at a time . Gie me five hunnert and some infantie and we can tak them in the rear, pin them sae that ye may cross the brig in safety. A way had been found! Huzzah! ( Phew! Panic over, tea‘s up )
It was rejected outright by de Cressingham, ( Groans all round, this idiot is going to get us all killed ) Surrey vacillated, most in the council of war were in favour of Lundie’s plan, it was sound, if the timing was right, it would, in all probability work. There were just 10,000 Scots spearmen up on the Ochils and 300 light cavalry, no match for the English heavies. Even if it did not work, the disaster about to unfold surely would not have happened. Although crossing the bridge was inane, no one expected the Scots to do what they did. De Warenne, it is my contention, was going to send the bulk of his foot against Wallace, (thinking that he would not depart a strong position in the Ochils ) and anchor him down. Send 1000 of his cavalry up to the good ground a mile away to the North West and outflank him, make him nervous, the rest of his heavies make the Scots infantry go into Shiltron for protection,( hopefully). Foot and cavalry would make little headway against the porcupine of long spears and newly found discipline, but the archers would decimate the circles, allowing the Barons to rampage. A big risk and a good few what if’s, and all according to whether the Scots let them. Wallace charged,…. he was not going to let them. However, I am bound to say that de Warenne would most likely pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.                          

Under de Cressingham’s scornfull attacks and unwilling to divide his army, Surrey gave way. Tomorrow they would cross the bridge. It was the evening of the 11th of September 1297.

The Sun rose, Surrey didn’t. Sky fine and clear, morning hastened on, the fast done, Surrey slept. Anxious of de Warenne’s plan and his none appearance , the Senior Barons’ took matters into their own hands and sent 4000 of the Anglo Welsh archers and foot under Sir Robert de Somerville* across the river to establish a bridgehead. Surrey awoke ( Oh Dear, not a good start, where are my boots? ). Angered, Surrey recalled the foot and archers, ‘I’m’ in charge here!’ ( Wallace and de Moray looking on must have been mystified and perhaps amused at these goings on ).
Finally, after reviewing his troops and acknowledging the occasional ironic cheer, Surrey ordered de Cressingham, and Sir Richard Waldegrave* with full panoply of medieval pageantry, chivalry, flags, banners, glittering weapons and armour ( what a sight that must have been ) to take an advance guard of heavies, across the bridge and occupy the causeway, thereby establishing another bridgehead, to be followed by the archers and foot, again under de Somerville. This movement of the English host started at around 11o clock in the morning.

Wallace and de Moray awaited the slow transfer of the oncoming advance guard, it would not do to strike too soon, worse still, too late. They watched, carefully, as part of the  advance guard numbering around 100 knights commanded by a Yorkshire man Sir Marmaduke de Thweng * by name, came toward them, securing the Northern perimeter of the causeway closest to the Scots ( if only temporarily). The main body of the English host was still on the town side of the river. About 5000 knights, heavy infantry and archers had over the course of an hour crossed onto the causeway and the surrounding marshy ground. Judging that this would now do, the odds 2:1 in his favour, Wallace ordered all out assault, his spearmen charging down from the Ochils, smashed into de Thweng  , killing and dispersing his knights. Without pausing, racing on to the Anglo Welsh archers and foot and behind them de Waldegrave and his heavies, pushing them off the causeway by the sheer ferocity and  momentum of the  attack, causing them to panic, lose cohesion and flounder in the mud of the marshes. At the same time the English main advance guard was taken in flank by Scots foot and horse under de Moray swinging in from the left, consequently finding themselves surrounded by envelopement. The Scots’ adroitly  securing the Northern side of the bridge  hemmed the English into a pocket formed by a loop in the river, around 400 yds by 400 yds. Panicked Saxons fighting furiously, with the desperation of despair, knowing death was close, tried to hew their way back to the main body. Archers, when they could, shot at point blank range, or fought as light infantry, using ghastly falchion work. The English heavy infantry, blades and axes, hammers and spikes carved into the circling Scot with bloody minded determination, ultimately, to no avail, they were stopped by the  rampaging Celt who packed them tighter and tighter, like the Romans at Cannae. Those who could flee, did so and went for the river trying their luck within it’s cold, deep embrace. The English on the bridge now being forced back, by the Scots gone berzerk, collided with those who were trying to come to their comrades rescue. The result? An inferno of  killing, men shrieking, gripped in the Satanic death’s head of blood lust and murder. The bridge partially collapsing under the weight of men, horses and blows of battle.* Sir Marmaduke de Thweng outdoing the Scots in ding dong heroic flat out bonkers rage, ( shades of his ancestors  the Vikings) fellow knights dead or dying around him, Gathered those who remained, his dead son across his saddle, howling vilely, backslashed, stabbed, hacked, killed all the way back down the causeway (3/4 of a mile remember) and back across the bridge to safety.  (what a man, what a geezer )

Utterly appalled, the English high command, could only watch the disaster  unfold. Of the Barons in the advance guard, only de Thweng survived, the others, including pond life, de Cressingham, died, badly. Our whinging Bishop seeing that things were not going quite according to plan, did a swift turn about, fell like a sack of lard from his horse and promptly took a spear to the throat. The Anglo Welsh archers had little chance to ply their deadly trade and went down to a man, a great and sad loss to the army.

Each life thrown away, for that is what it was, consumed a whole life spent training in the use of the longbow. A criminal waste, they should have been protected. Surrey, snapping out of his indecision ordered the bridge destroyed whilst the fighting was still going on, preventing any incursion over the river by the victorious Wallace ( they, the Scots, to make persuit, would now have to wait until the tides made the fords passable). He was a shaken and thoroughly demoralised man, in the space of less than an hour he had lost 5000 men, his army, still by the main intact and 15,000 men fit to fight , with determined leadership morale could have been quickly restored. It was a defeat, but with application and good generalship he could have turned it around and thereby kept the Scottish Barons,( fighting ostensibly for the English; threats, politics and hostages) onside and also adding a part 2 to the battle. He was having none of it, the loss, especially of the archers had unnerved him, back to the border, slippers and leafy Surrey for him, stuff Edward. That decision turned a setback  into a complete defeat. A rout! Incredibly, that’s what happened. It was a disgrace, the roulette Scots, Lennox and Stewart, turned back again to Wallace and did great harm to the army on their retreat, smashing up the baggage and roughing up the rearguard. Surrey may have been a geezer in the past, but he sure wasn’t one now. He legged it as fast as he could back to the border and Berwick*. As ignominious and spineless a retreat as you could wish to find. Attacked all the way home. After this debacle, no Englishman could be found alive in Scotland. Scotland was, … free?

Incandescent, yellow eyes aglow, hating, crouching, biding his time……The leopard, arched, ready to spring.

Geoff Towers

August 2010



 * Edward the 1st
 * 65 yrs, Very old for a medieval man. Especially having to endure the hardships of campaigning
 * Bishop, a just and peacefull servant to the ‘Remnant‘, a washer of feet. Not someone who rides around looking for trouble and carrying a club with nails sticking out the end.
 * Sporran, a pouch made from the skin of the Wild Haggis.   (Haggei Fera )
 * The author spent some of his formative years at school in Scotland and 661 years on, had this and other matters, shoved down his English throat thrice weekly, so I know.
 * Small folk, Essentially anyone who was not one of Them!     Someone exactly  like you. Look in the mirror and there’s your answer.
 * Edward the 1st King of England, Wales, Ireland, France the Universe and eventually, Scotland, a very tall man at 6 foot 2 ( for those days) and mightily ambitious, rightly to be feared, utterly ruthless, a hard case.  Generalship out of the top drawer, made mistakes, but you had to be on top of your game if you faced him.
 * Attributed to Gibson, sounds like de Moray to me.
 * Sir Robert de Somerville, ancestor of Admiral Sir James Somerville one of the Royal Navy’s formost fighting sailors during the second world war. A Great man.  
 * Sir Richard de Waldegrave, ancestor of William Waldegrave, a senior minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government. (  Them, they are still here, you know, they haven‘t gone away. Scratch another one from my ‘Observer‘s book of Normans‘)
 * Sir Marmaduke de Thweng, what a name, what a geezer, wish I was called that. Apart from being from Yorkshire, that is.
 * The Ford of Drip is at Kildean, 1 mile West of the English lines.
 * The good Bishop was, when found, divested of his skin and  transformed by the ladies from hell into sporrans.
* Edward Longshanks.
 * The partial  collapse of the bridge was due to the fact that the contractor was a Campbell. ( Falkirk Gazette )
 * Berwick, main border town and fortress. Usual muster place for English forces invading Scotland via the  scenic  eastern route.            ( For the cousins ... Pronounced; Berik)
 * Haggis. A small, furry quadruped. When caught,                           ( nowadays by the use of explosives )  is adjudged by all Restaurant de Chippies, certainly at least within the British Isles, to be one of the great classics of Scottish cuisine. About the size of a hedgehog and tasting just like one, served hot with neeps, tatties or chips and several vats of ‘Dewars Old Peculiar’
                               ‘Quoted; Recipes from Old Barlinnie 1980.

 As a P.S, In the weeks following the battle, the Lowland Porridge bashers drove massive herds of  domesticated Haggis  (Haggei Nepius) over the border in revenge for the English incursions. Devouring every  blade of grass between Berwick and Carlisle. Not nice, not nice at all.

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