Here is the story of my new English Yew Longbow. Crafted by the countries top bowyer Chris Boyton and his student Leo Singleton (my partner :) ).
Last year Leo was gifted an Earl Ulrich yew stave, the story of which I will tell, or perhaps Leo will, another day. It was very old and relatively not very long, so was more suited to a lighter bow and destined to be made into a longbow for me! However, when Leo and Chris came to make the bow, the staves 50yr old join turned out to be weak and shattered under tillering.
At exactly the same time the Ulrich yew stave was shattering over in Chris' workshop, I was here in Exmoor having an incredible experience tracking a herd of red deer stags! It was when I got back from tracking them that I had the call from Leo to say that the stave had broken. In the background I heard Chris rummaging around in his workshop as I told them on speaker phone the story of the stags and how every bit of my body had gone electric whilst tracking them! An experience I've never had before or since. Here is my blog post about it: http://heartandsoil.blogspot.com/2010/08/stalking-red-deer-stags.html
Chris stopped me going on about the stags, shouting "found it! I've got a beautiful piece of English Yew here Hen, we'll make you a longbow out of that instead!". It all felt so special. Hate to say it but it felt just right, like it was all meant to be. And just look... it was..
The wood is English Yew, sourced from a woodland off the Pilgrims Way in the North Downs. Felled by our Chris himself.
Leo did a lot of the work too, under Chris' instruction. I love that Leo is able to learn from Chris and know that Leo's passion for longbow and natural skill with working wood will lead to him creating many more beautiful bows. The photo above shows both their makers marks. The B in the shield is Chris' and the lion stamp is Leo's. They stamped on the date the bow was finished too: 23rd March 2011.
The nature of English Yew is a knotty one which, to me, adds to it's beauty and uniqueness. But then I didn't have to spend days making sure those knots didn't become weak points on the bow! That took incredible skill and is testament to Chris' experience as a bowyer and innate knowledge of the characteristics of the wood.
This is the top nock for the bow string. Leo carved it from red deer antler. I found the antler this is made from on the edge of our Oak woodland, it's from one of these stags:
The antler has great meaning to me, as not only did I find it in the first month of us owning our land here in Exmoor but it was the first time I had ever set eyes on Red Deer Stags. After watching them for a very long time from behind an Old Hawthorn, they wandered off into the woods. I followed them and there was the antler on the ground under an Oak tree. That, coupled with the tracking experience I mentioned above, meant that it was just another piece of the bows' meaningful story.
|This is me behind the Hawthorn. Must have been his on the left!|
Leo also made the arrow plate out of the antler. It sits so perfectly with the yew wood. In this picture you can see the difference in colour of the yews' sap wood (lighter) and heart wood (darker).
This is the bottom nock for the bow string, showing the bowyers knot in place. The bottom nock is different to the top as it has a flattened off tip. The string is of Fast Flight.
It has the most beautiful scent to it, not of rotting seaweed but of what ever it was they used to tan the leather. It's utterly unique, no other leather smells like this. I can only describe it as like linseed oil mixed with birch resin and warmed beeswax.. hmm... that just doesn't do it justice!
The colour of it just so happens to be my favourite colour, the colour of deep wine coloured hawthorn berries and has a diamond pattern on it. I had no idea leather could be so beautiful!
Learn all about the history of the leather and how it is recovered from the ocean here, it's fascinating: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/article1040732.ece
The bow had it's first outing a couple of weeks ago, at this years Robert Hardy Roving Marks shoot with the Medieval Society. It's the second time we've been and yet again we had a great day. Chris showed it to Robert Hardy who looked it over and after a while Roberts' face lit up and he said "now that's the way to treat a pin"! Robert is a very well respected expert in the longbow, as well as an actor in Harry Potter! Check out his book, it's a bible! Longbow: A Social and Military History
Thank you Chris and Leo for creating me such a strong and beautiful longbow. It's my treasure and already it is an extension of me when I fire, improving my shot a million fold!
Learn more about Chris Boyton, his courses and his bows: