My Weekend: Janette Howells

Times Online, August 31, 2007

Janette Howells, a legal assistant with Morgan Cole, is not a woman to mess with. Not, that is, if she happens to be wielding her beloved “compound” bow, a terrifying contraption complete with pulley wheels, cables and telescopic sights that has more of Rambo than Robin Hood about it.

Fortunately, Ms Howells’ love of shooting bows is conducted under the safe, and wholly legitimate, auspices of the Pentref Bowman, the archery club in Glamorgan that she joined in 1988.

“I was looking for a sport that all the family could do,” says Howells, who has worked with Morgan Cole for nearly 24 years. “It’s not easy to find one that everyone can do but seven or eight of us went along to the Pentref Bowman club one weekend and loved it.”

Nineteen years later, Howells is a dedicated archer, with her chosen discipline being field, as opposed to target, archery. One of the appeals of this ancient sport was its accessibility: “You haven’t got to be built like Arnie or have the physique of a gymnast to enjoy it,” says Howells. “If you’re fit and healthy you can shoot a bow and enjoy yourself. There’s a tremendous social side as well.”

The social side sees Howells down her legal tools on a Friday night in favour of archery for most weekends of the year, with more than a few entailing trips away – not least, if she happens to be representing Great Britain. “I think I reached 16th in the world at one stage,” she says, adding that she is hoping to make the Welsh team for the Commonwealth Games in 2008, which will feature compound bows for the first time.

Howells explains the jargon: “In field archery you traverse hills and mountains shooting targets, rather as if you’re on a golf course. Various types of bow can be used, from the traditional English longbow to Olympic-style recurve bows and compound bows. You get all kinds of people turning up for field archery sessions, but especially families.”

Howells says that if one or two of the faces have changed over the years, there are still seven or eight people from her family who take part in shooting with the Pentref Bowmen.

It all sounds a far cry from life in a solicitors’ office, but Howells resists the Robin Hood clich�s. “We’ve experienced surges of interest after both Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves and The Lord of the Rings’ films, and we might even have the odd fancy dress shoot, but what we do is nothing to do with robbing the rich to feed the poor.”

Archery is, indeed, a highly respected discipline with a remarkable lineage. The skilful use of the medieval longbow at Crecy (1346) and at Agincourt (1415) is a feature of English history, and today the Royal Company of Archers is the sovereign’s sole bodyguard in Scotland.

Target archery is an Olympic sport, making its first appearance in the modern Olympics in Paris in 1900. British archers have won nine medals at the last three Olympic Games. Moreover, the Grand National Archery Society (GNAS) - the Governing Body for all forms of archery in the United Kingdom - can boast 30,000 members.

For Howells and, one suspects, the majority of GNAS’ members, archery’s egalitarianism is what makes it so special. A paraplegic archer won the Gold Medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games, proving that the able-bodied and disabled can compete on equal terms. As Howells puts it: “It’s a sport that once you’ve done once, you want to do again. It’s very addictive. But best of all is that anyone can do it.”