What started out as a forum post has become a yearly event for one group of traditional archers. Jim Kent explains how The Gathering came into being
There is one downside to archery, and I mean one downside. Because let’s face it, archery is amazing, and apart from my beautiful family it’s probably the most important thing in my life! If you’re anything like me chances are you literally eat, sleep and breathe archery. If it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you think about before you go to bed, if it’s what you daydream about when you should be working, what you’re thinking about when you’re in the queue at the bank, or you’re imagining being in the forest sending arrows towards a perfect tree stump, while you’re spending time with your beautiful wife (well, actually if that’s the case then you should probably seek some professional help, you’ve got a serious problem), I can completely understand. But like I’ve said, sometimes, and I mean very rarely, but sometimes it all gets a little bit too much.
Most of the conversations I have nowadays are about archery. Bar a few mainstays, most of my friends are from within the archery world, and being a prominent figure in the traditional archery community, most of my interactions on social media are about archery.
Now I can talk the hind legs off a donkey about the subject of traditional archery, be it arrow spine, the nuances of instinctive archery, eye dominance and back tension to name just a few, but it’s easy to burn out. Believe me, it does happen from time to time, especially when I was working at Merlin – some days I couldn’t even look at my bow without having acute anxiety attacks. Needless to say, that’s not a good situation to be in when it’s your career.
So every now and again, about once a year, I head off into the mountains of Europe, with some people I now consider family, to get my archery batteries well and truly recharged. To remind me exactly why I picked up the bow in the first place.
Please let me tell you about one of my favourite events of the year: The Gathering.
Now, like many good ideas, The Gathering started off as a tiny thread on an internet forum back in 2014, in the dead of winter. A couple of guys from Europe were trying to meet up and chuck a few arrows together on a 3D course later on that spring in the Edertal, Germany. I’ve seen things like this happen many times, where the flame of enthusiasm burns incredibly bright but for a very short period of time, and ideas and good intentions fizzle out into nothingness. But for some reason this idea didn’t.
It snowballed, it went from two guys, to four guys, to 10 guys. Now not just guys from Germany, five guys from Holland wanted to join in, another three from Austria, The UK, Ireland… you get the idea. This little archery rendezvous was gaining traction, that first year we ended up with 16 archers from all over Europe. We were from wildly different backgrounds, with wildly differing abilities, but we had one thing in common, a passion for instinctive archery. When you get so many people together that share the same love, some intense archery sparks are going to fly.
Like with many archery events, everybody gets close and promises they’ll stay in touch, for a couple of weeks after the event, interactions start to dwindle and people go from being best friends to acquaintances.
But not this bunch of ragtag archers. The camaraderie and kinship stayed strong throughout the year as thoughts and conversations turn towards the next Gathering in the Black Forest, Germany.
The subsequent Gatherings have taken us all over Germany and Austria seeing some of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. One year we can be up a mountain, the next in deep forests; we’ve scaled waterfalls and slid down rock faces on some of the most rugged, thought-provoking and difficult 3D courses I’ve ever seen (parkours, as they call them in that part of the world).
Over the years I’ve seen many things at The Gathering. I’ve seen marriage proposals, I’ve seen genuine moments of compassion, I’ve seen anger melt into brotherly love, I’ve seen uncontrollable tears of joy – but, most importantly, I’ve seen strangers come together sharing a passion bordering on obsession for instinctive archery.
So I guess you can understand why I was so incredibly excited to fly out to Germany again to take part at The Gathering 2017, in Bavaria just along the edge of the Alps. The scenery was breathtaking and the beer was strong. Even though it had been over a year since the last one, it felt like coming home to friends and family.
The Gathering isn’t actually a competition, even though there are winners and trophies – it’s not about that. It’s not about who is the best archer. It’s about the experience of being in the forest in the mountains among friends, sharing your passion. I think the reason The Gathering is so important to me is that it embodies the ethos I’ve always had with my archery. I’ve never seen it as a sport. It’s the experience, a lifestyle.
This might be partly why I feel like a little bit of a fraud going off to France to represent my country in September. I don’t have a killer instinct, and I’m not there to win big. I’m there because I love archery, and The Gathering is one of those things that constantly reminds me why I love archery, and why I dedicated my life to it.
Unfortunately, over the years The Gathering has had its critics. I’ve heard it referred to as elitist, but I can categorically assure you it’s the furthest thing from that, it’s ultimately inclusive, any new face has been embraced with open arms. It’s just that the numbers are deliberately kept low as trying to find accommodation for 30 archers can be a little tough. Making The Gathering bigger than it is would dilute what makes it special.
The whole point of The Gathering is that it should inspire you, to prove that anyone can create their own Gathering, forge some friendships that will last a lifetime and have your own archery adventures! It is my favourite archery event of the year, so I hope you didn’t find my rambling thoughts on it too soppy or romantic?
Anyway, take care, shoot straight, and I’ll see you next time!
‘The Gathering’ takes place every year in May, for more information follow Jim’s Facebook page and make sure you never miss one again!