Longbow vs Recurve (Horse) Bow

We thought it might be interesting to compare the different characteristics of the Mongol_Horse_Archertraditional English yew wood longbow, used with b3f2950755fea53ac0b90932adcb3f51--english-longbow-traditional-archerydevastating effect against the French knights during the Hundred Years War with the recurve or horse bow, used by many different races throughout history such as the Mongols, . Parthians and Sarmatians .

The expression ‘parting shot’ may derive from Parthian Shot which alludes to the Parthians ability to continue to fire at an enemy whilst riding away from them You wound, like Parthians, while you fly, And kill with a retreating eye.

The first and most obvious difference is their size and shape. The longbow, a single curve with a length of 6 feet (1.8 metres) compared to the sinuous curves of the horse bow with a length of just over 4 feet (1.4 metres).


Stringing the bows requires a very different technique too. The longbow merely requires flexing at mid point, usually with your knee to enable the bowstring to be fitted. The double curve of the horse bow means this method is virtually impossible, so a length of cord with a loop in each end, placed over the ends of the bow and used as a stirrup to flex it is the easiest method.


Regarding their shape and construction, the big advantage of the longbow is that it is shaped from a single stave of yew wood. this means that anyone who had a bit of bow making knowledge and expertise, plus some woodworking skills could craft one in a few hours with only a few basic hand tools. Whereas the horse bow, with its multiple curves and elaborate construction, traditionally made using animal horn, sinew, silk cord and wood to form the complex laminated bow arms, was something only an expert and highly skilled craftsman with access to all these materials could manufacture. Nowadays fibre glass has replaced horn and sinew.


Without the benefit of a horse, we had to conduct the test from standing and firing at a static, standard archery target. So what were the first and most obvious differences when it comes to actually using them?

The longbow had a draw weight (the amount of force required to fully pull the bowstring back) of approximately 65 lbs (29.5 kg), whereas the horse bow was much easier to draw at 45 lbs (20.4 kg).

Drawing each bow felt entirely different, the longbow starting off easy and getting progressively harder as it neared full draw, whereas the horse bow felt just the opposite and it was noticeably much harder work to shoot the longbow.

As far as accuracy goes and given our somewhat mediocre archery skills, there was no appreciable difference down range on the target which was roughly 30 yards (27 metres) away. We were using traditional, wooden, feather fletched arrows.


The arrows certainly did seem to fly appreciably faster from the recurve bow, typically an arrow from a recurve bow will reach speeds of up to 150 mph (240 kph) apparently. Where the longbow fared noticeably better was in the distance test, it was able to send an arrow much further afield.

Each of these bows were eminently well suited for the type of archery they were designed for. The longbow, comparatively easy to mass produce, used to devastating effect when deployed en masse over a considerable distance and able to penetrate all but the heaviest of armour, as at the battle of Agincourt.

The horse bow, smaller, highly manouverable but slightly less powerful and designed to be fired from a moving horse at an enemy at close to medium range. The Chronicles Of The Crusades records Richard The Lionheart’s army being constantly harried by Saracen horse archers during their march on Jerusalem.

Longbow Making

1240_027Ever fancied yourself as Robin Hood, the famous outlaw long associated with Sherwood Forest?

Incidentally, he was actually based around the Barnsdale and Kirklees area of South Yorkshire before Nottinghamshire appropriated him.


So what goes into making a traditional longbow and just how easy or hard is it to make? The answer is, it’s a surprisingly skilled and technical procedure to manufacture one. I imagine it would have taken days to make one in medieval times without the benefit of power tools.

So, where does one start? Firstly, you have to find a log around seven feet long, which given the bendy nature of Yew trees is no mean feat in itself.

The next task is to carefully measure and cut the log to get a nice straight stave, free of knots and with the right proportion of heartwood and sapwood, which is crucial to the power of the bow. Once this has been determined, the initial cutting and shaping can begin. This log will produce two bows.

After a great deal of careful sawing and planing, the bow shape starts to take shape from the original rough log. Eventually, the basic unfinished bow is ready for the next part of the process.

The next stage is called Tillering. This is to see if either side of the bow is bending evenly when the bowstring is pulled. This part involves careful measuring, shaving off minute amounts of wood, then remeasuring until the bow bends evenly along its length. Also at this stage, the draw weight of the bow is measured and can be reduced by carefully and evenly removing more wood until the desired pull weight is reached. This one takes a pull of around 70 pounds to fully draw. Imagine trying to pick up a 70lb weight just using three fingers!

Finally, all that’s left to do is finely sand, then apply a coat of beeswax to the bow. This also brings out the rich colour of the yew wood. Then it’s time to weave the bowstring.

We used waxed Dacron fibre to make the bowstring, which is immensely strong, it’s what hang gliders are made from. Twisting and plaiting Dacron into a bowstring with fingers numb with cold and coated in wax is no easy task believe me!

Finally, all that’s left to do is test fire the bow. The power of a 70lb yew longbow is impressive (and hard on the fingers). What is must have been like being on the receiving end on one of these during medieval battles like Agincourt doesn’t bear thinking about.



Well the trip to Perranporth got off to a great start – not! After a 300 mile trip, the car decided to dump all of the oil from out of the engine 2 miles from our destination!


Fortunately we had breakdown cover, thank you Direct Line and the local garage fitted a new oil pressure switch and replaced the oil for only £60.

So then it was time to hit the surf courtesy of Piran Surf who offer a morning’s tuition, plus board and wetsuit hire if required for £25.

I’d forgotten just how much hard work paddling a surfboard can be and the shoulders were well aching by tea time.

Body boarding is almost as much fun and a whole lot easier to master, so a fair bit more time was devoted to this. Surfing needs hours, days and weeks of practice to become proficient, whereas with a body board you can just throw yourself in front of a breaking wave and hang on.

So, Perranporth might be the surf capital of the South West, but there’s quite a bit of history here too for those that are interested.

One afternoon we set off to find the Oratory of St Piran, from which Perranporth derives its name. St Piran was a 6th Century Irish monk who brought Christianity to Cornwall.

He built the Oratory where he used to preach to the locals, which fell into disuse after his death and was eventually swallowed by the shifting sand dunes. This preserved the building for over a thousand years until it was excavated in the 19th Century.

It’s not hard to imagine St Piran standing in front of the altar, speaking to the Dark Age inhabitants of North Cornwall.

Also, if you’re a paraglider, this is a great spot to cruise up and down the sea cliffs and beaches on a warm evening.

Top spot for eating is the Jaipur Indian restaurant, especially the 5 course banquet for 12 quid on Thursday nights. I’d give the local kebab shop a miss though.

Cornwall 022

Back From Basecamp

Just got back from Basecamp the UK’s biggest and best adventure festival.

Basecamp is laid on by Explorers Connect who are all about growing the outdoor adventure community and that doesn’t mean you have to be Ranulph Fiennes or Ed Stafford. Adventure can be as simple as going for a walk or bike ride somewhere you’ve never been before.

So what’s stopping you becoming an adventurer?


If you’ve always wanted to rock climb, abseil, kayak, go caving, party like an animal (who said that?), cook outdoors, try slacklining, learn how to share your adventures on a blog (thanks Sian – The Girl Outdoors) etc. Come to Basecamp!

You don’t want to invest your hard earned dosh buying a whole load of gear for something you may or may not enjoy? Come to Basecamp and try, the kit’s all provided!

You don’t have anyone to do all this adventure stuff with, all your mates want to do is watch Coronation Street or go down the pub. Well there are 350 plus people at Basecamp who are totally up for sharing any adventure big or small.


If you were there, you also got to listen, meet up, chat to and have a drink with some incredible people who have done some truly inspiring stuff. Just to prove that adventures can start cheaply were the crew from Global Convoy who are the most amazingly funny, crazy, free spirited adventurers you could ever wish to meet.


Basically they bought two cars for less than £100 each and drove them around the World with no discernible plan apart from keep going Eastwards (ish).

Also there was Dwayne Fields who turned to adventure to escape from inner city gang violence and was the first black Briton to walk to the North Pole.

On top of all this assorted awesomeness, there was the beer tent courtesy of The Fishpond pub, who only charged normal pub prices, which for a festival bar is pretty damned amazing too and much appreciated by all.

Throw in some superb entertainment as well, such as Beth McCarthy who did a terrific set on the first night which included a lot of her original songs.


Friday night and The Boot Hill Toe Tappers took the stage, which got pretty wild. If these guys are ever performing near you, go see them. The entire bar was bouncing!


The Saturday night slot in the main marquee saw the fantastic Kerry Fernandez Band blasting out some well known tunes to bust your freshest dancefloor moves to. Think I made it back to my tent around 3:30am.


Finally, after the filth, waste and squalor of the Leeds Festival site, a big thanks to all the people who attended for keeping the place clean and tidy by disposing of their rubbish in the bins provided and taking all their other stuff back home. During the cleanup afterwards, all I found was one bent tent peg and a teabag. Have a look at the during and after photos of Basecamp compared to Leeds!

Finally, my tent was by far the coolest on site, tipi’s rule! Get over to Basecamp next year or log onto Explorers Connect if you can’t wait that long for your life of adventure to start!


Cleaning Up For A Good Cause

This week I and a group of other volunteers from Derby Refugee Solidarity spent half a day at Leeds Festival site, salvaging some of the thousands of tents, sleeping bags, air beds, wellies and chairs that had been abandoned by the festival goers.

We filled a three and a half tonne van to the roof with all manner of stuff that will either be sent directly to refugee centres or be sold to raise funds.

The piles of rubbish and filth made for a pretty squalid scene, the inside of many tents being just as filthy and litter strewn as their surroundings. People just got up and walked away leaving literally everything behind them, including some of their clothes.

It’s a sad indictment of our throwaway society, that so much rubbish, along with useful and often expensive gear, plus piles of unopened food were just abandoned without a second thought for the environment or the sheer wastefulness of it all. The on site caterers were no better, they dumped dozens of unopened cases of food before they left.

The best find of the day was a pair of brand new Le Chameau wellies. These cost about £200 a pair but someone just couldn’t be bothered to carry them back to the car!