A glimpse of Valhalla - The Ultimate Archery Holiday
Archery is like a sickness (but in a good way). You know when you have it: you will see a patch of woodland and think “Ah... I just know where I would put the Deer” or you imagine a post-apocalypse shoot at the mall whilst you are being dragged shopping by the good lady!
Thing is, you can only design a shoot using what is available, and those were the words Gunther used somewhat modestly, when describing the shoot I had just finished, a shoot which for me was the peak of the course layer’s art. To be fair he did have an Alp-and-a-half to play with and over 100 3D's with which to set the scene with herd shots, valley shots, the use of gullies, ravines, streams and some of the most beautiful forest you ever did see. Add to that a backdrop of blue skies and the Austrian Tirol and we have what can only be described as Archery Valhalla.
Forgive me if my enthusiasm to get stuck in has left you a trifle baffled... what is he on about?? I shall take a step back and start at the proper place... the beginning...
The beginning, of course, should start with a big thank you to Alex and Sarah of Invicta, they discovered that which I will write about, namely Archery Valhalla and brought it to my attention; thanks guys, a brilliant piece of detective work.
It has another name: it's called Waidring and it sits in its own valley in the Austrian Tirol, a breathtakingly beautiful area of the Alps. Having heard from Alex and Sarah the incredible tales of archery bounty to be had, we were delighted when we were contacted by Florian Shreder who runs the Tiroler Adler hotel in this small village. He has put together a package designed to appeal to archers looking for an archery fix of sublime proportions. Stay with him at his hotel and he will fix you up with up to 30 different “parcours”... those are what 3D courses are called here. All are permanently laid and changed about regularly. All are within an hour of the hotel and most within 30 minutes, including two that are right on your doorstep.
The cost to shoot is from 5 Euro to 15 Euro, with the average being 10 Euro for usually around 30 to 40 pegs on a course laid by guys that really know what they are doing. But don't for a minute imagine you will shoot 30 or 40 3D's - most courses will contain upward of 100 3D targets. Not small ones either - we are talking herds of Buffalo, whole valleys filled with Deer and bunches (?) of Bears... more on that in a moment..
Just the thought had my mouth watering; you see, I have the sickness and I have it bad! Just the other week it was Folk Week here in my small seaside town; there were several hundred bands playing, Morris dancers, musicians and street entertainment but as I walked along the cliff overlooking the beach all I could think about was the shot from the top down to an imaginary Moose on the beach, just quartering away by the harbour wall... “Got to be 90 yards... reckon I could get it from my perch 120 feet above the sand...” I love the idea of the spectacular shot, and sometimes a course layer will add such a monster shot because it looks so “right”. However, they are few and far between.
A little bit of re-organising my week and I was Austria bound for five days, taking my long-suffering wife Caroline along under the guise of a birthday treat seeing as the Monday would be her birthday. I’ll worry about the explanations for all the archery kit packing out the car once she discovers it... the main thing is to get her on the Euro Tunnel pronto and do the fast talking later..
From Calais it's about 700 miles, give or take, which equates to about 12 hours in a car if you take just a few small breaks... I was gagging for it so we stopped only three times to take on fuel, water and some sustenance. For some strange reason I find holidays in general far more exciting if they start at an ungodly hour or mean a drive through the night and this time was no exception. There is really no need for it but a holiday must have a memorable start in order to qualify as an adventure. Much to Caroline’s disgust we needed to catch the Tunnel train at 7pm which meant we would be traveling through the night... what fun!!
The roads in France are excellent and a few toll roads later we were speeding through the German border and before we knew it we were arriving in Waidring, Austria to be met by the whole Shreder family. The Tiroler Adler is a proper family hotel: Rhinehard will be found in the kitchen producing superb authentic Austrian cuisine for breakfast and dinner, Florian is the perfect host and has every conceivable angle covered and puts you at the centre of his world whilst you are his guest, meanwhile, Roswitha will be found fussing over you and all are genuinely concerned that as their guests all of your needs are catered for. They have struck just the right balance and you feel totally at home the instant you set foot in the place.
Florian has all the information regarding the parcours, details on their current state, number of pegs, route planners, Sat-Nav codes, he has even shot the courses himself and can give you the inside info on where to go, when to go and what you will find.
All the parcours are permanently laid; you just turn up, sign the book, leave your money in the honesty box and get shooting. There are various rest stops where you will find sunken cooler boxes full of soft drinks and water... again, an honesty box will take your 1 Euro payment.
Together we plan my assault on as many Parcours as I can handle in the time allowed... Florian suggests, the next day, Thursday .. out into the mountains to have a practice.. Friday rest day.. Saturday competition at Oberweisbach.. Sunday rest day.. Monday Shoot at Kosson.... Is he MAD... rest days ???? However it turns out he is ahead of the game and has my best interests at heart, it is after all Carolines birthday weekend and eventually he makes me see sense..As we arrive there are 2 Italians leaving.. they have been here for 22 days and completed each of the 30 Parcours, sometimes 2 in a day... nutters !
The weather can be as unpredictable as a lemons squirt and it is not uncommon to suffer 3 seasons in a day.. however, today starts with blue skies and a blazing sun as we head up the mountain and work our way through a 3 X 14 course set up at Oberweisbach.. if I was expecting something special I can tell you I was not disappointed, no expense is spared on 3 d's. There are Deer by the dozen and Boar abound, a pair of Ibex clash horns and a whole host of turkeys tempt you. The terrain is astounding and heavily wooded forest gives way to secret glades where deer rest, a gurgling stream winds it's way through ravines where crocodile wait to catch the unwary, alpine slopes and meadow grasses harbour Buffalo, Moose, Steinbok and Bears. gulleys 50 foot deep contain shots with 5 and even more willing foam victims.. up and down we trudge and all the while the soft ferny floor spings us on to the next peg.... all of this against a background of stunning peaks and forested mountain slopes.... I shoot till my fingers are hanging off, but the best is yet to come... Caroline tells me she has enjoyed the day, enjoyed the archery and thinks she may even want her own bow, she has shot in the past and will jump at the chance of a roving mark with Traditional English Longbow but in general can take or leave a field shoot.... mostly she leaves them. I am always envious of those guys whose wives embrace archery... perhaps this is a turning point...
Oberweisbach is where the competition will be on Saturday... Mark runs the show there and is assisted by Gunther, a ski guide in winter and rock climber/canyon guide and instructor in summer, outdoor folk who don't believe anything should be done half measure... they tell me the course will be re-laid for the competition... I didn't notice the big smiles at the time but had cause to remember them later ...
A rest day isn't my idea of fun, especially when the temperature is over 30 degrees, so seeing as we are in the alps... might as well climb one..
The Steinplatte is Europes largest dry reef, 250 million years old... and 1869m high it towers over the Pillerseetal valley in which Waidring nestles, there is a cable car which will take you a good way up, but if you want to see the best view then you need to walk right up to the Gipfel Steinplatte, it's a moderate walk of 2 hours and you will be rewarded with views of the valley and some stunning mountain tops, for some reason we did this twice, once on the Friday when the weather was gorgeous and then again on the Sunday when the weather was atrocious and we were lucky not to get swept off the top by some strong winds, each time was exhilarating and well worth the effort and in Sundays case the soaking..
The village of Waidring is picture postcard perfect, when you see pictures of Austria you think they must be contrived ... they are not... it really is all meadows, cowbells, ham, cheese, men in leather shorts and pretty blond girls... and not a thing out-of-place... in fact we watched as an old man crossed the street to kick a lump of stone back into its rightful place after it had the temerity to sit unsupervised in the road. The juxtaposition of the tamed valleys and the jagged, wild peaks is intoxicating. The inhabitants are just as captivating and a gentle stroll around the town will probably end up in a conversation with a random local...
Saturday and the shoot at oberweisbach. Ah yes, those grins I mentioned earlier... and no wonder, the terrain is the best natural field archery area I ever did see, the course had 4 distinct areas, an Alpine meadow with 6 long distance shots at large herbivores, unrelentingly long and with 2 ravines that you only see after you have shot and are walking to the target, from the peg the ground is "dead" between you and the target, only when you go to retrieve do you realise it is a lot, lot further than you thought, each shot in this section had me wishing I could "take the shot again ".
At the rest break we find some hot hams, fresh rolls, bread and ... can it really be true... BEER.... in England the health and safety brigade would have a purple fit.. but here in Austria I sit contemplating the stunning first 14 and take great draughts of Stiegl, with mustard and ham grease running down my happy face from the oversized steaming ham roll...............right in the middle of the forest they had brought in a generator, large coca cola style drinks cooler and all manner of appliances to satisfy a hungry archer........god bless you Mark.
From here we moved into a wooded section with a wonderful view to distant mountains, a mixture of long/short and big/small kept us on our toes. The target was not always obvious and occasionally we had to look into the trees to see the flying Eagle or Owl. The third section was full of small gorges, ravines and streams and peering over the edges of precipitous drops we would find our quarry drinking from a stream, some outrageously framed shots had us all gasping and eager to take on the shot first... 70 of the most fantastic 3d's on 42 pegs, set with all the skill of course layers who are passionate about the archery and love it as you and I... it isn't about the score its about the shot, that fleeting moment as the arrow leaves the bow, you can see the trajectory even before the arrows takes the path as you reach out from 50 yards and "touch" the target... after the shoot we muster at the HQ... which in this case is a fully fledged restaurant.. more Stiegl... a BBQ of Schnitzels, steak, huge Wurst sausage, chicken and fresh salad... this is where my conversation with Gunther comes in.... "you can only work with what you got "... well believe me he and Mark did that ground justice, the most incredible shoot I ever had and catering that will have you turning up even if you don't own a bow !
Sunday gave me a chance to catch up with some folks from Strub who run their own club and have a shoot ground too.. this is no ordinary club, Helmut and Fritz along with 6 others have turned their hobby of archery into something beyond even my expectation, along with 2 X 36 peg field parcours there is a fita range... but that's just for starters, they have a converted barn inside which we found a bar and a themed shooting range for when the weather or Stiegl become too much for an outdoor venture, it is themed as a safari shoot and even has a broken down landrover complete with skeleton... oh and 20 3 d's... and an 18m range behind some slick sliding doors, the lighting is atmospheric and and the sound system is awesome.. I half expected Tarzan to swing down from one of the galleried shooting platforms screaming "ongawa..ongawa.." Outside it was teeming down and whilst we considered the possibility of shooting a few arrows Fritz suggested we check out their HQ area... wouldn't you know it was a bar... Stiegl was ordered and a lively discussion ensued... some staggering archery was talked but not an arrow flew.. Next time Helmut.. we will sink some Beers whilst the girls can go and do some make up stuff or bake a cake...
Its Monday... that must mean we are at Kossen... 32 pegs, so many 3 d's I lost count... if Oberwiesbach was the frying pan then we had found the fire... the very first peg was a stunner... a herd of buffalo... including a baby one... that's a peg with a value a tad under 4000 quid... just for 1 shot.. this truly is archery madness.
Dammit I shot them all, you can't come halfway across Europe and walk away after a first arrow, to my utter delight the course layers indulged every shot placement fantasy. There was a Grizzly at 60 yards up on the side of a ravine at an angle of 60 degrees, there were wolves and Deer across gorges, a goat at the bottom of a valley with a solid stone wall as backstop... so painful but so right... you have to take the shot, even with your best arrow.... and the joy when it hits, I wasn't tempted by a second arrow. shooting platforms take you out into the space past the slope of the hill to float above the valley floor and look deep into the woodland for the target and when you see it you will squeal as I did, as the forest floor heats up the steam rises between the shadows from the trees and the dappled shade plays across the Lynx sneaking up on a deer.. want to write yourself a "Lord of the Rings " style epic fantasy adventure ? then come here and just describe what you see. Outlandish rock formations or ferns frame each shot.... 32 of the most wonderful pegs you could imagine on ground that undulates, rises and falls, through valleys that wind and twist, along streams that burble, gush and flow over falls and settle in deep dark pools........ we finish on a metal Wolf with only the kill made of foam, the villages beckon with foaming Steins of beer and platters of meats.
Sadly for us " zee var ist over" and we must go home but Florian tells us we may not in fact have shot even the best of the Parcours available as there are 27 others out there waiting to be discovered.. I think enviously of the 2 Italian dudes who managed the lot in 22 days... now that is a day out !
Well, no if's or buts... I will return - it really is archery Valhalla but the best bit is...... you don't have to wait to die to go there... !!!
I doubt there is an archer out there who could resist such a wonderful archery holiday, if you have the sickness there won't be a cure but.. a trip to Waidring will at least alleviate the symptoms for a time, the problem is that now I have seen such audacious shot placement I suspect I will need another fix quite soon..