Why Target Shooting is so much more than, well… Target Shooting!

by Amelia Murray Lindsay

It had been over 30 years since I had seen Ardvreck School at 8.25am. The last time would have been my final day as a pupil at the school. Astonishingly I have a photograph taken on that very day. I was taken into the dining room to have a photo taken with all the trophies and shields that I had either won individually that year, or won as part of a team. I knew that it was in a box somewhere, and I found it. Hooray! I look a bit like a gleeful Pirate, with a haul of treasure. That was over three decades ago, and I still don’t understand why the staff never permitted us to use those enormous goblets for our grog!*

Despite the large grin on my face, I can remember being a bit frustrated at being called away from the ‘Goodbyes’ with my friends – “you’ll appreciate it one day” is what my parents told me, and here we are. There were lots of hurried promises about keeping-in-touch, and different tartans flashing past. The entire Ardvreck family split into many factions, very suddenly, and went back to their home-clans. I hope that it is the same for every generation of Ardvreckian, but I have found those promises easy to keep. The friends I made as an 11-year-old are still vital in my life- and when we come together our disparate tartans still harmonise melodically. 

I was really excited about seeing the school at 8.25am again, but this time as a parent! Whoever would’ve thought that I’d end up marrying that lad a few years older in the Lindsay tartan? He only seems to be interested in playing the bagpipes, and rugby! Driving in, the beech avenue looked so incredibly warm and beckoning that our daughter remarked, “I really want to go here”. She meant into the woods to play, but I responded, “but you DO go here, darling! You’ve been here for over a month now- remember?” … never pass by an opportunity to tease! What’s that as a Latin motto? I will have to get her to work it out for me, she is really enjoying Latin, just like her Dad did. It felt fabulous arriving in giggles, just as I’d left the school 30 years earlier.

What I was definitely not expecting was a member of staff to catch me to tell me that she had been harbouring a gift for me in the office for a number of weeks. This was from a member of staff who has just reached a milestone birthday and I should really have been giving her a gift (or 50!) Having a thick brown envelope stuffed into your hands in a car park never looks particularly good, and on this occasion, it was better than used banknotes- it was pure gold. Inside were reams of information relating to shooting at Ardvreck, all in Mr. Verlander’s iconic script. Ardvreck’s name was at the top of just about every competition mentioned, and there was correspondence from The House of Commons, from The Army and signatures of Headmasters of yore. All of it, pure gold.

But, what stopped me in my tracks were the names of all of the pupils who had been given the opportunity to master this specialised craft in the little range under the Centenary Block at Ardvreck School. I looked at the long lists of names to which I could put very few faces; girls, boys, local sounding names, exotic sounding names and wondered what they were all doing now. It occurred to me, immediately, that wherever they were, the lessons they learnt at Ardvreck would be standing them in the best stead (even the academic ones!) I am also completely convinced that they will be employing skills that they honed in the rifle range on a daily basis- without even realising it. 

At Ardvreck every opportunity is created for the possibility of excellence in that particular field. In sport, a child can become a force to be reckoned with on the rugby pitches, or weave a hockey stick around with the deftness of Oscar Wilde’s pen, or putt a shot from one side of the Earn to the other- all of which requires enormous physical mastery.

Imagine now, the exact opposite. There is also the opportunity to master the art of utter mental immersion. There is a sport on offer at this unique school which offers something which is of value above and beyond excellence in the league tables. Children are offered the opportunity to learn how to slow down their heart rates, to control their breathing, to be entirely focused and in the moment and to compete simultaneously! It is an Olympic amount of pressure, and Olympic is not too strong a word- that little range has produced national record breakers and one Olympian, so far. When I hear of a child being a great sporting all-rounder, I often wonder how this would translate into the shooting range. 

If the qualities that it takes to become a good shot sound rather like the traits involved in yoga, or mindfulness or meditation- then yes, you are correct. More than that, it is an enormous boost for any child when adults introduce them to activities which require high levels of responsibility – it often gets reflected in other behaviours.  

It is beyond frustrating that we are still unable to get back into the range yet due to the pandemic. We have tried to think as creatively as we can about re-opening the shooting, but the door has been slammed shut every time. What makes this even more frustrating is that the school has just funnelled a great deal of resource into getting the range ready for the new era of tutelage. It is a bit like having a garage with a fabulous vintage Rolls Royce in it, but no licence. 

One of the younger members of staff made herself known to me on a recent trip to Ardvreck. She was also a pupil at the school and learnt shooting from the legendary retired coach, Mr. Verlander. She offered to assist me in the range when the restrictions lift, and, without any coaxing from me, also commented that she found that shooting de-stressed her, because you are forced to focus so completely on it. Of course, you can then take that focus and apply it to your life in whatever ways you need. It’s a powerful skill to have tucked away.

The shooting at Ardvreck is in great shape; we have two ex-pupils, both of whom have been trained by Mr. Verlander, willing to continue his phenomenal legacy, we have a shooting range which has just been given a fresh lick of paint, we have scores of young people keen to become involved, all we have to do now is wait for the circumstances to change and the green light to be given.

In the meantime, if anyone wishes to gear themselves up for the shooting range’s grand re-opening, might I recommend practice in the form of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. An excellent letter came out from the school this week about the dark setting in, and the danger of a low mood following. The mental wellbeing of everyone (pupils, staff and parents) is something that this school prioritises and a number of great suggestions were made for improvement- kindness being foremost amongst them. Meditation and mindfulness may also be a warm sanctuary to discover, even for those who never plan to set foot in the rifle range.

Ardvreck is such a brilliantly balanced combination of factors. On one hand it is a very traditional (exceptional) Scottish prep-school, and on the other hand it is incredibly light on it’s feet! Ardvreck pupils are encouraged to look after their invisible health, as well as their physical, and the resultant ‘esprit de corps’ will be obvious to any visitor, delivery driver or neighbour. The school has risen to recent challenges with typical pluck, imagination and success, all to the betterment of life for so many little green people.

The trophies and goblets which are presented to us in life are only of any significance if filled up with the right stuff! Let us fill them up with large glugs of kindness! It is almost Hogmanay! For auld lang syne, let’s tak a cup o’ kindness as the bells ring us into the new year. This uisge beatha can transform anything from a gewgaw sitting quietly on a mantlepiece, into a haul of ultimate riches, m’hearties. 

Amelia Murray Lindsay (OA)

*Disclaimer: We were never allowed ‘grog’ in my era as a pupil at Ardvreck, should any current pupil happen to read this! Also, we too never saw a single ‘bun’ at milk and buns. I tried to lead a mutiny about this 30 years ago, it’s very lucky that you’re all such tough little cookies.