At a time when health experts are urging people to exercise more, we visit Honiton Bowling Club’s superb indoor facilities – and discover how a gentle sport can keep you fit, help you make new friends and be lots of fun. We also discovered this is a great place for team building and corporate events.
Forty-plus years ago, skateboarding down the garden path came as second nature. Fast forward to an unflattering age, too much time sat in front of a screen and a fear of undertaking any kind of sport that poses a serious injury risk and you will realise why bowls has a certain appeal.
With the indoor season under way, I jumped at the chance to have a lesson from Honiton club coach Sue Evans.
Joined by Joan Mackintosh, the club’s on-the-ball press officer, we enjoyed a couple of hours of sport – and plenty of laughs. I didn’t just learn how to play bowls, I discovered this is a sport with a great social side and lots of health benefits.
Tucked away down a lane accessed from Streamers Meadows, Honiton Bowling Club’s expansive indoor offer is probably one of the town’s best-kept secrets.
With four rinks, it is one of the biggest indoor bowling greens in East Devon.
Pleasantly decorated and boasting comfortable solar heating and good lighting, the pristine green is a sight to behold. In fact, it is so big, I couldn’t help thanking my lucky stars that it is someone else’s job to vacuum it.
Bowls is for people of all ages
Sporting rather dapper shoes, I ventured onto the green. It didn’t go amiss that a person playing in the rink next to me was in my year at school. Bowls is clearly on the radar for people in my age group, although Honiton Bowling Club has members aged from 10-plus and is nurturing a small junior section.
I was first introduced to the jack, a small, brightly-coloured ball that would define the target for my bowls.
After rolling the jack, I learned that my aim was to get my bowls as close to it as possible.
Sue ensured the bowls I used were matched to my hand size for comfort.
I quickly realised that bowls have a biased curve when played. This means, you have to ensure the ‘biased’ side (denoted by a smaller concentric ring on one side) is played correctly. This answered the question: why do bowls players spend so much time checking a bowl before playing it?
As well as aiming a bowl so that it curved towards the jack and its ‘line’, I had to practise hard to get my bowls to travel the right distance. This is much harder than it looks but my efforts improved by extending how far back I took my bowl before releasing it as close to the ground as possible.
It was nice to hear Joan (jack end) telling me most of my efforts would be considered ‘legal’.
When all my bowls were played at one end of the rink, we walked down the green to the other end. Great exercise!
We repeated this many times, because I was really enjoying myself.
Bowls is good exercise
Bowls, both indoor and outdoor, exercises your muscles and joints. Considered aerobic exercise, it gently stretches the muscles used and helps to condition others.
Not only is this a sport that offers physical exercise, it is good for the mind too. Bowls England says it is good for the brain because it is a competitive sport that requires thinking when trying to outwit an opponent.
Sue runs coaching sessions at Honiton Bowling Club on Thursday evenings – 6pm to 7pm for juniors and 7pm to 8pm for adults.
She said: “Bowls is an ideal game for anyone looking to get more activity.”
Bowls is inclusive
The club caters for and encourages disability bowls. In fact, it is hosting a major Disability Bowls England inter-club triples competition next year.
Facilities at Honiton are so good the club hosts outdoor county matches and touring teams from across the country.
The indoor green is perfect for corporate team building events and this is something the club is looking to promote.
Known as ‘The Friendly Club’, Honiton Bowling Club runs many social events for members. Its state-of-the-art, theatre-style kitchen is often remarked upon by visitors. There is a one-off joining fee of £30.
The indoor season runs from now until April. Subscription costs are £55 for adults and £17 for under-18s, with rink fees ranging from £1 to £2.50 per person.
Outdoor bowls resumes next April. The subscription fee (running to September 22) is £65 for adults and £22 for under-18s.
For those who don’t want to play bowls but who want to enjoy the social activities staged at the club, there is a social membership fee of £5.
Honiton Bowling Club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2021.
I really enjoyed my day playing indoor bowls and will be seriously considering taking up this sport – both for exercise and fun. Fancy joining me?
Find out more here.