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Curling

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



CURLING is the most characteristic of Scottish sports, and in one form or other has been practised in that country for more than four centuries back. From some of the words found in the glossary annexed hereto,-such as Kuting, Rink, Bonspiel, Tee, etc.,-some have maintained that the game was introduced into Scotland from the Low Countries, but this inference from etymology is contradicted by historical facts, and there is little doubt that curling, in its origin as in its development, is peculiarly Scottish. Although now to be found in most other countries where ice abounds, there is always a Scottish ring about the game, and even more than golf, which has now spread over the world, it is regarded as a national sport, the title generally given to it by its devotees being-" Scotland's ain game." At first the game seems to have been a kind of quoiting on the ice, a stone rounded by some river and weighing a few pounds being used, with a niche for the thumb on one side, and one for the fingers on the other. With a curving sweep from behind, the player pitched his large pebble, and the ice carried it to the tee or mark aimed at, the thrower making due allowance for the nature of the surface in delivering his shot. This was the Kuting-Stone or Pilty-cock period of curling. Next came the Giant, or Boulder age, when the curler took a large boulder or block from the river-bed, inserted a rough iron handle therein, and propelled it along the ice to the desired goal. The variety of weight and shape of stone during this period must have been infinite, for while 60 lbs. was about the minimum, we hear of some stones which actually weighed 200 lbs., and one is on exhibition which turns the scale at 117 - lbs. Each player used one stone, and when the many-shaped boulders lay around the Gogsee or Tozee they must have had a motley appearance, and some of their owners must have been giants. About the middle of last century the curling stone was found in a more civilised shape, the formation of clubs for the purpose of enjoying the sport having a good deal to do with the improvement. By the end of the century the stones were all rounded with more or less precision, though some were still rather uncouth in appearance, and the variety of chiselling so great, that force rather than scientific accuracy ruled the play. The two most renowned curling clubs of last century were the Canonmills and the Duddingston clubs. As a proof of the national character of the game, it may be stated that in the Scottish capital the magistrates used to march in pro-cession, headed by a band playing the Curler's March, to open the winter's sport on the Nor' Loch, where the Edinburgh curlers played before they were driven therefrom to Canon-mills when the Loch was drained dry for city improvements. In the history of this popular pastime, the most important event ,was the institution in 1838 of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, the object of which was to be a Curling Union, in which all clubs would be associated, and which, by representatives from all its clubs annually convened as a curling parliament, would regulate the laws of the game at home and abroad. This association or union has been most successful, and it may safely be said that no sport is so admirably supervised and regulated as Curling, a fact which is due to the admirable way in which the business of the head club is conducted.

Curling, like golf, is not only ancient, but also royal. There are some shadowy traditions that several of the Stuart kings played the game ; and the unfortunate Darnley, who was for a time husband of the still more unfortunate Queen Mary, is reputed to have been a curler. When the Prince Consort and her Majesty the Queen were on a visit to Scotland, they were initiated into the mysteries of the game by the Earl of Mansfield, then President of the Grand Club, and the Prince then agreed to become its patron. Soon after, the club received permission to wear the title " Royal," and as " The Royal Caledonian Curling Club " it has continued to preside over the sport. From its institution may be dated the great improvement that has made the game one of the most scientific, and required the development of the stones on such lines that they are now "things of beauty." By awarding medals for competition between clubs and districts, and by the great national gathering at Carsebreak for the Grand Match, in which the North of the Forth curlers meet those of the South in battle ; by the recent institution of the International Match-England v. Scotland, and in a thousand other ways, the Royal Club has fostered and advanced the fascinating ice-game, and made it popular far beyond the-borders of its home. Through the club's influence, the sport will, no doubt, become still more popular. There is certainly no manlier, healthier game, and the countries are fortunate in which it has been taken up and practised with enthusiasm.

Ice is, of course, the first requisite for curling. But the ice must be in good condition. Quality is of more importance than-quantity. Frost being so fickle in our country, curlers have in many places had cement ponds laid out. With a few degrees of frost they can have a game on these by sprinkling water over the surface, which immediately freezes. In this way play can be obtained when the natural ice is not strong enough. At various times and places, and at great expense, ice rinks have been constructed, where ice is made by an artificial process, and curlers and skaters can enjoy them-selves all the year round in a handsome building, independent of the changes of the climate. In Canada, with the intense frost which there prevails, curlers have natural ice with covered rinks, and all the comforts which these are supposed to afford. But curling is best enjoyed in the open air, and is to be seen at its best when Greek meets Greek on some moorland loch surrounded by snow-covered mountains. The majority of curling clubs have ponds constructed so that there is no danger to the players from the depth of the water, should the ice give way. These have to be constructed by puddling the bottom with clay about 6 in. thick, and making embankments suitable to the depth. The cost is not great, and the up-keep of such ponds is also simple, so that to start a curling club need not be an expensive matter. Nor is the curler's outfit costly. He must have a Broom, or Kowe, to sweep the ice when directed, for sweeping is a most important part of the game ; but the best brooms, made from the plant of that name, cost nothing, and if that cannot be had, two shillings will procure a broom of sufficient power. The curler's chief equipment is a pair of stones exactly matched. These range in value from 30s. to L5, and fancy prices are, of course, paid. for fancy pairs. Each stone is fitted with a reversible handle and bolt, a good pair of handles being procurable for 10s. or 12S. 6d. The open or swan-necked are generally used, but a few use the closed oval variety. Curling-stones are named after the places where they are procured. The principal varieties now in the market are Ailsa Craig, Crawfordjohn, Burnock Water, Douglas Water, Crieff, Carsphairn, and Tinkernhill. By far the larger proportion of curling-stones now in use bear the name of Ailsa Craig, from which they are quarried, and cut into square blocks before being sent to the manufacturers to be rounded and polished. They are so hard that they best resist the effect of hard knocks, and in Canada they are preferred because the excessive frost does not affect them so much as softer varieties. In the home country, Crawfordjohn and Burnock Water are also very popular stones. It is important, however, that these should be boulders before being wrought into shape, for the. quarried stones, owing to the blasting, are often strained and therefore liable to fracture; whereas the boulders, if well rounded, must have come through a long experience of grinding against each other until their flaws have all been detected and destroyed. By a recent resolution of the Royal Club, the maximum weight of the curling-stone (and handle) has been fixed at 44 lbs. From 40 lbs. to 44 lbs. is a suitable weight for the lead or first-hand player, while from 33 lbs. to 40 lbs. is appropriate for other players. The majority of stones will be found to be included between 35 lbs. and 38 lbs. (At Montreal, Quebec, and other places in Canada, where iron has to be used in place of stone, the usual weight is from 60 lbs. to 70 lbs.) Each stone has two sides, one for dull, the other for keen ice. The former is usually highly polished, and so curved that the stone runs on a pivot, thus getting easily through slush when the ice is " Baugh " or soft ; but in Canada, and in many cases at home, a small hollow about 2 1/2 in. wide is scooped out, and the stone, running on the ring or rim of the hollow, is supposed to keep better hold of the ice. The dull side of the stone, which is used when the ice is keen, has a much larger concave or hollow, the diameter of the ring in this case ranging from 5 in. to 7 in. This gives the stone a better catch of the ice, and all leading stones should be thus concaved, that they may be able to keep their position in the " house." This side is not so highly polished as the other. No stone is allowed in play whose circumference exceeds 36 in., and its height must not be less than one-eighth part of its greatest circumference. Those who wish to provide themselves with stones and other curling requisites will find the names of manufacturers in the advertising pages of the Royal Club Annual, which costs one shilling, and may be had at the club's offices from the secretary. Before describing rink-play, which is the proper game of Curling, we may show the various parts of the game by "points," which are practised by curlers, and for which one day in the season is usually set apart. Just as a golfer might practice driving, lofting, and putting preparatory to a full game at golf, so the curler may learn his art by trying his hand at the various " points " which have been selected to illustrate the anatomy of Curling.



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