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Issue 49 - How to Curl

Scotland Magazine Issue 49
February 2010

 

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How to Curl

In the latest in our series Dominic Roskrow looks at the ancient Scottish sport of curling.

As great sporting moments go, it wasn’t quite up there with the World Cup final, the Superbowl, or the World Series. But for a nation that had lived with serial failure by its football and rugby teams for years, it would do. And it came from the unlikeliest of sources.

The British curling team, led by Rhona Martin and made up of Scotland’s finest players, Margaret Morton, Fiona MacDonald, Debbie Knox and Janice Rankin, had been considered an outside bet for an Olympic medal in 2002. But as the curling tournament unfurled and stretched in to the evening it became clear, in the most dramatic of fashions, that they had their sights on a much greater target.

The team, made up of part-timers and housewives. and the epitome of everything the Olympic spirit should be about, laid out their stall in gritty pursuit of a gold.

The word spread across Scotland down in to England and Wales, and by the time the team reached the end play and literally swept to glory, the whole of Britain was gripped. Their triumph brought curling on to the front pages. And more than that. It brought an ancient sport back from the brink of extinction and kick-started it back in to life. A British team it may have been, but this was really one of Scotland’s most dramatic sporting triumphs.

The sport, hitherto restricted to a handful of clubs and ice rinks, took on a new lease of life.

Old traditional bastions such as the Royal Caledonian Club were joined by a new wave of clubs and with the aid of sports funding, courses and educational programmes were put in to place. Today the sport has not only survived but it has shaken off its creaky image, and is enjoyed by thousands across Scotland.

Nobody is quite sure of the origins of curling, but its roots stretch back in to the Middle Ages. One large stone thought to have been used in the game has the date 1511 engraved into it. There are records of a form of curling being played between two monks at Paisley Abbey, near Glasgow in 1541 and the first known curling club was established at Kinross in 1668.

The original game takes its name from the ancient verb ‘to curr’, which means to grumble.

It had no set rules, and consisted of driving rocks across ice to a target area. There were no restrictions on the size of the rocks used, and originally they were hand-shaped and called ‘loofies’ from an old word for “hand”. Over time players moved to a rounded version and handles were added. They were known as “boulders” and then “stones”.

Curling is a version of bowls on ice, played by two teams of four, made up of a Lead, a Second, a Third or Vice Skip, and the Skip.

Each player has two stones in each game, known as an “end”. They must drive the stones down an ice track towards a target area known as “the house”.

In each end, only one team can score, with points awarded for stones closest to the centre of the house. If one team has the three closest stones, it scores three points. But if one team has the closest and the other team has the next closest stone, the scoring team gets just one point.

In order to defend or attack, stones may be cast to knock out rival stones or can be deliberately sent down to form a block. To aid the stone players may sweep the ice in front of it, making its path faster.

In all 10 ends are played, and the winning team is the one with the most points after 10 ends.

Today there are about 20 ice rinks offering curling facilities and training courses stretching in a band from Dundee in the East across to Ayr in the West, as well as one or two further North.

Watching curling Curling is played over the months of winter, and there are a number of events and versions of the game starting at the very localised level up to international fixtures.

Full fixture lists for all tournaments are posted on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club.

www.royalcaledoniancurlingclub.org Learning the game An introductory booklet outlining what is required to be able to take part in curling, and what learning the game entails, can be downloaded from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club website. You will find it under ‘Start Curling’ in the ‘Learn and Play’ section of the website.

Many ice rinks across Scotland now offer introductory ‘Try Curling’ sessions as well as offering formal courses for all levels and abilities. A map of all ice rinks with full contact details can be found under ‘Where can I curl?’ in the ‘Learn & Play’ area of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s website.

Many schools now run courses in Scotland, too.

Two special camps will be held for 13 to 17 year olds this summer.

Participants will learn the skills of curling at an ice rink in Kilmarnock in the morning, take part in team building exercises such as mountain biking, archery and gorge walking in the afternoon, and spend the evenings at Culzean Castle, for discussions on tactics and more team sports including beach volleyball and tug of war.

The camps will be held July 25 to July 30 and August 8 to 13.

An adult curling weekend will be held at the end of September and costs £250 for curling instruction from experts, two nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation, light lunch, and a three course dinner on the Saturday night.

Literature There are a large number of books written on curling. Here are a handful: Curling Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff About the Roaring Game, Bob Weeks.

Curling for Dummies, Bob Weeks.

Curling Basics: A Comprehensive Guide to the Game of Curling, Roy Sinclair.

The Roaring Game: A Sweeping Saga of Curling, Doug Clark.