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Sports and Pastimes of Scotland
Chapter XI. Curling


When chittering birds, on flicht'ring wing,
About the barn doors mingle,
And biting frost, and cranreuch cauld,
Drive cools around the ingle;
Then to the loch the curlers hie,
Their hearts as light's a feather,
And mark the tee wi mirth and glee,
 In cauld, cauld frosty weather.
Rev. James Muir.

AMONG the popular sports and pastimes of the "Land of Cakes," there is one which is vaunted as being exclusively national—"Scotland's ain game o' Curling." Well-merited are the ardent panegyrics which have been lavished upon it ! What winter recreation can rival the Bonspiel? The "keen, keen curler" exults when Boreas and John Frost are in their bitterest moods, muffling Mother Earth in her winding-sheet and congealing the waters to the consistency of stone. Look at the thronged and resounding rink on a clear, hard, nipping day, when

The ice is here, the ice is there,
The ice is all around

and your heart will warm and leap in unison with the geniality and good fellowship pervading the busy assemblage! As admirably conducive to the promotion of genuine fraternity between all classes of men, curling must be pronounced unequalled among games.

For on the water's face are met,
Wi' many a merry joke man,
The tenant and his jolly laird,
The pastor and his flock, man.

Need we strive to depict the deepening contest that animates the snowy scene? This has been done to our hand by the amiable poet of the Sabbath, in his British Georgies.'

Now rival parishes, and shrievedoms, keep,
On upland lochs, the long-expected tryst
To play their yearly bonspiel. Aged men,
Smit with the eagerness of youth, are there,
While lose of conquest lights their beamless eyes,
New-nerves their arms, and makes them young once more.
The sides when ranged, the distance meted out,
And duly traced the tees, some younger hand
Begins, with throbbing heart, and far o'ershoots,
Or sideward leaves, the mark in vain he bends
His waist, and winds his hand, as if it still
Retained the toss-er to guide the devious stone,
Which, onward hurling, makes the circling group
Quick start aside, to shun its reckless force.
But more and still more skilful arms succeed,
And near and nearer stilt around the tee
This side, now that, approaches; till at taut,
Two seeming equidistant, straws or twigs
Decide as umpires 'tween contending coils.
Keen, keener still, as life itself were staked,
Kindles the friendly strife: one points the line
To him who, poising, aims and aims again
Another runs and sweeps where nothing lies.
Success alternately, from side to side,
Changes and quick the hours unnoted fly,
Till light, begins to fail, and deep below,
The player, as he stoops to lift his coit,
Sees, half-incredulous, the rising moon,
But now the final, the decisive spell,
Begins; near and more near the sounding stones,
Some winding in, some hearing straight along,
Crowd jostling all around the mark, while one,
Just slightly touching, victory depends
Upon the final aim: long swings the stone,
Then with full force, careering furious on,
Rattling it strikes aside both friend and foe,
Maintains its course, and takes the victor's place.
The social meal succeeds, and social glass;
In words the fight renewed is fought again,
While festive mirth forgets the winged hours.

No trace of curling can be found among the out-door amusements of the English in former days. Oil other hand, the claim that it is indigenous to Scotland—seems at the best somewhat problematical. The scanty and fragmentary history of curling in Scotland points to the theory that the "roaring play" was an impartation from the Low Countries. Some of the chief technical terms of the game appear to owe their derivation to the Dutch or German. Curl may have come from the German word .Kurzwell—a game, and curling from Kurweillen—to play for amusement. The old name for curling in some parts of Scotland was Kuting or Cooting, and the stones were called cooling or coiling-stones—evidently from the Teutonic Kluyten—to play with round pieces of ice, in the manner of quoits, on a sheet of ice; or, the denomination may have come from the Dutch coede—a quoit; as if, indeed, the game of quoits, and not that of bowls, originated curling. The word Bonspiel, as understood ill Scotland, signifies a match at any game—curling, golf, football, archery, etc., and it has even been applied in some quarters to a prize-fight. Perhaps it comes from the French bon and the German speilu; but the more likely derivation is from the Belgic bonne, a village or district, and spel, play—thus expressing a friendly competition between people of different townships or parishes. Tee is the winning point: Icelandic tie, to point out; and witter is another name for the tee: Suio-Gothic wi/Ira, to point out. Wick—Suio-Gothic wik, a corner; and only a corner of the stone is hit in the operation of what is called wicking. Skip—a director of the play: Suio-Gothic, .sckeppare; whence skipper of a ship. Heck', or hatch, a cut on ice, to save the foot of the player from slipping when delivering the stone: Icelandic hiacka, or Sub-Gothic hack, a crack. From which etymological coincidences, taken in conjunction with the period when curling is first mentioned as being played in Scotland, the inference has been drawn that the game was introduced by the numerous companies of Flemings who emigrated from Flanders to Scotland about the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries.

Now, let any stickler for the indigenousness of Curling in Scotland explain how it comes to pass that the earliest notices of the game crop up only in the seventeenth century. Look at the sports and pastimes which our James IV. patronized, as set out in full detail in the Lord High Treasurer's Accounts. Is Curling, or the remotest trace of it, there? Does Dunbar mention it? Does Sir David Lyndsay, or any other poet of the sixteenth century ? At the same time, we do not forget that the game seemed tin- known in Germany and the Low Countries until of late years, and no mention of its former existence there has been discovered in any record. But the signification of kluyen shows that the Germans had once a game similar to curling—namely, throwing or sliding lumps of ice upon the frozen surface of water, apparently in imitation of the game of quoits. Besides, the utter extinction of curling on the Continent is not so very improbable a supposition, when we know that, although curling was introduced into Ireland by the Scottish colonists of the time of James I. of England, it soon fell into oblivion there, and has only been recently revived. Unquestionably the Teutonic tongue still lingers in the game, and no conjecture has the plausibility of that which assigns the origin of curling to the people whose language is connected with it.

Until within the early part of the present century, curling was neither practised nor even known universally in Scotland. Some provinces knew nothing about it. Among the ancient sports of the Highland population, it had no place. It was entirely a Lowland pastime. The earliest notices of curling in Scotland appear in the Perth poet, Henry Adamson's Muses Tiorenodie, published in 1638, and reprinted in 1774. The author makes his aged friend, Mr. George Ruthven, a Perth physician and antiquary, speak thus—

And ye my loadstones of Lednockian takes,
Collected from the laughs, where watery snakes
Do much abound, take unto you a part,
And mourn for Gall, who lav'd you with his heart.
In this sad dump and melancholic mood,
The burdown: ye must hear, not on the flood
Or frozen watery plains, but let your tuning
Come help me for to weep by mournful cruning.

The "loadstones" were curling stones brought from Led- mioch or Lynedoch (the scene of Bessy Bell and Mary Gray's story) on the banks of the Almond ; and a note in the edition of 1774 explains that "the gentlemen of Perth, fond of this athletic winter-diversion on the frozen river, sent and brought from Lednoch their curling stones."Farther," The Inventory of the Gabions (curiosities, etc.), in Mr. George Ruthven's Closet or Cabinet," which prefaces the poem, enumerates

His alley howls, his curling stanes,
The sacred games to celebrate,
Which to the gods are consecrate.

In the same year which saw Adamsoti's work "touch the press" and "come to light," the Bishop of Orkney, who, along with the rest of the Scottish Prelates, suffered deposition by the General Assembly of the Kirk which met at Glasgow, was stigmatized by his Covenanting enemies as a "Curler on the Lord's Day."

Other notices of the game in the subsequent portion of the century are equally meagre and incidental.

In Bishop Gibson's edition of Camden's Bri/annia, 1695, a reference to curling is added in connection with the isle of Copinsha, one of the Orkneys, "in which," it is said, " and in several other places of this country, are to be found in great plenty excellent stones for the game called Curling."

Lord Fountainhall, in his Decisions, under date 1684, states:-"A party of the forces having been sent out to apprehend Sir William Scott of Harden, younger, one William Scott in Langhope, getting notice of their coming, went and acquainted Harden with it as he was playing at the Curling with Riddel of Haining and others."

Passing to the next century, we hear of another clergyman charged with the crime of curling out of season. A letter from Mr. Charles Cokburn, son of the Lord Justice- Clerk of Scotland, addressed to the Duke of Montrose, and dated at Edinburgh, 2nd June, 1715, intimates the trial at Perth of an Episcopal clergyman, named Mr. Guthrie, who intruded into a church, not praying for King George, nor keeping the Thanksgiving for his Majesty's accession, but "going to the curling that day," and drinking the Pretender's health on his birthday." In 1715, likewise, Dr. Alexander Pennecuik of Newhall gave his poems to the world, and in one of his effusions makes a very complimentary allusion to curling, shewing that the game was popular in his day and neighbourhood

To curl on the ice does greatly please,
Being a manly Scottish exercise
It clears the brains, stirs up the native heat,
And gives a gallant appetite for meat.

While the rebellion of 1745 was at its height, a curling snatch took place at Blairgowrie, and the usual "beef and greens" having been provided, a party of Prince Charlie's Highlanders made a foray on the tempting dinner, and effectually disposed of it, to the great disappointment and dismay of the hungry competitors. An anecdote is also related of the Rev. Mr. Lyon, who was minister of Blairgowrie parish from 1723 to 1768. The worthy incumbent was so fond of curling that he continued to pursue it, with unabated ardour, even after old age had left him scarce strength enough to send a stone beyond the hog-score an(l on one occasion, having over-exerted himself in the act of delivering his stone, he lost his balance and fell on his back. Some of the bystanders hastened to his assistance; and, in the meantime, one of the party placed the stone he had just thrown off on the centre of the tee. While still on his back the minister eagerly inquired where his stone was, and being informed that it was on the tee, exclaimed, "Oh, then, I'm no a bit waur "

Mr. Pennant first visited Scotland in 1769, crossing the Border at Berwick; but his volume, describing the tour, has no mention of curling, for evidently, throughout his peregrinations, he had never heard of the game. In the summer of 1772 he came back, this time crossing by the vest marches, and as soon as he got within the country of "Blinkin' Bess o' Annandale" and "Maggy by the banks o' Nith," he became aware of what recreation they pursued in winter. Of the sports of these parts," he says, "that of curling is a favourite, and one unknown in England it is an amusement of the winter and played on the ice, by sliding froin one mark to another great stones of forty to seventy pounds weight, of a heinispherical form, with an iron or wooden handle at top. The object of the player is to lay his stone as near to the mark as possible to guard that of his partner, which had been well laid before, or to strike off that of his antagonist." A good and clear description of the game by a Southron.

Recurring to the question of the origin and antiquity of the game in Scotland, it must be noted that no old curling-stones are extant of unquestioned dates earlier than the seventeenth century at the farthest. The author of the Memorabilia Curliana Mabenensia, himself an enthusiastic curler, and to whose book we owe many obligations, has observed" Another circumstance leads to the supposition that the origin of the game, in this country at least, is not very remote—the specimens that still remain of the unhandled, unpolished blocks which were used by the curlers o1 comparatively, even modern times. The improvements since adopted are so obvious that they must have suggested themselves long before the time when they actually were made, had the practice of the game been very ancient. Though no evidence exists to show that curling is now practised, or that it ever was practised, on the Continent, further than what arises from the etymology of the art, as above noticed, yet we have evidence that something very like it was at one time in operation there. Kilian, in his dictionary, renders the Teutonic.  Whatever those round masses of ice were, they seem to have been employed in a game on time ice after the manner of quoits. Indeed, it is highly probable that the game we now call curling was nothing else than the game of quoits practised upon the ice. The old stones which yet remain, both from size and shape, favour the conjecture, having only a niche for the finger and thumb, as if they had been intended to be thrown." Some old stones, however, have been found both handled and dated. An unhammnered curling-stone was found in an old curling pond near 1)unblane, bearing the date 1551 but the age of the inscription has been much doubted. in the dry summer of 1826, an old stone was recovered from the bottom of the Shiels Loch, near Roslin, which had been dried up by time great drought, and which the Roslin people had used time out of mind for curling. The stone was found embedded in the mud, and was about to be consigned to the walls of the new chapel of Roslin, which were then being erected, when the mason, by time merest accident, discovered that the "channel stane" bore the date 1613. The stone was a grey whin, 5 inches thick, of triangular form, and quite rough as it came out of the bed of the river ; while the handle had been iron, which was entirely corroded away, but the lead remained. The triangular shape of this stone reseinblcs that of the "goose" of other days, which was generallyemployed as the " prentice stone" given to young players to try their hands on. The "goose" served both as a "leader" and "wheeler": in the first capacity it was a dangerous shot when well played, leading many a stone directed against it a wild-goose chase, by fairly turning round likc a Jim Crow, as it never moved from the spot except when hit exactly in the centre. In the month of December, 1830, while the foundation of the old House of Loig, in Strathallan, was being dug out, a curling-stone of peculiar shape was discovered. It was of an oblong form, and had been neatly finished with the hammer, and bore the date 1611. One of the same date was Cy at Torphichen. About half-a-dozen old curling stones were unearthed in digging a drain to the east of Watson's Hospital, near Edinburgh. They were all roughly made, but had handles, though no dates. They were allowed to lie about the field for a fortnight, till they were all broken to pieces (perhaps for the sake of the iron of the handles), save one, a fair sample of the rest. It was a semi-s pheroidical block of coarse-grained whinstone, weighing 65 lb., —about six inches high,—and with all handle of the common kind fixed in the usual place. Not long ago, on the draining of a small loch at Ardoch, a considerable number of old curling stones were found at the bottom all had handles, and one was marked 1700, with the letters M. V. H. Some other stones have been found in quarters, but need not be particularized.

The Grand (now Royal) Caledonian Curling Club was instituted in 183$, the year of the hard winter. The jubilee of the Club was celebrated by a dinner in the Waterloo Hotel, Edinburgh, oil 28th November, 1888, presided over by the Marquis of Breadalbane. In alluding to the institution of the Club, the noble chairman said

"Nothing was done in the way of forming a club until an anonymous advertisement appeared in the North British Advertiser in May,1838. Only about a dozen curlers attended the meeting thus called, which was held in the very house in which they were now dining. It was obvious, from the smallness of the attendance, that no business could be (lone, and the meeting was adjourned. A second advertisement was inserted, calling a meeting of curlers on the 25th July, 1838, and stating that Mr. John Tierney would occupy the chair. he did occupy the chair, deputations appeared from various clubs, and at that meeting the Grand Caledonian Curling Club sprang into existence." We have chosen thus to mark the institution of the Grand Club, rather than to occupy space unnecessarily by referring to the various local clubs which were previously in existence.


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