Thursday, May 03, 2012

A Summer Challenge for You

Many of you reading this may never have had the opportunity to curl outside. Of course, that used to be the only way to experience the sport. It wasn't until the twentieth century that much of the game moved indoors. Still, outdoors continues when it can. If you were really lucky you were playing on the Lake of Menteith (above) on this fine day in 2010!

Perhaps you are aware of the project to map all the historical 'curling places' where the sport is known to have been played in Scotland and England. David B Smith kicked this off by making a record of all the places where a game of curling had taken place. He went through all the Annuals of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. He found 'places' in old minute books of curling clubs as well as in newspapers, and books. David then pored over old maps in the National Library of Scotland, in the days before these were available on line. All told, he found more than 2500 sites. Quite an accomplishment!

David's list was originally a Word document, but thanks to Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester, the information has been put into a database and from that database onto a map. The map entries link to the underlying database which records the original references, and where possible there are links to photographs and old maps. The project has its own website here, and is ongoing.

Now there's a chance for YOU to get involved, in one of two ways. Firstly, there are a number of 'places' which remain unidentified. Lindsay writes, "There are quite a number of places for which we have a name and description, but we have been unable to find on a map. Can you help? In many cases local or archaic place names are used, which will never be found with a search engine or on a map. However, someone with local knowledge might recognize the name and location." Check out his 'Unfound' list, a subset of the Scottish Curling Places tab, on the website here.

I'm scratching my head over some of the Dumfries and Galloway locations. For example, there is a listing (No 1097) for Curlingwater Loch, Kirkcudbright. I wonder if this is a miss-transcription of Carlingwark Loch, near Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire, which is a well known 'place' (No 0045 on the list).

If you want to see what outside curling was like, the 'further info' page on Carlingwark has a link to a fantastic piece of video, from 1952, of the Queenshill Cup, see here. Let's just say that not every day was like the picture at the top of today's post. But not even a bit of water seemed to spoil the enjoyment back in 1952!

There's another way you can help. What about getting out with your camera, and photographing what the places on the map near where you live are like NOW? Look at the historical curling places map. Zoom in. Find the green dots in your area.

There may well be plenty 'places' to choose from. Just look at all the dots in the Perth area, in this screenshot of the map. Clicking on a dot will bring up the information about the site on file. Can you add to this information?

You might wish to consult the old OS 6inch maps, available online, see here, or here. Or just set out with a camera to find what's there now.

It can be quite a challenge, certainly. There may well be no trace of the place - other than a street name. But even that would be interesting. Many sites are overgrown. Whatever, Lindsay Scotland and Harold Forrester are set to put your photos on the supplementary pages accompanying each entry in the database. Lindsay's email address is on the website here. Make sure you indicate from which direction you took the photo, and any other observations you made on your visit.

Here's a couple of examples of what you might find, based on my own experiences recently. I had been writing about the curlers of Abington, see here, and I wondered where they might have played locally. The Historical Curling Places map site gave me two locations. I checked these out on the old OS 6inch maps, translated the locations to a modern OS 1:25000 map (Explorer 329), packed my camera, and set out to see what I could discover.

The first (Historical place No 0978) was easy to find. The site - the brownish area in the photo above - lies somewhat to the south of Abington village, east of the railway line, map reference: OS NS 933 221. It's been a natural pond, fed by a small stream running down the hillside behind. All overgrown now, and though there's no standing water, it's still a boggy place. I wonder if any of the passengers on the trains coming down the West Coast Main Line are even aware of this historical curling site, in use in the nineteenth century. I'm guessing here, but I suspect it might have been superseded by the man-made pond in the village itself, see below.

At first I thought it had been easy to find where the other Abington pond used to be, just beside the road on the west of the village, near the bowling green which is still in use (Historical place No 2170. Map reference OS NS 930233). It's shown clearly on maps from the close of the nineteenth century, so it must have been played on by this time. But where exactly was the pond? I found a derelict tennis court, which at one time has also been used for five aside football.  The area has been landscaped at some point relatively recently, with a car park.

Next to the old tennis court, the fence of which is on the right, is a flat area which I wondered might just have been the curling pond itself - not a natural pond but perhaps a clay-lined area that could be flooded. There are old steps and railway sleepers set into the bank at the rear of this photo.

It was only when I got home and studied the old maps again in some detail, that I realised that the photo above IS an old bowling green, and the curling pond was behind me, and had become the new bowling green! Fortunately, I did take a photo of the bowling green. So, here it is, the site of the Abington curling pond in the late nineteenth and well into the twentieth century:

This is shown as the 'Curling Pond' in the 1957-1962 Lanarkshire 1:10,560 map, and still as a 'Pond' in the 1980 Lanarkshire 1:2,500 map, which also shows the tennis court and the 'old' bowling green. You can see the general layout of the area as it is now in satellite view on Google maps.

The moral of the story is that it pays to check the location carefully on the old maps before you set out. (As an aside, sometimes the NLS website is slow, or even unavailable. The Old Maps site is often easier to use, and has more maps available.)

What now? Of course, there may be records, or even photos of the Abington rink in use. 1980 is recent enough that perhaps some Abington residents may well remember when their bowling green was a curling pond!

But every curling place will have its own history. Just how often were they used? Are there details in old minute books which show who played and when? There would seem to be no end to the information that's out there waiting to be discovered about our curling heritage.

Could you contribute to building up the information in the curling places project?

PS: Two young New Zealand filmmakers, Rachel Patching and Roland Kahurangi, have made a documentary about outdoor curling in the Naseby area in Central Otago. There's a link to the trailer here, where you might also like to contribute to a fundraising effort to bring the short film to the Edinburgh Film Festival. There's another teaser here. More here.

Photos © Skip Cottage