Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Curling on Murder Loch?

Earlier this year, many of us enjoyed the opportunity to play outside. Of course, for perhaps three hundred years, Scottish curlers were entirely dependent on the availability of ice on lochs and ponds for their enjoyment of the sport of curling.

David B Smith compiled a list of places where curling was known to have taken place. I've talked before about the project to map these sites, see here. Since then, Lindsay Scotland's work has continued apace, with the help of enthusiastic volunteers. Harold Forrester is one such. I talked to him a couple of months back, and was impressed by the way things are developing.

You can find out more about the project here, and this is the best place to start to access the map. There is an email address for you to forward any knowledge you may have of historical curling places that are not listed, or if you have further information about places that are.

Zooming in on the Curling Places map shows each site with a little flag.

Clicking on the flag brings up a little information about each place. That in itself is fascinating, but now there is the possibilty to link to other information.

For example, the info banner for the Eskrigg pond near Lockerbie above has an additional hot link to 'more info from website'.

Clicking on that link takes you to an old map showing clearly where the pond was. There is opportunity to include other items such as photos of what the area looks like now.

In an email at the end of last month Lindsay advised that there are 2387 places on the list! Of these: 1590 have been found precisely (615 of these now have web pages with pictures/old maps). Found, but imprecise are 565 (73 of these now have web pages with pictures/old maps). Unfound: 232.

I've done what David, Lindsay and Harold want everyone to do - go out and look at the places on the map near where they live. For me, that should have been easy. There is only one flag locally indicating curling in Wamphray. The reference is from the Glasgow Herald in 1881, when curlers from Kirkpatrick-Juxta played against those from Hutton.

Knowing my local area quite well, I realised immediately there was a problem, as there is no 'loch at Wamphray' anywhere near the flag, which has been placed where the name Wamphray falls on the Google map. Wamphray is not a specific place, it is a large parish with an area of 53.3 sq km (20.5 sq miles). I know of one other reference to curlers from Wamphray venturing forth to play, and over the past weeks I've been wondering just where, in the nineteenth century, they had their local pond.

I wonder if I've found it.

The clue comes from the Glasgow Herald reference above, which refers to an inter-parish competition. Wamphray has five neighbouring parishes; namely Applegarth and Sibbaldbie, Hutton and Corrie, Johnstone, Kirkpatrick-Juxta and Moffat. As you can see from the old parish map of Dumfriesshire above, Kirkpatrick-Juxta is to the north and west, and Hutton and Corrie to the east and south. If curlers from these two parishes were due to compete against each other it makes sense for them to meet on 'neutral' ground - and Wamphray lies between the two.

It would also make sense if the venue was easily accessible. And here, where the old road from Moffat meets the road from Lockerbie, there are ruins of what I am told used to be an inn.

Beside the crossroads (and the ruins of the inn) is a natural pond, now much overgrown. It is shown on the earliest OS six-inch map of the area, dating from the mid nineteenth century. It is served by a little burn, and drains to the River Annan not far off. Even now, it could easily accommodate a couple of rinks.

So, could this have been where curlers from Wamphray and surrounding parishes met in the 1800s? We may never know for sure, but I am persuaded by the neighbouring inn!

What is perhaps even more interesting is the name of this pond. In the earliest of maps, and right up until today, it is known as Murder Loch!

Top photo is from Coodham in January © Skip Cottage.