About 500 years ago the Scots invented the winter sport of curling, which involves propelling really heavy lumps of stone across an icy surface. This was shortly after Scotland had given birth to golf, a pursuit where players use a stick to chase a ball over uneven terrain to a small distant hole in the ground. Then there is tossing the caber – throwing tree trunks into the air. Let’s just say that the Scots are good at making up strange games.
The earliest definitive curling stone dates from 1511. The first report of a match, involving monks at Paisley Abbey, was written in 1541. Stones can weigh nearly 2kg, but brute force is not involved. It’s about measured propulsion and the precise calculation of a curved trajectory. Vigorous brushing of the ice is required to control the speed and degree of curl. Curling is known as the roaring game, from the sound created by the glide of the smooth granite stones. It has been nicknamed ‘chess on ice’, as an important aspect of play is the removal of opposing teams’ stones from the target area of concentric circles.
The sport is played at more than 2,500 locations across Scotland, with many towns and villages having curling ponds. A bonspiel, or grand match, took place when a suitable lake froze over sufficiently for thousands of curlers to congregate, compete, and have a social sip of whisky. But Scotland's winters are no longer cold enough, and there has not been a bonspiel for nearly 40 years.
Curling is still hugely popular but is now played mainly indoors. The ice rink at Braehead is a modern venue where players of all ages hone their skills, and newcomers can have their first taste of this cool sport, with coaching on hand. Curling is a Winter Olympics sport in which Scottish teams still win gold medals, albeit under the flag of Team GB. Eve Muirhead, who coaches at Braehead, is one of the world’s leading players.