Curling in and around Dunkeld
Curling is at heart a Scottish game, known as the “Roarin’ Game” due to the sound of the stones sliding over the top of the ice. The heavy granite stones are now uniformed in size and shape but in the very beginning they varied in size and shape from around 6.8kg all the way up to around 50kg. (The origins of curling can be traced back to at least the 16th century Scotland where there is evidence of games being played on frozen lochs and ponds in winter). The earliest dated curling stone which has been found is from 1511 and is on display in the Smith Stirling Museum, there is also written evidence available in Latin by John McQuin a local notary from Paisley who recorded a challenge between John Sclater, a monk from the local abbey, and Gavin Hamilton a local man. He recorded that John Sclater took three practice throws upon the ice and then the challenge began.
Artificial rinks were constructed from the beginning of the 19th century due to the dangers posed by thin or melting ice over open lochs as well as mild winters resulting in insufficiently frozen waters meaning that no curling could be played! These issues eventually required the creation of artificial curling ponds, an artificial pond could provide sufficient ice for a day of curling with just a hard frost as they only required a small amount of water to freeze solid across the ground allowing for local curlers, both from clubs and casual players to enjoy a game without having to test if their curling stones would be lost to the bottom of the loch or pond (as well as saving themselves from an unexpected dip!).
Painting of Curling at Polney loch by William Evans. Used with The Kind permission of the Scottish curling trust, link can be found here.
In the minutes of curling clubs we see lots of records of challenges set for interclub games such as those recorded in the Clunie curling club which are currently on loan within the Dunkeld Archive. The Clunie Curling Club was founded in 1825 and regularly held matches during the winter between their married and Batchelor members. These matches were punctuated with interclub matches. After some of these matches there records of meetings being held the next day in which members of the club were ejected with immediate effect due to poor conduct, this is perhaps in part due to the large amounts of “Hot toddy” and post-match whisky which was regularly consumed leading to some less than gentlemanly conduct. There seems to be a story within the banning of a Mr Donald Scott, after an inter club game between Dunkeld and Clunie, Dunkeld verbally challenged Clunie to another match the next day. Some mishaps must have unfolded as the next meeting of the club was to discuss the,
“Uncalled for annoyance and disturbance repeatedly given by Donald Scott to the club as well as his irregular conduct in many respects, it was moved, seconded and agreed to that he should be expelled (from) the club, and was accordingly declared to be no longer a member”.
Surprisingly over the years, a good few members seem to have been removed from the club for bad behaviour!
A transcription of a challenge between Clunie and Dunkeld.
Clunie 29th December 1830
A challenge having been given by the Dunkeld Curling Club for “Beef V Greens” to members, and twelve Shillings to Poor of Parish of the gaining party-. A match was played this day at Clunie, with members of Dunkeld Club 12 on each side.- Two rinks – 6 on each rink. – 1st Rink , Clunie 23.- Dunkeld 2. – 2Nd rink – Clunie 8. Dunkeld 7.- When Dunkeld gave in. The bet was afterwards settled at Forneth House, when a verbal challenge was given by Dunkeld club for another match, the terms of which to be settled by a committee to meet at Dunkeld on 1st January next.-
Clunie 1st January 1831
Three of the members of the vist” mefrs James Leake, Donald Scott, and Thomas Leake, went to Dunkeld today by appointment for the purpose of settling the verbal challenge given on the 29th of December last. Thomas Leake reported to the meeting that the Dunkeld Club declines at present to meet the Clunie Club.
Tuesday next being the day fixed for the annual meeting of the club it was resolved that the members dine in James Millars Inn Clunie, on that day at 4 o’clock afternoon.-
It was agreed that the medal be played for on Tuesday first.- The members to meet on the ice (weather permitting) at 11 o’clock forenoon, and if time will permit a game to be played between the married men and Bachelors, after the medal is decided.- 13 to be game.-
Dunkeld also had a thriving social scene to accompany their curling. There is lots of reference to curling club dinners as well as days out being made to attend curling matches. Until fairly recently (1950/60s onwards) curling seems to have been a predominately male sport but lots of ladies seem to have been involved in the social aspect of curling life and now lots of ladies are involved in the sport of curling itself!
The Scottish Curling trust have kindly allowed us to use some of their collection within this online exhibition. They have a wonderful copy of a Dunkeld Curling club dinner menu from march 1909 which shows the Dunkeld curling club uniforms! These uniforms were used by the curling club from the late 19th into the 20th century. Their last documented use seems to have been at the grand match (Bonspeil) at the Lake of Menteith in 1979. We have been told that in order to wear these uniforms which had been out of action for a considerable time, attics were raided and even one scarecrow was stripped of his clothes in order to gather the uniforms. The Dunkeld Archive now holds one of these uniforms belonging to a Peter Cameron.
Left – Curling Club uniform jacket belonging to Peter Cameron. Late 19th to early 20th Century.
Right – Curling club 1909 dinner menu March 1909. Copied with kind permission of the Scottish Curling trust, original can be found via this link.
1. Curling Dinner (date unknown but pre-1975). 2001.0349
2. Group in Dunkeld Curling Club Uniform. Date unknown. 2001.0350
3. Curling Game in Progress Polney loch. 1960’s. 2001.0351
4. Match in Progress Polney loch, 1953. 2001.0352
5. Match at Polney, Date Unknown. 2001.0354
6. Match at Polney, Date Unknown. 2001.0354
7. Margaret Henry Dispensing from the “Kettle” at Polney Loch. Date Unknown. 2001.0355
8. Match at Loch of the Lowes 1963. 2001.0356
9. Atholl Curling team, November 1953. 2001.0397
10. Group on the ice at Polney, Date Unknown. 2001.0398
11.Irvine Hughes and J.B. Henry at the Loch of the Lowes, 1963. 2001.0399
12.”Mrs.J.B.Henry rings the bell for lunch at the Atholl Province Bonspiel held on Polney Loch….Mrs. D.McDougall looks on”. 2001.0400
13.Margaret McDougall Curling on Polney Loch. 2001.0401
14. “A general view at Polney Loch….when the Atholl Province held their bonspiel” , Date Unknown, 2001.0402
15. Group of Dunkeld Curlers about to Board bus for away match. Date Unknown. 2001.0403
Large outdoor curling matches have been popular across Scotland since the medieval period and were known as Bonspiels. These open air challenges were common place until the introduction of indoor ice rinks. The last outdoor bonspiel was held at the lake of Menteith in 1979, due to weather changes conditions are rarely suitable these days for curling to take place outdoors in Scotland. The Dunkeld Curling club were spotted at this event in part thanks to their very memorable Atholl Bonnets. At this point the Dunkeld Club were no longer wearing their eye catching Navy and red jackets with matching Murray Tartan trousers but they seem to have retained at least part of the tradition by wearing their bonnets.
The National Library of Scotland moving image archive has a recording of the Grand Match in 1979 which is avaliable to view via this link.
The Scottish curling trust has helpfuly compiled an ever growing map and list of Scottish Curling places, this map has now grown to cover parts of England and wales also! It is an excellent resource to see where curling happened historically within your local area! It can be acessed via this link.
Curling Places in Birnam and Dunkeld and Surrounding areas.
Curling has began to regain some popularity over the past few years and Perthshire has remained a hub of activity. Curling is internationally popular and is played worldwide, it is also now one of the winter Olympic sports! The last skip (which is curling team captain) for the 2022 Beijing winter Olympics was Eve Muirhead who previously played for the Dunkeld and Pitlochry Curling Clubs, Eve helped lead the team to their gold medal win, what an achievement!