Curling is a game played on ice by rinks or teams, of four players. Each player, alternating with his opposite number in the opposing rink, throws two polished stones weighing 40 pounds to a circular 'house', 12 feet in diameter drawn on the ice at a distance of 42 yards. The game is believed to have originated in Lowland Scotland in the 16th century. Its popularity increased until by the end of the 19th century there was scarcely a village or parish that did not have its curling club. It was a social activity in which men of all ranks could participate without regard to wealth or social status.

It was not until the late 18th century that players organised themselves into formal clubs. Some of these are still in existence, including Coupar Angus and Ketting, Perthshire, 1772; Sanquar, Dumfriesshire, 1774; Blairgowrie, Perthshire, 1784; Douglas, Lanarkshire, 1792; and Sorn, Ayrshire, 1795. 

One of the most influential clubs was the Duddingston Curling Society, founded in 1795 in the outskirts of Edinburgh. Its rules, established in 1804, served as a model for many other clubs and had a strong influence on the conduct of the game all over Scotland. The club numbered among its members James Hogg, 'The Ettrick Shepard', and the Reverend John Ramsay, who wrote the first pamphlet on the game - 'An Account of the Game of Curling', in 1811. In 1802 Duddingston produced the first curling club badge 'to distinguish its members from any other gentlemen'. It also instituted the game of points, a trial of individual skill in the various shots of the game. 

In the 19th century a few clubs distinguished themselves by wearing uniforms. In 1834 it was agreed that members of Abdie Curling Club in Fife should wear a blue coat embellished with sixteen large and eight small embossed brass buttons, and a buff vest. So important was the uniform to them that fines were imposed upon members who failed to wear it on the ice and at social gatherings. As well as the new uniforms players also adopted soft or 'carpet' boots, which replaced the metal crampons that were originally used but which badly cut up the playing surface. 

The Grand Game 

When the Grand (later Royal Caledonian) Curling Club was formed in 1838 one of its purposes was to unite curlers throughout the land into 'one brotherhood of the rink'. This objective was made possible when the introduction of railways and improved roads made travel much easier. The first Grand Curling match between the North and South of Scotland took place on the High Pond at Penicuik in 1847). The second Grand Match was held in 1848 on Linlithgow Loch, below the ancient royal palace. This attracted 6000 curlers and spectators onto the ice and the Royal Club feared a disaster and set about looking for a safer venue. They chose Carsebreck, near Blackford in Perthshire. It afforded 6 acres of ice and the water was no more than six feet deep. Between 1853 and 1935, 25 Grand Matches were played there. The importance of the Grand Match was marked in 1886 by the gift of a magnificent silver trophy for presentation to the leading club. 

The Scottish climate no longer affords spells of frost hard enough or long enough to create the six-inch depth of the ice deemed necessary to support safely 'a whole nation at play'. Since 1935 Grand Matches have taken place on only a few occasions. 

Curling Ponds 

Curling began as an outdoor game, played on frozen loch, river or pond. Its other title 'the roaring game', comes not from the shouts of the players, but from the low muffled roar that a stone makes as it travels over natural, outdoor, water-borne ice. 

Deep lochs ice over sufficiently for curling only after prolonged periods of severe cold. The Penicuik Club, founded in 1815, was fortunate in having two artificial deep-water ponds in the grounds of Penicuik house, the home of the Clarks of Penicuik. These artificial ponds froze more readily. To construct such ponds an area of ground was levelled and surrounded by an embankment. Sluices were constructed to control the flow of water from a convenient nearby loch or burn. Water was allowed into the pond to fill it to the required depth. In the Spring the water could be released, the pond cleared of rushes and the surrounding grass mown. 

In 1845 the 4 curling clubs in  Kilmarnock (which represented over 300 players), Townhead, Kilmarnock Senior, Kilmarnock Junior and Kilmarnock Union, persuaded the Duke of Portland's factor to create a large artificial shallow pond for their use. In the summer months the pond was drained for use as grazing land.  New Farm Loch, as it was called, served as a venue for curlers and skaters for over a hundred years. Players also enjoyed the game at the Kilmarnock Water beneath the Black Rocks in the Kay Park and on other artificial ponds at Bellfield and London Road. Nowadays, however, curling has largely moved indoors, where machine-made ice has made enjoyment of the game a practicality throughout the year. 

Curling today 

From the early 19th century Scots emigrants took their stones and their game to the cooler parts of the globe, principally Canada and the USA. There are now about one million curlers in Canada alone. Curling has also found favour in Switzerland, Sweden and elsewhere in Europe, and is now played in places as far apart as Japan, Israel and Brazil. In 1998 curling became a competitive event in the Winter Olympics, having been a demonstration sport since 1924. In 2002 it the all-woman (all-Scottish) British team, led by Rhona Martin from Dunlop in Ayrshire, won a Gold Medal at the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City. The stones were supplied by Kays of Mauchline. 

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