CURLING. The game of curling may justly be regarded as one of the national amusements of Scotland. It is practised in the winter during the time of frost, and consists in sliding stones along the ice to a particular mark. It has some resemblance to the games of bowls and billiards.
The stones employed in it are made from blocks of whinstone, or granite, of a close texture, free from cracks, and capable of taking a fine polish. They are found in the beds of rivers, and on the seashore; sometimes not far removed from the shape which they are afterwards to assume. They are of a spherical form, flattened above and below, so that their breadth may be nearly equal to twice their thickness. The upper and under surfaces are made parallel to one another, and the angles of both are rounded off. The under surface, or sole, as it is called, is polished as nicely as possible, that the stone may move easily along. Sometimes the sole is hollowed out in the middle, and sometimes it is made a little convex; but that which is peifectly level is unquestionably the best. In many parts of the country there are always a few misshapen blocks employed in the game. These, when well placed by the vigorous arms of those who take the lead, can with difficulty he removed. At Duddingston, however, none are admitted into the game but such as are of a spherical form, and properly made. When thus prepared, a handle is inserted into tiie upper surface, generally ol iron, sometimes of wood, and sometimes also of wood screwed into an iron standard fixed in the stone. They are from thirty to sixty pounds avoirdupois weight, according to the strength of the person who uses them.
The rink (i. e. course or race,) is that portion of the ice which is allotted for conducting the game. The chief thing to be attended to in choosing a rink, is, that the ice be level, smooth, and free from cracks, particularly such as are in a longitudinal or oblique direction. If it be not level, the stones naturally deviate from their proper course, and the game becomes in a great measure a game of chance. The place for the rink being chosen, a mark is made at each end, called a tee, toesee, or neitter. It is a small hole made in the ice, round which two circles of different diameters are drawn, that the relative distances of the stones from the tee may be calculated at sight, as actuul measurement is not permitted till the playing at each end be finished. These circles, in the technical language of the game, are called the broughs. A score is then drawn across the rink at each end, distant from the tee about a sixth part of the length ol the rink. This is called the hpgscore, and those stones which do not pass that line are, as it were, distanced, and thrown aside as useless. It is frequently made waving, to distinguish it from any accidental scratch. The length of the rink varies from thirty to fifty yards, according to the intensity of the frost, and the smoothness of the ice. The breadth is about ten or twelve feet. When the ice is covered with snow it must be cleared to that extent, and also ten or twelve feet beyond the tee, at each end, that those stones which are impelled with too much force, may have room to get far enough not to be of any use.
Formerly, that the players might be able to stand firm, when they threw the stones, they used to wear crampits, which are flat pieces of iron, with four sharp spikes below. They are bound to the sole of the shoe with a strap and buckle. But as the use of crampits is now very much laid aside, a longitudinal hollow is made to support the foot, close by the tee, and at right angles with a line drawn from the one end of the rink to the other. This is called a hack, or hatch. Its situation is such, that, when discharging his stone, the player lifts it up and makes it pass over the tee. There are generally sixteen stones on a rink, each party having eight. At Duddingston, and the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, each player uses two stones, so that there are eight players on each rink, four against four. But in most other parts of the country the curlers have only one stone each; in which case there are sixteen on a rink, eight against eight. There may be one or more rinks, according to the numbers of curlers. In some great matches, in which different parishes contend with one another, no less than six rinks have been engaged at once. The game may also be conducted by one person against another, by two against two, or three against three, each using one or more stones, as may be agreed upon.
He who is reckoned the best curler, has generally the power of arranging the order of the game; and whoever is last in order gives directions to all the rest of his party. He is called the driver, and the first the lead. The origin of which appellations is sufficiently obvious. It is necessary, too, that each curler be provided with a broom, in order to sweep away any thing on the ice that may impede the progress of the stone.
At first the game is remarkably simple. The lead endeavours to lay his stone as near the tee as possible. If it be a little short of it, upon the middle of the rink, it is reckoned to be fully better laid than if it touched it. The object of the next in order is nearly the same as that of the lead. When he attempts to strike away the stone of his antagonist, if he miss his aim, his stone will pass by, and be completely useless. But if he place his stone near the tee, without minding that of his antagonist, it has a chance of remaining there, and gaining a shot to his party. The object of the next in order is to guard the stone of his partner, or to strike off that of his antagonist. The one who follows, if a stone belonging to his own party be nearest the tee, attempts to guard it; if one of the opposite party, to strike it off, or to make the stone rest as near the tee as possible, if no stone be near the tee.
As the game advances it becomes always more intricate. Sometimes the stone nearest the tee, which is called the winner, is so guarded that there is no possibility of getting at it directly. It then becomes necessary, in order to get it removed, to strike another stone lying at the side, in an oblique direction. This is one of the nicest parts of the game. But when the winner cannot be reached, even in this way, the last in order but one or two must then endeavour to remove the opposing stones, by striking them with great force. If each curler use two stones, the driver may clear the ice with his first stone, in order to get at the winner with his last. Sometimes the stones are situated in such a critical manner, that the driver, to avoid the risk of losing any shots which his party may have gained, throws away his stone without attempting any thing.
When the stones on both sides have been all played, the one nearest the tee counts one; and if the second, third, fourth, &c. belong to the same side, all these count so many shots; thirty-one of which, for each side, is the number usually played for.
From many concurring circumstances, there is a very strong probability that the game of curling was introduced into this country by the Flemings, in the fifteenth, or about the beginning of the sixteenth century. It is well known, that in the reigns of Henry V. and VI. of England, and James I. of Scotland, many of them came over to this country, and settled as mechanics and manufacturers in our towns and villages, which had been much depopulated during the destructive wars betwixt the two kingdoms. Then, however, it must have been in a very imperfect state, and probably had a nearer resemblance to the game of quoits.
Curling is said to have been carried into Ireland by the Scottish colonies who were planted there, so early as the reign of James I. of England. In that country, however, it seems now to be completely unknown. It has made its appearance in some of the northern counties of England; and, within these few years, has even found its way to the capital of the British empire. There, the first essay was made upon the New River; but. the crowd of spectators, attracted by such a novel spectacle, becoming very great, the ice threatened to give way, and the curlers were, with reluctance, compelled to desist. It has not been confined within the boundaries of Europe; but has been carried over the Atlantic, and established in the colder regions of North America.— This information was communicated by a gentleman who was himself engaged in curling at Quebec. There, on account of the length and severity of the winter, it bids fair to attain a degree of celebrity unexampled in the milder climate of Scotland.
Pennant, in his Tour in Scotland, in 1792, thus describes the game :— " Of all the sports of these parts, that of curling is a favourite, and one unknown in England. It is an amusement of the winter, and played
on the ice, by sliding from one mark to another great stones of 401bs. to 701bs. weight, of an hemispherical form, with an iron or wooden handle at top. The object of the player is to lay his stone as near the mark as possible, to guard that of his partner which had been well laid before, or to strike off that of his antagonist."
Curling has never been universal in Scotland. But in some places where it once was, it is now no more ; while in others, it is flourishing as much as it ever did at any former period. And, in many parishes, the number of players is double of what it was half a century ago. When the nobility resided upon their estates in add Scotia, it was one of their favourite amusements. A challenge was sent from one baron to another, to engage in a match with their respective tenants. The gentry still partake of this interesting amusement. Matches are made up in a great variety of ways. One parish challenges another to contend with them upon some pond, or lake, or river, in the neighbourhood. And when the same parishes contend more than once, the conquerors in the last contest have generally the privilege of choosing the place where they are to play next. Sometimes one part of a parish challenges another, or the married men those who are unmarried. Some districts, too, have long been distinguished for their dexterity in the art, and at present, perhaps, none more so than the upper and middle wards of Lanarkshire, and certain parts of Dumfries-shire.
There are few amusements which excite more interest than the game of curling. In the severest weather, a good curler, while engaged in his favourite amusement, feels no cold. It must, therefore, be highly conducive to health ; and being performed at a time when the labours of the field are at a stand, and when several mechanical employments cannot be carried on, it gives little interruption to business ; it brings men together in social intercourse; it enlarges and strengthens the ties of friendship, and enlivens the dreary hours of winter with festivity and happiness.
Harewood, Harry. A Dictionary of Sports. London: T. Tegg and son, 1835.
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