Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

Tale sends shivers down spine

March 3rd, 2018

017SO OFTEN the weather has the last word. Last week I was counting the days till spring arrived and this week the Beast from the East blew in and turned things upside down.

The Doyenne and I have kept ourselves cosied up in our wee hoose and I’ve filled the bird feeders each morning to keep the resident garden birdlife well fed. It can be a fine line between life and death for the small songbirds if they can’t get enough to eat during the day to maintain body heat throughout the bitter cold nights.

When the hard weather came I put out the nesting boxes as roosting boxes for the small tits and finches. Anything we do to help vulnerable species now will be repaid with the pleasure we’ll get in spring when the birds nest and hatch the next generations.

Three weeks ago I wrote about outdoor curling on Duns Dish, near House of Dun at Montrose. Curling – but indoors – has been very much in the news during the Winter Olympics. Disappointingly neither the British men’s rink nor the women’s rink – although they missed by a whisker which is no consolation – came home with a medal.

Forgotten curling pond
It all put me in mind to look for the old curling pond shown on the map beside Duns Dish. It wasn’t easy to find, quite hidden in old, wilderness woodland. Underfoot was wet and spongy with the water table just below the surface. Old trees, blown over in long forgotten gales, littered the woodland floor, moss covered trunks gleaming dully in weak sunshine – it was all quite atmospheric.

The curling pond is hopelessly overgrown and quite unplayable now. It’s edges are still well defined and there would have been four rinks for curlers when it was in use. They must have played there for many years for they built a substantial members’ hut which is in poor repair too. There was a wood burning stove to sit around and keep out the chill, and round the walls are compartments for members’ curling stones. And it’s easy to imagine that many a dram slipped effortlessly down to help sustain their endeavours.

I presume, but I haven’t been able to confirm it yet, that this was the original outdoor rink for Dun Curling Club which the Doyenne and I were both members of for many years. In our time the club was very much associated with Dun House which had become a hotel. At the time the curling club originated Dun House was a private house where my favourite Montrose poet, Violet Jacob, was brought up.

A map on the website of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the mother club of all Scottish curlers, identifies the location of over 2500 local, outdoor curling ponds – and these are the ones that are known. Before there were indoor ice rinks, when transport was by pony and trap or Shank’s pony, Scotland’s ‘ain game’ flourished at a local level encouraged by local enthusiasts.

As indoor curling became popular the old ponds, with few exceptions, were left to the whims of nature, or were drained, or otherwise have been lost. Climate change in recent decades resulting in mild, open, winters would have been the death of them anyway.

My hometown of Montrose had two curling ponds. The appropriately named Curlie, almost completely overgrown, sits on the edge of the Broomfield Golf Course. In the glory days of the 1940s and 1950s, when winters were hard and the Curlie froze, it was pretty lively round there. I don’t remember any curling but I do recall wild games of free-for-all ice hockey.

The long-defunct Montrose Curling Club played the roarin’ game on the Mary Loch, at Little Mill on the outskirts of the town, on the Brechin road. It was drained in the 1920s and no trace of it remains now.

Thrawn Scots
There has long been debate about the origins of curling and I’ve heard it suggested that it originated in Holland where boulders were thrown along frozen canals. Not a bit of it – only a thrawn old Scotsman could have conceived such a frustrating game! Along with golf, Scotland’s gift to the sporting world.

An independent-minded – thrawn you might even say – lady member of Dun Club used to play very much by her own rules. When you throw a curling stone you should aim for the broom held by your skip (team captain) at the far end of the rink, who ‘gives you the ice’. Her response when upbraided by her skip for not ‘playing to the broom’, used to be – “I dinna bather wi’ him. I aye just taks my ain ice”!

My ever helpful Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language describes curling as a diversion. Diversion indeed – when your birse is up and you think you can best your opposing rink it’s the winning, not diversion, that’s uppermost in your mind.

Just shows how a wander in the wild wood can take you a wander down memory lane.

Written on Saturday, March 3rd, 2018 at 12:08 pm for Weekly.