Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blue hone on the streets of Glasgow

I asked last month (here) if anyone knew of the connection between Glasgow trams and Ailsa Craig. I thought that was quite a difficult conundrum, but Sandy Morton came back almost immediately with the correct answer. Well done Sandy! (I had not realised until my last visit to the Museum of Transport that one of the trams on display was a No 3. I went to school in Mosspark and, as a wee boy, used the No 3 often. Its terminus was just round the corner from the Mosspark cinema in Paisley Road West, and it ran on its own dedicated lanes alongside Bellahouston Park into Dumbreck. There's lots about Glasgow's tram routes here. But I'm digressing!)

The answer was that Ailsa Craig was one of many sources for the setts (cobbles) that were once a feature of the city's streets. When the tramlines were being lifted in the sixties, Glasgow Corporation were just pleased to get rid of them, and I remember helping my dad build a retaining wall in our garden in Cardonald with a load that was delivered to our house. There is a fascinating thread, with lots of photos, about Glasgow's cobbled streets in the Hidden Glasgow forum here.

I was hunting for the reference to the fact that granite from the Craig was quarried for setts, as well as for curling stones. This led me to watching again this fascinating DVD, produced by the Friends of the McKechnie Institute, a few years ago. It does not appear to be on sale any longer, unfortunately. I did find the reference I was seeking, not on the DVD, but here.

I find Ailsa Craig and its history quite fascinating. The very best photos, in my opinion, are by Davie Law here. Davie kindly let me use one of his pics as the front cover of the very first Scottish Curler issue for which I was the Editor, in October 2002.

You can watch a YouTube video of a sail around Ailsa Craig on the paddle steamer Waverley here. Or you could fly over the island in a simulator here. See the things one does to amuse oneself when one is not well!

I think that most people interested in our sport, whether they play or just watch, will know that modern curling stones run on a disk of Ailsa Craig Blue Hone inserted into the bottom of a new or reconditioned stone, the body being usually of Green (Common) Ailsa, or Welsh Trevor (as in the pic above). There is a Discovery Channel video which shows how the Canada Curling Stone Company make their stones here.

Getting Blue Hone for these inserts, which are sometimes called Ailserts, was not always easy. Kays of Scotland was able to source both Green Ailsa and Blue Hone in a massive operation some eight years ago which involved bringing huge stone boulders off the island in a car ferry. Before that, little boulders, like the one above, had cores cut out of them and sliced to provide inserts. The remains make a fine little garden container! I found this one in a garden centre in Dumfries six years ago.

A couple of years ago, these turned up on Ebay and I purchased a number of them from a seller in North Wales, not far from where stones used to be made there, using rock quarried at Trevor. These were once complete Blue Hone stones. 'Vandalism', was my initial reaction!

Thirty years ago old curling stones used to be very common at auctions and in antique shops throughout Scotland. They are no longer so. There was a story (which I had though to be apocryphal) that, for some years, lots of old stones had been bought up and sent to Canada. Finding these cored out old stones suggested to me a reason why they might have disappeared - to provide inserts for new or reconditioned stones. There seems to be no doubt that old Blue Hone stones have been canabalised in the past, and this practice may be continuing.

This photo appeared on a Canadian blog last year (here). $2 is an amazingly good price I would say. But I wonder if anyone shares my sadness that all these old curling stones have ended their lives by being chopped up.

Still, they do make interesting little containers for the garden - lobelia and Livingstone daisies, if anyone is wondering! And their central cores are presumably plying up and down a rink somewhere in the curling world. New life for old.

So, that was a wee story which began with a tram. I'll end it in the same vein. Was there ever an un-fare station?


  1. I am a 14 years old curling-girl from sweden who recently got an old blue hone-stone which I will restore, keep and sometimes play with :)

  2. That's great to see a young person appreciating a piece of history! Well done, and look after it.