Some like it cauld!

Article in the Konect Directory, Calders edition, February 2010

by Helen-Jane Shearer

“This year we have been specially favoured with a settled frost which has lasted five weeks, with only a slight break.”

So reported the Courrier in January 1879, in anticipation of a curling match between Edinburgh and Linlithgowshire on the Boghead Pond, Bathgate.  The article bemoans the fact that the winters have recently been too mild for this event to take place : For the last few years, this great event of the curling season has rarely been thoroughly successful, Johnny Frost has been more than unusually fickle, and generally managed to take his departure before the contest could be carried through.”

The temperature this year reached -9°c here, and some of us felt very sorry for ourselves when our pipes were briefly frozen.  But this temperature would have been normal for this area 150 years ago.  John Sommers, in his account of the Parish of Mid Calder in 1838, describes the weather in the area as follows:  “The extreme point of heat to which the thermometer attains is 89 (31°c) in June; and the lowest, 10 (-12°c)  in January, on an average of 8 years.”  So taking the lowest winter temperature for 8 years, it averaged out at -12°c.  And they didn’t have central heating then either! 

 So curling was a great outdoor sport and an important part of social life during the winter months.  The sport has a long history in the area, and Kirknewton, Mid Calder and West Calder all had clubs, dating from 1825, 1838 and 1823 respectively.  The Edinburgh vs Linlithgowshire match referred to above was the great event of the season. The first one took place during the winter of 1842-43.  At this time, it was held on ponds in Mid Calder and Pumpherston.  

A total of 40 rinks (teams) played on Lord Torphichen’s Pond, Raw Pond, Buchan Pond, Pumpherston Pond and Houston Pond.  The Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club reported  “At an early hour in the morning coaches, gigs, cabs and vehicles of every description were to be seen moving to the field of action, and by nine o’clock Mid Calder presented a scene of the greatest animation and interest, which will not be soon forgot by those who witnessed it.’’

Curling in Bathgate circa 1900

Curling in Bathgate circa 1900 

For anyone involved in curling today, the prolonged cold snap this winter was good news - and almost allowed the first Grand Match since 1979 to take place.  The Grand Match refers to a match between the North and South of Scotland.  It has never been a regular event because of the conditions needed  (7” of ice) and there have been only 33 outdoors Grand Matches in the last 150 years - and  only three of these since WWII (1959, 1963 and 1979).  The proposed 2010 match on the Lake of Mentiet (Perthshire) was cancelled due to health and safety concerns. 

Reliably very cold and snowy winters finished around 1850 in Scotland, with the end of the Little Ice Age.  Thereafter winters became progressively milder and deep freezes less common.

The icicle  pictured above formed at the overflow from Lins Mill aquaduct and reached the River Almond below in February 1895. 

In the bad winter of 1947, 15ft snowdrifts were seen at West Mains Colliery.  The weather that year also ruined many houses at Woodmuir Village, Breich.

© Lothian Publications Ltd