One of the most eagerly awaited and rarest sporting events in Scotland – a mass curling competition involving 2,000 players on a frozen Highland loch – has been called off because of safety fears.
The Royal Caledonian Curling Club (RCCC) had hoped to stage a “once in a generation” grand match on the frozen surface of the Lake of Menteith, near Stirling, next week, where curlers from across Scotland were to compete on 250 specially created rinks, in the largest tournament of its kind.
The match, or bonspiel, has been staged only three times since 1945. It was cancelled after the police and emergency services ruled it was too dangerous to stage on the Lake of Menteith because of the narrow icy roads, bitter cold and poor access for crowds.
About 20,000 people had been expected from across Scotland. But Colin Grahamslaw, the RCCC’s chief executive, said the logistical and safety problems organising the event in less than a week had proven “insurmountable”.
He said he and the volunteers working to organise the event were “really disappointed” by the decision. “The disappointment is huge and once I get home to breathe tonight – I’ve been constantly on the phone today – I will be gutted,” he said.
The last grand match was staged at the Lake of Menteith in 1979. The loch was taken off the list of approved bonspiel sites some time ago because of problems with local landowners about access, leaving just two other possible sites, at Piper Dam near Dundee and Loch Leven in Fife, which have both been cleared as safe by police.
This winter’s “big freeze”, believed to be the most intense in Scotland for 50 years, presented the club with ideal temperatures and allowed the 7in of ice needed to safely stage a grand match to build up on all three lochs. But at Piper Dam and Loch Leven, the surface is too rough and unstable.
“It’s the wrong kind of ice,” said Grahamslaw. “It’s effectively ice, then snow, then ice.”
The objections of the emergency services and Stirling council made it impossible for the RCCC to get event insurance, the club added in a statement.
“All parties involved will continue to investigate options available to organise such an event at some point in the future, and insure that this iconic spectacle is made possible for the curlers and the public’s safe enjoyment,” it said.