Curling stones and scout huts


Sometimes, something you watch on television triggers a latent memory; curling stones, a gang hut and Tommy Green’s Scout Hut. It all came back to me as I watched the brilliant and informative television programme “Great British Train Journeys” in which Michael Portillo follows the train routes described in a Victorian travel book called Bradshaw’s Guide. During one episode Portillo travels through Ayrshire and, during the journey, visits a company called Kay’s of Scotland in the village of Mauchline. They craft curling stones from Ailsa Craig granite. It is the curling stones that trigger the memory.

As I watch a lump of granite being transformed into a highly polished stone my mind drifts to the late 1950s. A particular summer holiday, when our gang had chosen Melville Woods as the location for our sphere of activities. Activities that usually meant that we could not return to the previous years haunt.

Most mornings that summer, we would walk past Bonnyrigg Golf Club clubhouse, located at the end of the appropriately named Golf Course Road. Then we would furtively cross the fairways to reach the road that bisected the course. If there were golfers around we would amuse ourselves by hiding behind the walls that separated this road from the course, loudly shout “Fore!” and watch the golfers duck or scuff their drives. Followed by the angry shouts of the annoyed golfers we would run to the end of the road, cross Melville Dykes Road and climb over the wall into the fields that lay sprawled above the woods. Just over the wall there was a strange tip of spoils; soil and rocks from some unknown excavation. Strangely, amongst this heap there were fossils, rocks with the imprint of bark or plant fronds. Some were small and could be taken home to show our parents, others were too large to move.

The fields sloped down to the edge of the woods which was where we located our gang hut, a shelter of sorts, among the trees and undergrowth, hidden from prying eyes and hopefully the estate gamekeeper. As we explored our new domain we discovered, at the bottom of the wooded slope, a rectangular pond, the estate curling pond. Each winter, before the decline of the great country houses, the residents of Melville Castle would have skimmed curling stones across the ice, with servants, in clouds of breath, frantically brushing the ice in front of the stones. But we didn’t skim the curling stones, we rolled them.

Near the curling pond, there was the ruin of a shed. This was where the curling stones and other equipment had been, and still were, stored. Abandoned. To amuse ourselves we would carry the heavy curling stones up through the woods, then set them rolling down the steep incline, crashing noisily through the undergrowth, bouncing from tree to tree with dull thuds, to finally to enter the pond with an almighty splash.

A few years later, as a Boy Scout, and marginally a more responsible person, I would stand at the edge of the curling pond and wonder at the piles of curling stones that must have littered the bottom of the pool. It was now the early 60s and the flat area at the side of the pond was to be the site of Tommy Green’s dream. Tommy was our Scout Master, and his dream was to build an adventure centre in the woods. An ambitious project, the hut was to be constructed with brick walls and traditional pitched roof.

My only recall of this time was how some of us were sent to Rosewell, where Tommy had sourced, scrounged to be exact, bricks. A farmer, probably the same farmer who would transport us to scout camps in a cattle truck, provided a tractor and trailer to collect the bricks. We travelled to Rosewell sat, bouncing about in the trailer, then loaded the bricks, and sat, uncomfortably, on top of the pile, all the way back. Every jolt and bump driving the sharp edges of the bricks into our arses, the pain imprinted on our minds.

Sadly, the building didn’t go beyond the foundations and a few courses of bricks. Tommy Green’s ambitious dream had faded away. But the foundations will still be there, which along with the fossils in the nearby tip will baffle future archaeologists and historians.

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