More than 2000 players had been due to play a Grand Match this weekend on the frozen loch for the first time in more than 30 years, but despite the once-in-a-lifetime cold snap, authorities were unable to give clearance for the event to go ahead over health and safety fears.
Those fears centred on the emergency services not being able to gain access to players if they injured themselves or even fell through the ice.
Enthusiasts warned that the ruling could spell the end for one of the sport’s best-loved traditions: the grand match, or bonspiel, which has taken place more than 30 times in the past two centuries when a loch of suitable size freezes over. However, warmer winters and stricter safety controls have forced it off the agenda since the last meeting in 1979.
But this weekend players and fans flocked en masse to the icy Stirlingshire loch to play on regardless.
The maverick winter sports fans say they are paying scant regard to the actions of the “nanny state” and the cancellation of the event announced on Friday.
Players say a chance to enjoy the bonspiel is as rare as hen’s teeth, and many yesterday harked back to the glory days of the 1970s when a more gung-ho attitude held sway over the sport’s governing body.
But just as the modern phenomenon of health and safety forced the cancellation, so too did modern technology help make the breakaway meeting possible.
A group was formed on the social networking site Facebook as a rallying point for those supporting an “unofficial bonspiel”, and founder member David Drysdale issued a message to followers: “Bring your stones, bring your skates if you prefer, or just bring your self. Take heed of the warnings but do it anyway. See you Saturday.”
By yesterday afternoon, more than 2000 people had stepped out on to the ice, which observers say is far thicker than the minimum of seven inches required for curling. Four curling “sheets” had been marked out, and games of ice hockey were set up around the fringes, along with skating rinks.
Ian Fleming, the owner of the Lake Hotel on the edge of the loch, said yesterday’s event -- which will continue today -- was very much in the spirit of the original bonspiels that started in the 19th century. “It’s as we suspected: a lot of people have made individual decisions to come and celebrate the freezing over of the lake for themselves,” he said. “Lots of people are just walking out on to the lake, because it might be the only time in their lives they get to do it.”
Mr Fleming was ice-skating by moonlight at 2am on Saturday morning, and on Friday night curlers turned up with their own set of floodlights to hold a midnight game on the water’s surface.
“It’s absolutely stunning. There’s no question that it’s a bit dangerous, but I’m a big boy and I’ve made my own decision to come here,” he added.
Colin Grahamslaw, chief executive of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, had earlier been left with no choice but to cancel the Grand Match after authorities and emergency services were unable to give their backing. Without permission, insurance could not be bought and the event would have been a liability for the sport’s governing body.
Yesterday, Mr Grahamslaw said he was pleased at the turnout to the unofficial event. “It’s great. What we’re seeing is what you’d hope for on a busy weekend in such a beautiful setting. It’s nice that people have been able to take advantage of that,” he said.
With around 20,000 active players in Scotland, curling is one of the most popular sports in the country. The men’s world champion, Dave Murdoch, is from Scotland, and the national team is ranked number two.
Mr Grahamslaw said Scots would be heading to the Winter Olympics this year “with high hopes”, and that the occasion would throw up lots of opportunities for ordinary people to try out the sport.