Ailsa's granite rocks the curling world to its roots

IN THE canon of Scottish exports to the USA, it is a fair bet that whisky would win the vote as the premier merchandise.

But by this weekend a consignment of stone from Ailsa Craig will have made its way to Bismarck, North Dakota.

The tiny volcanic island, 11 miles off the Scottish coast - known as Paddy’s milestone because it is equidistant between Ireland and the Broomielaw in Glasgow, where thousands of 19th century immigrants disembarked - is equally famous for its rocks, the common Ailsa and blue hone granite, considered perfect for curling stones.

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When Rhona Martin of Great Britain delivered her last "rock" - Stone No 1829 - to win the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics, it was an Ailsa stone manufactured by Kays of Mauchline, which owns rights to the island’s granite.

The Ayrshire company’s chief executive, Donald Macrae, was in Bismarck ND yesterday clinching a 30,000 deal for his company, which employs eight people.

The Capital Curling Club of Bismarck, one of the world’s top venues for international competition, wants to replace its stones for the first time since it was founded, and they want Kays’ stones to replace the original Kays’ stones.

Last year, Kays mounted an expedition to the island to retrieve 1,500 tons of fallen granite, in anticipation of a revival of the game after the Olympic triumph.

In Ayrshire yesterday, James Wylie, whose grandfather took over the original Kays more than a century ago, said: "We’re hopeful the deal will be done and Donald is there now.

"Our stones are going all over the world as a result of our supplying the World Curling Federation and the increased interest in curling."

In Bismarck, Jon Mielke of the Capital Club, added: "We were thinking after the Worlds (championship) about buying ourselves something special.

"New stones would get us in position to host future world championships."

New Kays’ stones are reversible, with one side for club use and the other for tournaments. Blue hone granite is extraordinarily dense and is superior to other granite because it resists water penetration.

Mr Macrae said new stones could last a club up to 40 years and he added: "It’s unfortunate as a manufacturer that they last so long, but this new crop of stones is an opportunity for us to renew customer relations in North America and to help grow the game."

Ms Martin secured Britain’s first Winter Olympics gold medal for 18 years with victory in an incredibly tense final in February last year.

The team were the first British Winter Games gold medallists since Torvill and Dean back in 1984.

North Dakota is known as the Peace Garden State because the International Peace Garden straddles the international boundary between North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba. The nickname can be found on car registration plates throughout the state.