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To Ailsa Rock

At the Beijing's Winter Olympics 2022, teams from 14 countries will once again compete in one of the odder sports played on ice. Curling involves players sliding curling stones (or rocks) across the ice (or curling sheet), a process that involves great skill but leaves some spectators of the more dynamic winter sports cold. The raw material to make these unwieldy stones, weighing between 17 and 20 kgs, is almost exclusively derived from Ailsa Craig, a tiny uninhabited rocky island in the Firth of Clyde southwest of Glasgow. The island, which has been owned by the same family for almost 500 years, was put up for sale in 2011 but, despite various rumours of its sale to an environmental trust or the Scottish government, it remains the property of David Thomas Kennedy, 9th Marquess of Ailsa and Clan Chief of Clan Kennedy.

Serenaded by John Keats as a 'craggy ocean pyramid', the island has a fresh water spring but no electricity, gas or telephone connection and no arable land.
Its unique microgranite, known as Ailsite, has been quarried here since the mid 19th century and was the source of the curling stone used by Rhona Martin, the Scottish champion who won the women's gold medal at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City in 2002, the first gold medal won by a British athlete at the Winter Games in 18 years. With the Games in Beijing focusing attention on this idiosyncratic sport again, British winter sports fans will be looking to the curlers to bring back medals.

The last 'harvest' of rock from the island was in 2013 when around 2,000 tonnes were shipped to the mainland and taken to Kays of Scotland, a company that has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to Ailsa's granite. Skilled craftsmen cut, spin and polish the water-resistant microgranite to minutely detailed specifications. According to Kays website, 'all curling stones used at Olympic Events are sanctioned by the Olympic Committee and are manufactured and supplied by Kays Curling.'

Though no buyers were found for the island when it was last put up for sale the marquess, who lives locally and likes to have a quiet pint or two in the local pub, maintains that even if he sells the island, 'it's not going anywhere. It's always going to be there, and it really doesn't matter who owns it.' As for its Olympic pedigree, the marquess is blunt. Curling is 'the boringest game you can ever watch.'
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