All that talk of bowling greens in the previous article increased my curiosity about the sport of bowls (or lawn bowls) in general. It’s similar to a family of Continental lawn bowling games including Bocce and Pétanque and it spread wherever the British Empire extended. I’m not sure why I didn’t discover Bowls a couple of years ago when I tracked down Sports Facilities I Never Imagined because it would have fit in perfectly with that theme.
The Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association provided a good concise explanation of the sport.
The game of Bowls is played on a 34 to 40M square of closely cut grass called the green. The green is divided into playing areas called rinks. The green is surrounded by a small ditch to catch bowls which leave the green, and a bank upon which markers indicate the corners and centrelines of each rink. Players deliver their bowls alternately from a mat at one end of the rink, towards a small white ball called the jack at the other end. The bowls are shaped so that they do not run in a straight line, but take a curved path towards the jack… the objective of the game is to get one or more bowls closer to the jack than those of the opposition – one point is scored for each counting bowl.
The World Bowls Board oversees the sport, setting laws and regulations for "55 member National Authorities in 51 Member Nations." The Board governs Bowls from its location in Rutland Square, Edinburgh, Scotland. I drilled-in to the address using satellite view and noticed a verdant lawn at the square. I thought that would be a wonderfully appropriate spot for a bowling green. Apparently the managers of the World Bowls Board thought the same because…
World Bowls Headquarters, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
via Google Street View, March 2010
… someone had to erect a "No Ball Games" sign in the square. That was amusing. Imagine those hellions at the World Bowls Board running amok on Rutland Square during their lunchtime, with unsanctioned pickup matches, unruly ball rolling and bothering the pigeons and such. I bet they still sneak-in matches when the authorities look the other way.
Bowls is a significant sport in several nations, and World Bowls is justifiably proud that Bowls is "a core sport in the Commonwealth Games." At the upcoming 2014 Games in Glasgow,
Athletes will compete for eight Gold medals across the men’s and women’s singles, pairs, triples and fours, beginning with a round robin format before knockout finals determine the medal winners. Set in one of Glasgow’s most famous parks, the Lawn Bowls competition will take place at the picturesque Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, adjacent to the renowned Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
The Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre has six, count them SIX, bowling greens, with at least five of them upgraded to international standard.
The Oldest Bowling Green
Southampton (Old) Bowling Green, Southampton, England, UK
via Google Street View, June 2012
The oldest surviving bowling green is believed to be the Southampton (Old) Bowling Green in England. This green has been in continuous use since 1299. I guess I’ll have to take that on faith because "everybody" in the sport said it was true and the history page on the club’s website was down. Nonetheless I was more fortunate with I drilled down to Lower Canal Walk in Southampton using Google Street View. There I observed and captured an image of club members in action. It may not be possible for me to confirm that anyone played at Southampton in 1299, however Google proved that matches took place in June 2012.
Bowls in the United States
Bowls certainly had devoted fans in the United States even if it didn’t have quite the same recognition as found in the UK. Bowls USA governs the sport across an extensive list of Divisions and Clubs.
Leisure World, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
I found the club closest to my residence. It turned out to be located at Leisure World of Maryland, "a private, age-restricted community." I guess I’ll have to defer my dreams of Bowls glory awhile longer. That seemed to be a recurring theme in the United States. Twelve clubs existed in Florida while none existed in huge swaths of the Midwest. Bowls seemed to skew towards an older demographic.
Most Isolated Green?
Murray Barracks Bowling Green, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
I examined the list of international member countries recognized by World Bowls to locate the most isolated bowling green. I probably could have selected any one of several South Pacific islands. Instead I chose to focus on Papua New Guinea for no particular reason other than it seemed improbable. Instead, I discovered that Bowls was apparently quite popular and worthy of television coverage.
Port Moresby has an international standard bowling green at Murray Barracks, the headquarters of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.
It was like one of those mystery shopping contests where someone enters a store and suddenly confetti and balloons rain from the ceiling when the one-millionth customer crosses the threshold, and wins a big prize. Except it was four thousand. And I couldn’t provide anything valuable. Congratulations to "Peter" for posting Twelve Mile Circle’s 4000th comment from an actual human(¹).
I’m glad it was Peter because he’s been a longtime reader and commentator on Twelve Mile Circle. I thought about doing something similar for a different big round number awhile ago and lost interest after it was some random one-time visitor with a particularly bland observation. Peter deserved better treatment, though. I offered to research an article featuring the geo-oddities of a town of his choice.
Medford, New York, USA
Peter kindly suggested two options, Waterbury, Connecticut and Medford, New York. I set aside Waterbury. I could never serve Connecticut-style (Connecticutiana?) weirdness like the fine writing of Steve over at Connecticut Museum Quest. I’d probably want to talk about the Waterbury Button Museum(²) or Holy Land USA, and of course Steve already covered those way beyond my skills.
Thus, 12MC moved on to Medford. I could have talked about a lot of things:
- The oddly oval street with the awesome topiary
- The rare sight of an actual street cleaner in action
- The street named for a cheezy newspaper cartoon character that I didn’t realize still existed but does
- The confounding connection to Virginia, or maybe that’s just because I’m sensitive to all things Virginia (e.g., Mt. Vernon Ave., Richmond Ave., Virginia Dr., Blue Ridge Golf Club). There was a veritable confederacy of Virginia place names in Medford!
- The 12’9" low clearance bridge (however, do not stare at the billboard. That would be rude)
- The partial alphabetical-order street grid in one section of town where every other street followed the pattern (ACORN, rhode island, BEECHNUT, newport, CHESTNUT, new london, DEVON…)
- The salvage company with its own railroad connection
- Carvel Ice Cream? Cookie Puss®.(³)
Indeed, any of those threads may have been worth pursing. Once again I uncovered supporting evidence of a hypothesis that extended way back to the very earliest days of 12MC, that geo-oddities exist everywhere. I found sufficient material right there for probably a half-dozen articles. I sidestepped all of that. In fact, it led me to an earlier time and another continent.
Horseblock Rd., Medford, New York, USA
What in the world was a horseblock other than the name of a major road through Medford? Obviously it bore some significance, perhaps extending back before the village coalesced around a Long Island Railroad station in the mid-19th Century.
Horseblock by Andrew Skudder on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
A horseblock, put simply, was "a step or block of stone, wood, etc., for getting on or off a horse or in or out of a vehicle." They were once quite common. Practically every church, hotel, shop or public square catering to polite society would have offered such a horseblock as a matter of modesty or convenience. Imagine a woman in a long, flowing dress attempting to maintain some dignity as she climbed into a carriage, or an elderly gentleman no longer quite as nimble as he once was, wishing to ride horseback. Only barbaric establishments would have lacked a simple horseblock.
Few horseblocks remain outside of equestrian centers except as quaint, nostalgic reminders of centuries past. Wellington’s horse block in London serves as one such example (map and above). The Duke of Wellington, as described on the plaque attached to the block, "desired" this specific convenience at this spot in 1830 and so it exists in perpetuity. It serves members of the United Services Club, a social group of high-ranking military officers that no longer exists. Even today the parking space in front of this horseblock, and its companion horseblock on the other side of the road, must remain clear in case Wellington’s ghost shows up on spectral horseback and he needs to dismount.
Duddingston Kirk Horseblock, Edinburgh, Scotland
via Google Street View, August 2012
I found a brief list of horseblocks, as well as a couple of alternate names for them such as mounting blocks, or as in Scotland loupin’-on-stanes (stones to be leapt upon?). Speaking of Scotland, notice this wonderful example of a horseblock in front of Duddingston Kirk on Old Church Lane, Duddingston Village, Edinburgh (map). It’s not exactly a stairway to heaven, more like a stairway to nowhere.
Sorry, Peter, I never discovered the specific horseblock that influenced the naming of Horseblock Road in Medford. It might be lost to history or it may be waiting for someone to post it on the Intertubes. It was likely more memorable as a local landmark a hundred or more years ago when people actually needed horseblocks.
(¹) But Tom, you say, clearly that’s comment 5743, to which I reply, yes, and now you understand the dimensions of comment spam. Those extra 1743 were the particularly persistent ones that made it through two levels of filters and had to be deleted manually from the moderation queue. The filters probably blocked many hundreds of times that amount.
(²) I would never suggest that anyone go over to CTMQ’s button page and ask Steve to appraise a button. That would be mean.
(³) I think the Washington, DC area may have been at Carvel’s far, far, far southern extreme. We’d get those awful homemade advertisements only on the televisions stations that weren’t part of the big-3 networks, the ones that required extra jiggling on the rabbit ears just to catch a staticky signal with reruns of Gilligan’s Island
I try to approach "-est" claims skeptically. Those are ones that purport to be the largest, tallest, longest, smallest, fastest, and so on. Often I’ll use qualifiers such as likely, possibly, or supposedly, to hedge my bets even when fact-checking seems to confirm an assertion. Predictably, someone in the 12MC audience will discover a more extreme example, and frankly, that type of interaction is one of the things I enjoy most about the site. I learn something new every day.
It’s easier to eat crow when I can respond to a reader comment and say legitimately, "well, I never claimed it was absolutely the quickest path between Mianus and Middelfart, just a very quick path" or whatever nonsense might be necessary to extricate myself from embarrassment. Bad things happen when I get too cocky and make bold assertions. Qualifiers allow me to save a little face even when I know I’m dead wrong. Start a sentence with an overworked cliché like "some say" and any crazy claim imaginable can be tossed out recklessly to the public without concern.
Some say… that the "Famous" Star Hotel in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland is the world’s narrowest hotel. I discovered that happy declaration as I researched Little Miss Muffet the other evening. Anyone who has read Twelve Mile Circle for even a short time already understands that I’m a sucker for exactly that kind of oddity. I once went out of my way for a large shoe. I’d do the same for an ultra-skinny, record-shattering hotel. If I were in Scotland. Which I’m not.
Moffat Star Hotel by AndyRobertsPhotos, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.
I examined photographic evidence. It certainly looked sufficiently slender to grapple for the title.
The hotel proudly proclaimed that it "found its fame for being the world’s narrowest hotel AS MENTIONED IN THE GUINESS [sic.] BOOK OF RECORDS. At only 20ft wide and 162ft long. The Famous Star Hotel may be narrow but it has a BIG personality." That’s some bold capitalization. Various sources claimed (another "some say" alert) that the width may have had something to do with taxation in the late 1700’s when the hotel was constructed; taxation based on building frontage encouraged narrow structures.
It should be easy enough to confirm using the Search Records box at the Officially Amazing Guinness World Records website. That’s what it calls itself now — The Officially Amazing Guinness World Records. Officially. Amazing. We also need to take a logical leap that Guinness is infallible.
Maybe I need to loosen the criteria.
Armada Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey
- Narrowest: narrowest America’s Cup finishing margin… narrowest street… narrowest j-turn… narrowest optic fiber channels. Nope. No hotel.
- Hotel: A bunch of results including Farthest Milk Squirting Distance (because it took place at a hotel, "Ilker Yilmaz (Turkey) squirted milk from his eye a distance of 279.5 cm (9 ft 2 in) at the Armada Hotel, Istanbul, Turkey on 1 September 2004" just in case you were curious.) No mention of narrowest hotel either, or any term related to or implying narrowest.
The Star Hotel displays a certificate from Guinness to verify its claim so I don’t doubt its sincerity. A number of things could have happened.
- Guinness could have discontinued the category
- The record may have been set too recently to make it into the database
- The online database isn’t as comprehensive as the book so readers will want to purchase the publication
I’d bet on the third option. Getting my hands on a print version of Guinness World Records would entail effort though, and well, I’m not sufficiently interested in the topic.
SOURCE: Google Street View, Hotel Molinos in Granada, Spain; February 2009
The claim was further complicated by a similar assertion from the Hotel Molinos in Granada, Spain, which said, "Hotel awarded the Guinness record for being the world’s narrowest hotel, 5 meters at its narrowest and 5.20 meters at the widest, with a depth of 16.40 m." Their website also included a copy of the Guinness certificate in Spanish ("el hotel mas estrecho"). It’s maximum width, 5.20 metres (17.06 feet) shaved nearly a metre from the Scottish claim at the Star Hotel.
What’s going on? Some poking around the Intertubes demonstrated that the Star Hotel might be only the narrowest free-standing hotel. This post is not intended to pick on the Star Hotel. I’ll accept at face value that it obtained a Guinness certificate. I’ll also assume good faith. Rather, I’m using this confusing situation as an object lesson to illustrate the problem of -est. Would I stay at the Star Hotel if I happened to travel to Moffat? Sure, why not. It’s still extremely skinny, plus it has two bars and free WiFi. It doesn’t take much to make me happy.
However, it does call into question other claims made about Moffat, particularly those included on Scotland.com:
When you stand outside on the front steps of Star Hotel and look right and you can see across to Syme Street, the narrowest street in Scotland. Chapel Street, the shortest street in the country is just around the corner, hundred feet down Star Street.
Moffat seemed to have an overabundance of -est.