The Curling Rink: In 1984 the Leisure Centre was built at a cost of £1.4m including a championship Curling Rink. This enabled the Loch Ard Club to have a “home” venue. The club was founded in 1907 and a major feature of its annual activities was an annual match with the Aberfoyle Club (founded in 1858) for the Joynson Cup which was first presented by Major Will Joynson in 1934. Following the closure of the Aberfoyle Club it became an annual match between Loch Ard and Port of Menteith. It is meant to be played outdoors but this has not been possible in recent years. Loch Ard were the holders of the Joynson Cup in 2017-2018.
The Curling Rink was a very important part of the facilities to the hotel and even more so the curling community. The first Iceman was Bob Macintosh who had moved from Hamilton to work at Forest Hills. Teams and individuals travelled from far and wide to participate in competitions and special bonspiel weeks were organised. This meant that during certain winter weeks the place was very busy. For example, in November 1991 the Annual Inter Club League started as did the Forth and Endrick Province League. A bonspiel organised by the Welsh International Association was held over the first weekend in November followed later in the month by the Scottish Province Championship in which one team from every province in Scotland plus one each from England and Wales (32 teams in all) played in a round robin format over 5 days .
An important issue was the condition of the ice. In 1991 the role of Ice Man was held by Grant Gallacher. John Minnaar was the last substantive Ice Man His attention to detail was unrivalled aided by Jed Bancroft and a machine known as the Ice King.
John’s period of looking after the curling rink commenced in February 2001 when to took over to “ sort out the ice” . The following information is taken from a notebook kept by his wife Celia between February 2001 and May 2006. John inherited a situation of outstanding payments being owed to suppliers as well as poorly maintained equipment and storage facilities.
Following the change of ownership from Barrett’s to McDonalds there was a commitment to retain the curling rink from the Board of McDonalds Hotels. John worked hard throughout his period of employment by engaging with the clubs and widening the scope of activities at Forest Hills. An example was a conference on Ice making held in April 2002. Despite this, there continued to be, according to the notebook, ongoing issues of getting funding for equipment. By August 2004 there continued to be issues about maintenance and on 6 August 2004 John resigned. After some discussions John agreed to lay down the ice. It’s noteworthy that in advance of these issues Forest Hills had hosted several team preparing for the Ford World Curling Championship in April 2004.
By October 2004 a series of heating failures and problems with the dehumidifier system led to several periods of closure and these continued through until the end of 2004.
Throughout 2005 there continued to be similar issues. The Forest Hills Rink closed in April 2006 despite a strong business case being put forward for its ongoing development when the Leisure Centre underwent an extensive renovation as the move towards a swimming and spa facility emerged.
Lochside Developments: It was really into the 1990s when the lochside developments moved ahead probably coinciding with the Timeshare Developments. In 1994 Ruth Keighley opened a windsurfing school in 1994 and it ran until 1996. After this a company called Go Forth arrived offering a range of outdoor and loch-based activities. The atmosphere was welcoming and open to the local community at all times. It was run by Mike Adams and Jamie Thomson until 2006 when Mike’s ill health meant that the business closed.
Go Country took over in 2006 and continue to operate at the present time.
Some images from the Windsurfing school are featured below:
Acknowledgements: My thanks to Celia Minnaar and Ruth Keighley for information and images.