The World Stone Skimming Championships are just a stones throw away

by Ron Bolton

I’m sure that most of you, at some time or another on the beach or on holiday, have picked up a handy looking pebble and seen how far you could throw it into the sea and try to make the pebble skim or bounce across the waves.

Then you would count the number of times it bounced before it disappeared under the water and the one who got the most bounces and longest throw was declared the winner. Stone skimming has always been a fun game that we could play on a beach or by the river side or beside any stretch of water where handy-sized stones or pebbles were available. I’ve always thought that it was a game to be played only for fun but it would appear that there is actually a stone skimming championship or to be more precise, there are TWO world stone skimming championships. One is played in Scotland and the other is in the Lake District.

First of all, let me tell you about the event that takes place in Scotland which is held during September on Seil island situated off the west coast of Scotland. In order to get to it you need to take the coast road from Oban, travelling south, until you see the sign to Seil island. To reach the place where the contest is being held, you should follow the narrow road before going over the bridge that crosses the Atlantic Ocean.

Yes, what I just said is quite correct; you actually do cross over a road bridge that crosses over the Atlantic Ocean. If you don’t believe me, let me explain. Seil island is on the west coast of Scotland and in the Atlantic Ocean because although Scotland is on one side of the island, there is nothing but ocean on the other side until you get to the United States of America. The channel between the mainland and the island is about 50 yards or so wide but as the sides of the channel are steep it needs a bridge to cross it and that’s where you cross a bridge over the Atlantic Ocean.

The actual competition takes place at the Easdale Quarry situated on the west side of the island. For many years the quarry produced thousands of tons of slate for use all over the world until 1850 when a great storm flooded the quarry. As they did not have any way of pumping the water out of the very deep quarry in those days, it had to close down. Since that time very little has happened on the island except for the occasional tourists who came to watch the seabird life.

Since the stone skimming competition began in 1997 the island has prospered and they have now built a museum featuring the history of slate quarrying, together with accommodation for tourists and a community hall which is used for a wide variety of events, and consequently its population has increased to over 60 people.

The championships are held every year on the last Sunday in September and have been so successful that they have had to put a restriction on the number of entrants to 350 in order to let all the contestants have their turn.

The rules of the competition are very similar to the children’s game where each competitor is given three stones which they select from a pile of specially picked stones.

Each competitor then tries to get the most bounces and furthest distance with their three stones. The competition then follows the usual process of elimination until finally one competitor is declared the winner with the longest throw and most bounces.

There are other simple rules. For instance, the stones must be no greater than three inches in diameter and to qualify the stone must bounce no less than three times within the designated guide lines. Skims are judged on distance thrown rather than the number of bounces.

Most competitors use the same method of skimming their stones, that is, to throw it fast and low with spin and parallel to the surface of the water.

There are prizes for men, women and boys and girls of different age groups and this year the men’s winning throw was 70 metres. As usual there are many other activities and entertainments on the island during the competition to make it a very enjoyable and colourful weekend.

If you fancy your chances of being able to throw your stone more than this distance or would just want to watch a stone throwing championship and don’t want to go all the way to the Seil Island, you’ll be pleased to know there is another similar event at the Fell Foot Park on the shores of Windermere in the Lake District.

Whereas the competition in Scotland is called the ‘World Championships,’ the one held in Windermere is called the ‘All England Open Championships.’

The rules are exactly the same as in the Scottish championships and there is a large enough expanse of water to get extremely long skims. In fact, last year, one man threw the massive distance of 86 metres to set a new all – England record and, of course, there are the usual competitions for men, women and children.

On the other hand, if you just want to enjoy watching some great skimming competitions and enjoy the stunning scenery of the Lake District from the shores of Windermere then this is the place to be in August.