The route from Edinburgh to Falkland is a beautiful journey. We took the ETS-UK mascot ‘Harris’ on a day trip to the world famous Falkland Palace. On route we passed the Forth Road and Forth Rail Bridge and once we reached the other side in the Kingdom of Fife we passed the wonderful, Loch Leven where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner - the area is now an RSPB bird sanctuary.
Explaining to Harris the complicated story of the Royal houses of Scotland and how they relate to the current monarchy is a complex tale, even more confusing than a Shakespearian tale like Macbeth or the European Parliament in modern times. Suffice to say that it is full of intrigue and plotting, politics and murder!
As a result of all that and the different religious beliefs within the Royal family at that time, Falkland Palace has the only Catholic Chapel housed within a royal house in the UK.
More important than that though is Tennis! With Wimbledon underway, Harris had an important question about a really significant site within Falkland Palace. The Palace houses a truly amazing landmark. The earliest tennis court in the world and oldest Royal Tennis Court still in use as a competition venue for the sport of Royal Tennis (commonly called Real Tennis). Falkland is the premier location of only 43 courts still in action around the world, in France, England, Australia and the USA.
So it was only natural that Harris would ask...
‘What is Royal Tennis?’
The best way to describe the sport is thus; it is like a combination of squash, paddle and tennis. The court is designed a little like a tennis court, with a net in the middle of the court, but all around the outside and down one side is a gallery area for spectating. Players can hit the ball over the net, or perform difficult to return shots incorporating the roof of the spectators’ gallery around the back and down one side of the court.
The players use a slightly harder, smaller ball measuring 64mm. Compared to a conventional tennis ball that is 67mm respectively. The Royal Tennis ball is still made in the traditional way from cork and is covered in layers of fabric. The Royal Tennis ball was only coloured yellow in recent times to make it more visible, prior to that it was coloured white. The modern tennis (or lawn tennis) racket, which is large and flat, Royal Tennis players use a smaller racket that has a slightly longer stem and the racket head is slightly cupped – harking back to the times when the sport was played with just the palm of the hand (jeu de paume).
The game is scored in a very similar way to modern tennis, so you probably already have some idea that for each point the scoring player is awarded points in steps of fifteen. The players start at ‘love all’ – the information plaques in the Palace court tell us that this comes from playing for the love of the game! As one or other player starts to score it goes from 15 to 30 but 45 is shortened to 40. The gents game is played in sets of five and the ladies game play three sets, each set consisting of six games although some tournament sets feature nine games.
There are some slightly more complicated rules about where you should serve the ball from and where the ball must land in order to be counted as a serve but you really need to view a map of the court to understand this rule properly. If you would like to learn more about the sport there is a vast array of material available through the internet. Harris and I found a couple of examples on Youtube of the sport in action, truly fascinating to watch.
Falkland Palace is a fabulous location to visit. Remarkably well maintained it has some really surprising treasures inside. Why not take your group and surprise them with a lesson on tennis and the early origins of the game.
Look out for Harris at Bannockburn – coming soon! …. PJK.