MORAY will this weekend play host to an international tournament in the little-known sport of petanque.
The French equivalent of bowls, played on dirt, gravel or grass, has found a home in Speyside through the Fochabers Petanque Club.
The Moray outfit has produced international players over the past two decades, and will dominate the Scotland team doing battle with Wales and Ireland on home soil this week.
Fochabers is staging the tri-nation annual Celtic Challenge event, sponsored by Diageo, which is contested by 16 teams all aiming to win the overall prize for their country.
The home club will be represented by three teams, and club president Shirley Legge said the sport has thrived in this area. “We’ve been on the go for 20-odd years, and the Scotland team is very strongly represented by Fochabers,” she said.
Shirley and club-mates Lynn Jenkins, Johnny Wilson and Robbie Stronach are four of the top players in the country, all former Milne’s High pupils who learned the sport from the school’s former PE teacher, Paul Devine.
Stronach represented Scotland in the first-ever World Championships mens’ singles in Nice, France, while the girls took part in Scotland womens’ team at the worlds in Montaubon, near Toulouse.
This year the European Championships are held in Rome for men and Turkey for women, with Fochabers PC expecting to have players in both Scotland sides.
The sport was once played in the car park of the village’s Gordon Arms Hotel, before moving to ground on Spey Street behind the cricket pitch.
That venue will be a hive of activity this weekend as the Celtic Challenge draws some of the leading players from across the UK and Ireland.
Shirley explained how petanque involves a coche, or jack, being thrown from a circle, and the competitors then aim to get their boules, or bowls, closest to the coche to score. Teams of three throw two boules each, and the first to 13 points is the winner.
The Fochabers club has 12 members but is looking to recruit more in an effort to expand the sport in Moray.
They can be contacted by visiting the Scottish Petanque Association website or Facebook page.
Weekly club nights are held on Fridays from 7.30pm, with free taster sessions for anyone interested in taking up the sport.
This weekend’s action gets under way around 9am tomorrow (Saturday), with six matches played on both days and a gala-style dinner in the Fochabers Institute to close proceedings on Sunday.