The Highland Games

Anybody contemplating a trip to Scotland should really try to visit a Highland Games. Highland Games bring together many, if not all, of the elements which make Scottish culture unique. At most games you will see the three events that make Highland Gatherings unique - dancing, piping and the heavy events such as hammer throwing and tossing the caber.

Caber Toss

The ancient peoples of Scotland kept no written records, so we have no information that might shed light on the origins of the 'Games'. They did however have a rich oral tradition which has been passed down. This suggests that some form of contest or competition was taking place in Pre-christian Scotland. It is believed that these games were held by clan chiefs to find their best warriors.

The first recorded sporting event took place during the reign of King Malcolm III probably some time in the second half of the 11th Century. In this event the king wanted to find the fastest runners with the best stamina to be his personal messengers. From these early beginnings the Highland Games became a social gathering. A place where widely scattered clan members could gather to exchange news and take part in competitive events. They were also places where neighbouring clans could meet and compete in friendly rivalry.

By the early 18th century Highland Games were widespread, but after the battle of Culloden in April 1746 the English were determined to destroy the old clan system. All weapons were prohibited, the wearing of Highland dress was banned and large gatherings were forbidden. In addition the clan chiefs had all their powers taken away. There were no 'gatherings' for decades, the laws finally being repealed in 1782.

The modern Highland Games began some time around the 1820's as part of the revival of Highland Culture encouraged by Sir Walter Scott. The first British royal to visit a Highland Games was Queen Victoria who attended the Braemar Gathering in 1848.

The best known of today's Games are probably the ones at:

Braemar - patron Her Majesty the Queen, always attended by members of the British Royal Family (1st September2007) http://www.braemargathering.org

Cowal - on the Cowal peninsula, near Dunoon, Argyllshire. The world's biggest. Highland Games - 3000 + competitors and 150 pipe band s from all over the world. (23 -25 August 2007) http://www.cowalgathering.com

My own personal favourite is the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban. It is the only games where you can still see world championship piping in the open air (23 August 2007). http://www.obangames.com

Bagpipe Band

Most Highland Games take place from mid June to the end of August, but there are games outside the summer months. The earliest this year (2006), was at Blackford in Perthshire on 27th May and the last were the Invercharron Games on 16th September at Bonar Bridge (near Fort William). They are not only restricted to the Highlands either. There are many gatherings in the lowlands of Scotland the farthest south most likely to be Dumfries where games are usually held in early August.