The Scottish Highland Games take place across the length and breadth of the country over spring and summer. They are a way of celebrating both Scottish and Celtic culture, with bagpipes, kilts and the caber toss being a key feature across all Scottish Highland Games. The games are a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Scottish history, tradition and culture, however some of the activities and traditons can seem a bit foreign, even to a native scot! So we've compiled this handy beginners guide to the Highland Games to ensure that you get the most out of your next visit and perhaps encourage a few of you to attend your next local Highland Games.
A History of the Highland Games
Traditionally, the Highland Games would see clans compete against each other in sporting events. They date as far back as the 11th Century, when King Malcolm III called for a foot race to the summit of Creag Chonnich, near Braemar, in the hopes of finding the fastest runner to become his next courier.
Today The Braemar Gathering is the largest Highland Games event that takes place in Scotland and is attended by members of the Royal Family. Many clan chieftains would use the games as a way of choosing the best bodyguards and fighters. Chieftains would also use the Highland Games to choose the best staff for their household; those who proved speed and stamina in the hill race would become couriers and those who showed their skill on the bagpipes or through highand dancing would provide entertainment at banquets.
What Happens at the Highland Games?
Today the Scottish Highland Games are a celebration of tradition, and many still use items in some events that would have been used in some of the earliest Highland Games. Strength is still tested with events like the hammer throw, tossing the caber (a big wooden pole), and tug o' war, though the true spirit of the Highland Games lies in the music and dancing.
Pipers show of their skills in both solo and band competitions, while highland dancers give amazing displays of fancy footwork in set pieces, including the sword dance and the famous Highland Fling.
The Highland Games not only celebrates Scottish Culture but Scottish Cuisine, with many of the games being attended by local suppliers of Scottish food and drink. This year the World Haggis Eating Competition will take place at Birnam Highland Games, the event sees competitors pitted against each other to see who can eat a pound of haggis in the fastest time. The 2014 winner managed it in just 90 seconds!
Highland Games to Check Out
The tradition of the Highland Games is vast and unique to each local area. More than just competitions it is a chance for the local community to come together and for tourists to immerse themselves in Scottish culture. If we've inspired you to see what all the fuss is about and you're visiting the West Coast over the summer months then be sure to check out the Mull Highland Games and the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban!