Highland Games are a traditional event held in many Scottish towns during the summer and are a mixture of sporting, cultural and social events. The well-known events such as tossing the caber and the hammer throw are only for the strongest and fittest competitors!
Origin and history
It is believed that the Highland Games originated in Ireland around 2000BC and they were brought to Scotland with 4th and 5th century migrations of the Scotti people into Dalriada (Argyll). The games may have become a way of choosing the strongest and most able men for the household of clan chieftains, with musicians and dancers also sought to add prestige to the clan. The first historical reference to Highland Games-type events was made during the 11th century. They were banned following the Battle of Culloden in 1746 but the ban was lifted in the early 19th century.
The Braemar Gathering is the most famous of all Highland Games. Queen Victoria attended the games in 1838 and royal support has continued since then. Queen Victoria’s endorsement of the games ensured the growth of such events and their export around the world. Highland Games now take place in many different countries, particularly countries where Scots emigrated to in large numbers such as Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.
The Ceres Games in Fife are considered the oldest, continuous Highland Games in Scotland and began in 1314.
It wouldn’t be a Highland Games without the traditional strong man events such as tossing the caber and the tug of war.
Tossing the caber-The caber is a large wooden pole and the name derives from the Gaelic word cabar which refers to a wooden beam. The caber is around 20 feet long and normally weighs around 150 pounds. Competitors must balance the caber in their hands and perform a run-up before they toss it. Throws are judged on their straightness – a perfect toss sees the small end of the caber facing away from the thrower at a 12 o’clock angle.
Hammer throw-The “hammer” used consists of a metal ball weighing around 22 pounds attached by a steel wire to a grip. Competitors use the handle to whirl the hammer around their head and throw it as far as they can.
Tug of war-This event involves teams of eight pulling against another team of eight, encouraged by another team member who shouts instructions and encouragement to spur their team to pull the other one across the line to win the event.
These competitions make the games a thrilling event, but to add to the spectacle there are also other attractions.
Highland dancing – Dancers give dazzling displays on pointed toes of dances such as the Highland Fling and the sword dance. They wear colourful tartan outfits and compete in solo and group events.
Pipe bands-They will play for entertainment and in competitive events.
More recently Highland Games have become a celebration of country life and many now include events such as:
Animal exhibitions-Displays of Highland cattle, Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies.
Sheep dog trials-Competitions against the clock.
Food stalls-Showcasing local produce with free tastings.
Arts and crafts.
Re-enactments-Groups give displays of sword fights, spinning yarn and cooking.
More recently novelty events have been added such as wellie throwing and tossing the haggis.
Sadly due to ongoing coronavirus restrictions most of Scotland’s major events have been cancelled this year. A few events are still going ahead and the calendar can be viewed here.
Hopefully you will be able to visit a Highland Games in the future and get to enjoy all they have to offer.
Article written by Vivienne Hamilton