in praise of highland games


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There are plenty of sporting reasons to be cheerful as spring reaches out to summer each year – and none more so than a changing in the weather heralding the onset of another season of to celebrate one of the great traditions of Highland culture in Scotland. 

If a passing tourist was to stop and ask what can they expect from a visit to nearby Highland Games to use the description a mini-Olympics wouldn’t be a bad starting point.  Each historic meet having its own unique personality and typically encompassing a variety of sport including track and field and cycling, not to mention heavy events such as tug-o-war and the caber toss.  Add in the Opening/Closing Cermony features – otherwise known as the Chieftain’s Parade with massed bands and Highland dancing – and a trip to the Highland Games is a sporting day out guaranteed to keep all the family entertained.  We take a look below at some of the highlights in a calendar that sees circa 80 events taking place between May to September, the latter month including the world-famous Braemar Gathering.  

Taking place in May the Carmunnock Highland Games is a popular choice as a a season opener.  Along with the traditional Men’s International Highland Games this year there’s a return of Vadim’s Highland Warrior Challenge, featuring 8 highly trained individual contestants battling each other in 3 events – Log Fighting, Freestyle Combat & Stick Fighting.  And with a Community Challenge seeing locals compete in 2-man teams in events such as “The 2-man Pole Push”, “Bale Rolling” & “Taxi Pull” and strictly for ladies only, the popular “Welly Throw” together with kids races across all age groups it’s safe to say Carmunock on 28th May will provide entertainment for all.  And there’s an added dash of sporting excitement in 2017 the Chieftain having been announced as none other than Scottish boxing legend and three-weight world champion Ricky Burns.

Photo: Airth Highland Games

Photo: Airth Highland Games

The Ceres Highland Games are the oldest free games in Scotland and take place annually always at their traditional location and time – Bow Butt on the last Saturday in June – in recognition of the charter to hold the Games given to the people of the village by Robert Bruce.  Held every year since 1314 (except for war), the Games are a celebration of Ceres village that start with the City of St Andrews Pipe Band followed by the official opening by the Ceres Chieftain at 1pm.   Later in the afternoon a 3,000 metres running race and the De’il take the Hindmost Cycle take centre stage alongside an Open Caber Toss and the Ceres Caber.

If it’s the fourth Saturday in June it must be Auchenblae and the Drumtochty Highland Games.  This has been the tradition for over 30 years and while a relative newcomer the Games have gained a reputation as one of the friendliest and is firmly established in the calendar.  Held in the grounds of Drumtochty Castle  in Drumtochty Glen, just 2 miles outside Auchenblae, the beauty of the venue is a real draw and attracts top competitors back year-on-year.  There are also lots of opportunities for the young and not so young to take part in open games.

July is a month rich in Highland Games heritage and includes the Loch Lomond Games in the village of Balloch.  Nestled at the southern end of the Loch it’s one of the top three Games in Scotland and incorporates two eagerly anticipated dates in the calendar; namely the Scottish Highland Games Association Official World Heavyweight Championship and the 80 metre Scotttish Sprint Championship.  A full day of activity on 15th July starts at 9.30am with the Grand Finals at 4.15pm ahead of the parade of massed bands finale.

If it’s longevity that appeals look no further than the Burntisland Highland Games in Fife.  Always on the third Monday in July this

Photo: Loch Lomond Highland Games

Photo: Loch Lomond Highland Games

year will see the 365th running of the Games that first took place in 1652.  The second-oldest Highland Games in the world can be found on Burntisland Links, alongside the town’s annual summer fairground, and close to an award-winning beach.

The Bridge of Allan Highland Games – also known as the Strathallan Meeting – is a mid-summer marker and a traditional August family day out.  One of Scotland’s premier Games for more than a century it attracts crowds of up to 10,000 drawn by its combination of its location and top-class action.  Set in a stunning setting – nestling between Stirling Castle, the Ochil Hills and the National Wallace Monument made famous by the Braveheart movie – the Games offers a packed programme of traditional cultural and sporting events.  Taking place on Sunday 6th August two hundred Highland dancers and more than a thousand pipers are just some of the highlights of the day.

August draws to a close in fine style with the Cowal Highland Gathering.  Held over 3 days (this year 24th to 26th August) in Dunoon Stadium, Argyll, it has a well-earned spectacular reputation, not just because of its scale but also due to the renowned quality of the Highland dancing which attracts the best performers from around the globe to compete in the Scottish and World Championships.

The first Saturday in September is a another stand-out day in the Highland Games calendar and a suitable way to mark the curtain commencing its downward direction on the season.  The Braemar Gathering takes place in The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Braemar and attracts competitors and spectators from all over the world.  With an annual attendance of around 16,000, often including members of the Royal Family in attendance, the Gathering is an undoubted highlight of the Scottish sporting calendar.  This year’s event is on 2nd September when a Hill Race will again be run up Morrone and a Tug of War will see teams from the H.M. Forces compete in an InterServices Championship.

We look forward to previewing Highland Games action throughout the new season and beyond.  For the latest spectator news see our What’s On page and for regular reminders on Scottish sporting events not to be missed subscribe for free to our newsletter.