Traditionally only the top heavyweight athletes at Highland games have the strength and technique to manage to toss a caber.
But the chiefs at the Pitlochry Highland games have had to bring in a new and heavier wooden pole for this weekend’s event in Perthshire after almost every single competitor in last year’s competition managed to flip their 17 foot, 92 lb wooden pole.
The strongmen taking part in Saturday’s games in the village will now have to toss a much heavier 18ft long pole, taken from a spruce tree felled in a Perthshire wood.
The games’ heavy events coordinator, Raymond McIntosh, said the new caber is currently under lock and key at a secret location and would be unveiled at the games at the weekend.
He explained that he had set out to find a replacement caber after competitors at last year’s contest complained the old pole presented no challenge.
Said Mr McIntosh: “The local guys from Highland Perthshire found it too easy because their standard has improved dramatically in the last ten years. Pretty much all of them tossed it last year and you don’t want that.”
He continued: “The caber we’re currently using is 17 feet and 92lbs. The new one is about a foot longer and a bit thicker, but I haven’t weighed it yet. It’s probably about 100lbs. It’s a spruce which came from woods next to Cluny Gardens near Logierait. The land owner wanted rid of it.”
The new caber will be used as the heavy athletes compete for the first prize of £70 in the caber tossing event the village’s Recreation Ground on Saturday.
Mr McIntosh said that winning the competition was not all about brawn and muscle. He said: “People often think the caber toss is about distance but it’s nothing to do with how far you can throw it.
“It’s actually about accuracy and technique. When it lands you want the lighter end at 12 o’clock.”
Jim Brown, the President of Highland Games Association, said there were no hard and fast rules about the length, weight or type of wood used for caber tossing.
He told The Scotsman: “There is no minimum length or weight and it is entirely up to the local games committee to choose their own caber. It generally depends on who turns up on the day.
“If the top class heavyweights turn up then you need a substantial caber. But then, if it’s just the local lads, then you don’t need such a big caber. Most big games have three or four to choose from.”
Mr Brown continued: “Cabers also dry out over the years if they are not looked after and lose their weight. A lot of games organisers put their cabers into a burn before the games to soak up the water and make them heavier.
“And a lot of cabers now are redundant telephone poles because they are treated and won’t dry out. A good larch pole is what you require because it’s a hard timber and will remain a caber for a lot more years than spruce which is a softer timber.”
He added: “Weight is important but the length is the essential thing to sort out real caber tossers. It’s not how far you throw it - it’s where it ends up in relation to the throw.
“Really strong men who are not caber tossers prefer shorter, heavy cabers because it’s only them who can lift them. But the real caber tossers have tremendous style and speed and get a tremendous lift on the caber. It’s really is an art which is not always amongst the strong men.”
The Pitlochry games, one of the oldest in Scotland, have been held on the second Saturday in September every year since 1852, with the exception of the period to the two World Wars. The games, which cost around £40,000 to stage, attract around 1,500 participants and as many as 5,000 spectators to Pitlochry each year.