The Lonach Highlanders march on for 177th year

It is a spectacle like no other.

The Lonach Highlanders arrive in the arena at Strathdon following their six-mile march through the surrounding villages.  PIC: Contributed.
The Lonach Highlanders arrive in the arena at Strathdon following their six-mile march through the surrounding villages. PIC: Contributed.

The march of the Lonach Highlanders drew more than 7,000 people to the heart of Aberdeenshire to witness the annual gathering and games in its 177th year.

Armed with eight-foot long pikes and Lochaber axes, it is believed the Lonach Highlanders are the largest body of non-military men in the country to carry ceremonial weapons.

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    Socks the Lonach horse with his owner and handler Derek Gray, a Lonach Highlander for many years. PIC: Contributed.

    The Highlanders are drawn from households across Strathdon with the privilege of taking part in this show of family, community and kinship often handed down through families.

    Some return home from across the world for the event at Bellabeg.

    Led by Sir James Forbes of Newe, patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the men leave Bellabeg and on their march and visit the six prominent homes in the area.

    Lonach Pipe Band lead the men on their traditional march. PIC: Contributed.

    At each, the health of its owners, the society and the local area is toasted with a dram and the traditional cry of ‘Ho Ho Lonach’.

    At one o’clock the Highlanders marched into Bellabeg Park to officially open the gathering.

    Behind them, pulling the traditional ‘cairt’ was Socks, the Lonach horse led by his owner Derek Gray. The well-turned-out nine-year-old Irish Heavy Cob received a heart welcome as he ventured into the arena.

    More than 70 traditional events were held during the afternoon with organisers praising keen competition across all disciplines.

    More than 220 Lonach Highlanders take part in the march with the men all having a family link to the area and the role often passed down through the generations. PIC: Contributed.

    The four-mile hill race attracted a field of 85 runners. Hamish Battle from Craigievar won the men’s race, while the first female home was Stephanie Owen of Larbert and Rowan Currie from Strathdon was the first Lonach Society member to finish.

    Hotly contested as ever was the ladies tug o’ war competition. The Rest of the World team – made up of ladies from throughout the UK and overseas – overpowered both the Lonach and Glenbuchat Ladies teams to be crowned victors.

    In the heavy events, Scott Rider from Dartford was named the overall heavy event champion for 2018, whilst Lukasz Wenta from East Kilbride retained the Rob Walker Memorial Shield by winning the open caber event.

    The Lonach Society School of Dancing celebrated its tenth anniversary with a special performance by its pupils.

    In acknowledgement of 40 years of service in the secretary’s office at the Lonach Gathering, Alison Webster from Kildrummy was presented with a gift and bouquet of flowers by the society.

    Throughout the day four local pipe bands performed for the crowd, which included visitors from Australia, Austria, Hawaii and New Zealand. Joining Lonach Pipe Band were Ballater and District, Huntly and District and Towie and District.

    Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said: “The Lonach Highland Gathering and Games is one of north-east Scotland’s most iconic summer spectacles and it is always heartening to see a good crowd turning out to support us.

    “It is a major event for the area and continues to attract visitors from around the world. This is a unique Scottish event, amidst stunning scenery and today’s sunshine has made the day sparkle.”