With Highland Games season just around the corner, we take a look at the long-standing tradition of the games, how they are changing and why you should head along to your nearest one
Nothing says ‘Scottishness’ like the Highland Games, but what is the history behind this long-standing series of events?
The first historical reference to Highland Games-type events in Scotland was made during the reign of King Malcolm III (1057-1093) when he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich near Braemar in order to find a royal messenger.
The games are said to have become a way of choosing the strongest men for the clan chieftain’s household but it wasn’t just brute strength that was determined. Musicians and dancers were also sought to add prestige to the clan.
Today, The Highland Games are one of Scotland’s biggest cultural exports - with around 80 events welcoming over 150,000 visitors annually, many of them from overseas, including those with Scottish ancestry.
It is thought that the Highland Games bring around £25million to the economy, meaning this fun, family day out is also an important income generator.
With around 80 events, which span from May-September, it is hard to find a Scottish town or city that doesn’t play host to a Highland Games. This year’s first games will be held on 20th May at Gordon Castle in Fochabers, Morayshire.
The Cowal Highland Gathering has long claimed to be the biggest games in the world. At its peak it drew 30,000 spectators but numbers are more likely to be in the region of 20,000 over the three-day event. The games hosts the World Highland Dancing Championships with competitors from US, Canada, Australia commonly taking part.
While many Highland Games have modernised their schedules with strong men contests and wellie flinging competitions, there are a few traditions that form the heart of the Highland Games. It’s impossible to imagine going to a games and not seeing the tossing the caber event and the other heavyweight contests.
It has also been reported recently that caber tossing should go on school curriculum to try to preserve Highland games.
Read more: A history of the Scottish Highland Games
The more traditional games of tossing the caber and the tug-o-war are always worth checking out. Plus there’s Highland dance competitions, track and field events, and piping.
Heavy contests, including the hammer throw and weight for height, see competitors putting their muscles to the test, while field events such as the hill race and cycling competition test speed and stamina.
Many of the Games are held to a backdrop of some marvellous scenery and the variety of activities going on in and around the arena makes for a great family day out.
Food and drink
While no two Highland Games are identical, you can expect to find a wide ranging variety of the heavy and light events, food and drink, and other entertainment. With Scotland’s natural larder becoming more and more popular, many Highland Games have become a showcase of local produce.
Stirling Highland Games has a proud history of working with local suppliers to bring a wide variety of food and drinks to their games. Plus with the continued popularity of Scottish gin and the traditions of whisky, the Highland Games give visitors a chance to try their versions of each.
For more event information and a list of all Scottish Highland Games, please click here.
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