10 of the bravest Highland games this summer
The HIGHLAND Games are as Scottish as Irn-Bru, sandblasted and optimistic about the prospects for the national football team. (If only those other pesky teams didn’t insist on kicking the ball, too. Then we’d have a chance.)
As for puffball…it’s one of the few sports you’re unlikely to see at the Highland Games. Instead, there’s an oversized toothpick chuck. Or toss the caber, as it is sometimes called.
The bulky guys also pretend to be Marvel Thunder Gods and throw oversized hammers, hoping none of them land in a nearby cake stand. For even the gods of thunder are terrified of grumpy grannies whose baking has been crushed.
The origins of the Games date back over 900 years to the days of King Malcolm III, the guy who usurped Macbeth. (And, no, “spoofing” isn’t a competitive Highland sport, much like Tiddlywinks, only with a slightly higher death rate.)
The modern version of the Games began in Falkirk – which is as much a part of the Highlands as Chipping Norton – in 1781. Today there are more than 60 gatherings. Here is our selection of the best…
Bearsden & Milngavie Highland Games, June 11
STARTED in 1973 as a small fundraising event for local communities, the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games are now the biggest day outing in East Dunbartonshire. In addition to all the traditional sporting activities, visitors can attend or participate in World Haggis Hurling Championship, which at first glance seems fun.
But were the poor haggis warned that they were about to be launched into the stratosphere? Surely there is the possibility that at least one of the gentle and trusting creatures is seriously injured. Clearly the SSPCO (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Offal) needs to be alerted…
Strathmore Highland Games, June 12
SOME Highland Games have bouncy castles. Some get better and have a castle of the non-inflatable variety.
Which brings us to Strathmore Highland Games, set against the glamorous backdrop of Glamis Castle.
Glamis was the childhood home of the Queen Mother. There are also rumors of a monster locked in the building. Let’s hope the nasty beast doesn’t escape during the Strathmore Games. Not only would it go wild, maim, maim, and smash, but it could also claim victory in one of the dance competitions, which would be very unfair, as only bona fide homo sapiens are allowed to participate.
Inveraray Highland Games, July 19
These games were founded by Mary Queen of Scots, who visited the area in 1563 and encouraged young local males to show off their athletic prowess. She probably would have been just as impressed if they had taken her for a spin in their Lamborghinis. Unfortunately for Mary, Lamborghinis would not be invented for a few hundred years.
Killin Highland Games, August 3
THE opening ceremony includes a parade from the magnificent Falls of Dochart, led by the games defending champion, carrying a ceremonial shield and sword. Expect great bagpipe playing, as there is a bagpipe prize fund of £1,560.
Hopefully the victorious pipers don’t blow their winnings with the same energy they blow their bagpipes…
Newtonmore Highland Games, August 6
“RETURN of the Mack” is the title of a 1990s hit song by R&B warbler Mark Morrison. We imagine it to be a guy who loses his raincoat, then has it returned by an honest broker. (There’s no doubt that Mark Morrison scrawled his name and address on the inside collar, a clever ploy if you want to keep your wardrobe intact.)
Meanwhile, the Newtonmore Highland Games could be called the “return of the Mac”, as this shindig hosts the annual gathering of the Macpherson Clan Association, which sees people of this surname from around the world unite in celebration their common heritage.
Don’t worry if your last name is Smith, Carruthers or Finkelstein. You can also enjoy many events including a race on the Creag Dhubh and many Highland dances.
The Crieff Highland Gathering, August 21
EXCITING the masses since 1870, the Crieff Highland Gathering is famous for being the home of the Scottish Heavyweight Championships and the Scottish Indigenous Heavyweight Championships (only open to those born and raised in Alba).
Both championships see mountain guys, made entirely of testosterone and tartan, compete for victory through trials of strength such as caber throw, hammer throw, shot put and shot put (very different from throwing the weight, which is what Donald Trump and other big-headed bigwigs are likely to do).
In 2013, Prince William became the royal head of the games. We wonder if the little bruv, Harry, discovered it. Maybe that’s why the jealous duke fled to California….
Cowal Highland Gathering, August 25-27
THE town of Dunoon in Argyll welcomes around 23,000 visitors each year for its Highland Games. Participants arrive from Canada, America, South Africa and Australia, many seeking to commune with their Scottish roots while blending in with locals by wearing kilts and trying to talk like Mel Gibson in Braveheart .
The games attract around 3,500 competitors, and there’s plenty to enjoy besides the sporting spectacle, including the World Highland Dancing Championships and the Cowal Pipes Championship, the world’s oldest pipe band competition.
There is also an evening bagpipe parade, plus boobies Golfwhich, to be fair, isn’t particularly Scottish, because around these games people prefer the sensible version of hitting a dimpled ball into a bush.
Lonach Highland Gathering and Games, 27 August
Past GLAMOR visitors to the Lonach Highland Gathering include Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Ewan McGregor and Queen Elizabeth. In Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, festivities include the march of the Lonach Highlanders, who parade from Bellabeg to Strathdon.
There are the usual heavyweight events as well as highland dancing competitions. Look for the Highland Fling, Sword Dance, and Reel of Tulloch.
There’s also a hill climb, which sounds delightful, until you realize the run is mostly in a steep upward direction, rather than casually jumping up a slightly inclined, daisy-strewn embankment.
The Braemar Gathering, September 3
QUEEN Victoria is famous for her catchphrase: “We are not amused”. Although we bet she was very amused when she visited the village of Braemar in Aberdeenshire for the Braemar Gathering.
One of the most prestigious Highland Games, it has long been a favorite of the Royal Family. (With the exception of Harry and Meghan, who prefer to relax by an LA pool, as we mentioned earlier.)
Every reigning monarch since Vicky’s era has been a patron of the Braemar Royal Highland Society, so this is the real deal. The crème de la crème of caber toss culture.
The setting of the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Braemar is also prettier than anything engraved on a box of shortbread.
Peebles Highland Games, September 3
THE athletic endeavors involved in any Highland Games are exhausting. Luckily, the Peebles Gathering offers gourmet food stalls as well as whiskey and gin tastings, providing the perfect perk. Don’t try the strenuous stuff after drinking the hard stuff, or you won’t kick the caber…you’ll kick your lunch.