Highland games and clan gatherings

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Tug o' war at the Blair Atholl Highland Games
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Download our new free guide to Scotland's Highland games for events information, fun facts and much more

A couple gaze out over Edinburgh from Calton Hill
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  • Braemar Gathering
    Braemar Gathering
  • Caber Tossing at the Braemar Gathering
    Caber Tossing
  • Members of Clan Cameron proudly march through the streets of Edinburgh
    Clan Cameron parade
  • Members of Clan Macpherson gathering at the Newtonmore Highland Games and Annual Clan Macpherson Rally, Newtonmore
    Members of Clan Macpherson

From evenings experiencing toe-tapping traditional music in friendly pubs, to the colour and excitement of the Highland games - every gathering of Scots is a celebration that you'll want to be part of.

Historically, foot racing, horse racing and wrestling were originally a common feature of Michaelmas celebrations in Scotland, whilst other racing and athletics contests sprang up at fairs on various holy days. 

Similar sporting contests also took place at the conclusion of military musters and were staged by different clans. The clans' warriors used these events to test their physical prowess and at one such muster in 1574, 'tossing of ye barr' (caber-tossing) first appeared on record. Interestingly, these original competitions did not call simply for feats of strength. In fact, poets, bards and musicians also performed and competed at these events.

It is thought that Highland games originated from Scottish clans competing against each other in various sporting events, with clan chiefs selecting their strongest, fastest, fittest and most entertaining men to represent the clan. The formalisation of Highland games and their establishment as annual events dates from the 1820s, a part of the romanticisation of Highland culture that was rife amongst the British ruling class at the time.

Accounts from the games of this period describe a programme of contests that are largely unchanged today. While events like ‘twisting the four legs off a cow’ no longer take place at modern Highland games, they still comprise of much of the same activities - running and jumping, throwing stones or hammers, tugs-of-war, tossing the caber, as well as a variety of piping and dancing competitions.

There are over 500 clan and family associations registered around the world, who regularly host clan gatherings to celebrate their Scottish heritage. For more information about clan gatherings, see the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.