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  • A Lovat player and a Glenurquhart player race for the ball during a shinty match.
    A shinty match between Lovat and Glenurquhart
  • An Inverary player goes into tackle a Newtonmore player during a shinty match
    A shinty match between Newtonmore and Inveraray
  • Newtonmore and Kingussie players battle it out during a shinty match
    A shinty match between arch rivals Kingussie and Newtonmore
  • Players from Newtonmore and Kyles Athletic rush to the ball during a shinty match
    A shinty match between Newtonmore and Kyles Athletic

When in Scotland, why not take time to discover one of our most ancient and thrilling team sports? Watch a shinty match and witness first-hand the game that is so deeply imbedded in the bloodline of Highland life.

The origins of shinty

The shared historical roots of shinty and hurling, a very similar sport played in Ireland, run deep, with links to societies from the early Middle Ages. Historians claim that a sport referred to as ‘camanachd’ was first played in the sixth century. The origins of shinty are thought to have developed from techniques used to train ancient warriors in preparation for battle, and in today’s games, the players come to the pitch as though ready for warfare, determined to fight it out for the win.

How shinty is played

Shinty, as it is played today, is a fast, physical game where the objective is simple; score goals using a ball and stick. In men’s shinty, there are 12 players on each team, including one goalkeeper. In games played by women or children, the number of players, and the pitch dimensions, can be smaller. Each player uses a caman, a curved stick usually made out of wood, and a single, small leather ball is used in play - a well-struck shinty ball at very high speeds can travel over distances of 100 m.

You might think this game sounds just like hockey, but there are some key differences which set the two sports apart. In shinty, a player is allowed to play the ball in the air and both sides of the stick can be used to control the ball. The caman can also be used to block and to tackle opponents, and shoulder-to-shoulder body tackles are allowed – generally, shinty is a bit more rough-and-tumble than hockey.

The sport is played competitively and is organised into a number league and knockout cup competitions. First played for in 1895, the Camanachd Cup is the most coveted of trophies in the men’s competitions trophies, while for women’s shinty teams to win the Valerie Fraser Camanachd Cup is to take the most prestigious title. The cup finals for both these events take place in September every year.

When and where to see a shinty game

So where and when might you see a shinty game? Shinty was traditionally played during the winter months; New Year’s Day would be marked by a large-scale game between neighbouring communities. In more recent years, leagues and cups run between spring and autumn. Many towns and villages throughout the western and central Highlands have teams, and depending on fixtures, you might catch a home game.

If you want to see a match that’s bound to be electrically-charged, try and see the two fiercest rivals in the game, Kingussie and Newtonmore in action. These two villages lie in the Cairngorms National Park only three miles apart, and during both clubs’ long histories, more often than not they have been the most dominant forces in both league and cup tournaments. Kingussie were named by the Guinness Book of Records as world sport's most successful sporting team of all time.

In addition the dozens of teams in the Highlands, there are shinty clubs in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Musselburgh in East Lothian. Shinty is popular at a university level, with almost all Scotland's main universities possessing a team.

There’s also the chance to see shinty played on an international level. Every October, Scotland play Ireland in a match of shinty and the Irish game of hurling. As they are technically two different games, each evolving in its own way, a composite set of rules has been agreed between the Camanachd Association and its Irish counterpart, the Gaelic Athletic Association. In 2013 it was announced that a hybrid of the two games would be launched, called Iomain, where all players will use the same type of stick that is neither a Scottish caman nor Irish hurley.