Experiencing the Highland games
So, what's it like to spend a day at a Highland games? Here's what you can see, do and hear, as these events really are a feast of colour and spectacle, one to share with all of your family, friends and those you haven't met yet.
There's plenty to do to fill the whole day - many events run from around 10am to 4pm, but you'll easily fill those six hours watching the heavy events and Highland dancing, enjoying fun fairs and stalls, and enjoying delicious Scottish food and drink.
Heavy contests and field events
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.
Competitors in the heavy events use a range of techniques to improve their chances of winning. One movement in the weight for height event goes by the somewhat surprising nickname of 'the handbag technique', because the starting position is similar to where one would hold a handbag.
Perhaps the games' most iconic event, the caber toss is rumoured to have stemmed from the need to toss logs over chasms. Nowadays, however, it is judged on style rather than distance: competitors aim to flip a log weighing up to 11 st so that it falls away from them in the '12 o'clock position'. The length it travels is entirely unimportant.
Highland Games Training
Ever wondered how you would fare in a Highland games competition? Find out with Highland Games Academy Scotland and undertake training with a professional heavies athlete in a stunning Highland setting. Whether you're a local or a visitor to Scotland, people of all ages are invited to toss the caber, attempt the stone throw and other iconic heavy events. You can even try your hand at curling!
Get in touch to design a personally tailored training course which can be extended over multiple days to include driving tours, castle visits and more.
For many, one of the most memorable sights of the Highland games is the massed bands, when hundreds of pipers and drummers from different groups come together to play and march in unison. Look out for the solo piping competitions, where competitors play in a range of styles, including the Pibroch, which is considered the classical music of the bagpipe. Pibrochs tend to be slow, stately and complex.
Dancers give dazzling displays of fancy footwork in Scottish dances, such as the sword dance and the famous Highland fling. Competing for titles both solo and in groups, their colourful outfits and infectious energy will leave you in high spirits. The Cowal Highland Gathering is renowned for the quality of its Highland dancing, drawing in the best performers from around the globe as they compete in the Scottish and World Championships.
Highland games once saw clan members go head-to-head in fierce competition - and you'll still see this enthusiasm when clans muster all their might in a tug o' war. These days, clan attendance at games is now more of a social and ceremonial affair. Some Highland games are part of a wider clan gathering - a celebratory get-together featuring parades, Scottish music and dancing, feasts, heritage events and much joviality.
The ceremonial role of chieftain is bestowed upon a member of the local community or clan chief, who then leads processions, opens the games and oversees the whole event with aplomb.
Did you know that several games have boasted famous celebrity chieftains, including singer Susan Boyle and actors Ewan McGregor and Dougray Scott?