A Highland games


12 fascinating facts on Scotland's Highland games

  • 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 stone so that it falls away from them in the ‘12 o’clock position’. The length it travels is entirely unimportant.
  • World Records are regularly broken at Highland games in Scotland and beyond. In 2014, a Guinness World Record was set at the Masters World Championships in Inverness, when the most cabers were tossed at the same time. Over 160 kilted athletes took part, with 66 cabers being successfully tossed in the allotted time.
  • For many, one of the most memorable sights of the Highland games is the massed bands, when hundreds of pipers 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.
  • Highland dancing at the games was originally an all-male event, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that women started to enter. The Cowal 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.
  • The Birnam Highland Games are held on the last Saturday in August where the World Championship Haggis Eating Competition takes place. A fun, yet fiercely competitive event, the winner is the competitor who finishes eating a pound of haggis in the quickest amount of time. The 2019 winner was Alastair Ross, from Newburgh in Fife, who ate the haggis in 68.09 seconds.
  • You never know quite what you’ll see at a Highland games. Often one of the highlights of the local community calendar, they usually include a range of side shows, such as livestock events, parades, pet shows and even bonny baby competitions. At Aberfeldy Show and Games in Perthshire, you can even watch the more unusual sports of terrier racing!
  • Several games have boasted famous chieftains, including the singer Susan Boyle, who was Chieftain of the West Lothian Highland Games  in 2014. Ewan McGregor (Star Wars, Trainspotting) was named Chieftain of the games in his hometown Crieff in 2001, and fellow actor Dougray Scott (Desperate Housewives, Mission Impossible: II) has held the honour at the Markinch Games in Fife.
  • Did you know that Baron Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was so greatly impressed by a Highland display he saw at the 1889 Paris Exhibition that he introduced the hammer throw, shot put and the tug o’ war to his competition? The former two are still included to this day.
  • 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.
  • Haggis hurling began as a practical joke in the 1970s but is now a popular event at many Highland games – there’s even a World Haggis Hurling Association dedicated to the sport! The current world record was set at the Milngavie Highland Games in 2011, when Lorne Coltart hurled a haggis an impressive 217 ft.
  • Highland games now take place all around the world. The mostly northerly are held in Finnmark, Norway and the furthest south in Dunedin in New Zealand. The US and Canada host hundreds of Highland games, and there’s even a Latin American edition of the event in Brazil’s Sapucaia do Sul each year.
  • The Scottish Highland Games Association, who represent over 60 Highland games in Scotland, state that all competitors in open heavy events must wear a kilt when they compete. Great news for kilt makers, and fans of the tartan look!