Scottish Highland Games

The Highland Games, that well-known sporting event, are a celebration of Scottish culture in general, but most specifically the cultural and sporting heritage of the Highlands.  They take place in various venues throughout the year in Scotland, and even other countries.  Although some argue that the games date back to the eleventh century and the reign of King Malcolm III of Scotland, the modern incarnation of the games is much more recent, and it is as late as the nineteenth century Victorian period that the Highland games were developed in their current form.

 The Highland Games mainly take the form of a competitive country show.  Highland dancing is much in evidence, as is traditional Scottish music with a full complement of drum-majors and bagpipes.  The games also provide an opportunity to showcase Scottish culture and crafts, again with an emphasis on Highland and Island Celtic life.   They also serve to provide an opportunity for participants to drink a lot of beer, ale (brown) and Lager (blonde), served not warm as in England, but cool as on the continent.

Some aspects of the Highland Games have become almost emblematic of Scotland.  This is especially true of the traditional tests of strength for which the games are perhaps most famous, with participants dressed in kilts and parades of bagpipers in attendance.  Among the most famous tests of strength, are the "Tossing of the Caber" and "tug of war".  The Caber is, in fact, a tree trunk measuring between 5 and 6.5 meters which must be thrown to land upright for a valid “toss”.

With nearly 3,500 participants and 15 to 20 thousand spectators from around the world, the most important games held in Scotland are probably those that take place in Dunoon every August, known as the "Cowal Games."  In global terms, however, the Highland Games that attract the most people are those held in the United States, such as those organised by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco, founded in 1865.

The events seen at Highland Games around the world varies, but you could expect to see the following different categories at most venues:

  • The tug of war
  • The Tossing of the Caber - sending a very heavy and long tree trunk in the air and in front of you, so that the trunk make a complete U-turn falling as near as possible in line, after the other end touches the ground
  • The sprints and middle-distance
  • Bonking a heavy weight (56 pounds) over a high bar
  • throwing a weight (28 or 56 pounds or so) at the end of a chain
  • throwing the hammer (the hammer weighing  around 16 to 22 pounds)
  • throwing a large mill- stone as far as possible

These tests may be accompanied by other activities such as:

  • Dance competitions (in a style similar to Irish dancing)
  • Contests and parades of bagpipes
  • “Haggis Hurling”.  This event, however is not part of the roster of traditional Highland games events, but largely an expression of Scottish humour, designed as a spoof event to fool those ever gullible sassenachs.