Legend has it that 11th-century King Malcolm III of Scotland summoned men to race to the top of Creag Choinnich in order to find the quickest runner – the winner would then become his royal messenger.
Over the years the games have slowly developed, the Victorians having had the greatest hand in creating the event we see today.
Contrary to what many think, there is no single event – each year over 60 competitions take place, ranging from modest village affairs to much grander occasions, such as August’s Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, the largest of them all.
Going to a highland games is the perfect way to peel back a layer of traditional culture and discover the Gàidhealtachd, or Gaelic-speaking Scotland.
At a local level, contestants hail from the surrounding area, though there is always a contingent of serious competitors who travel from place to place to compete with the great and glorious. Contests range from field events such as the half-mile to sword dancing, piping and, of course, tossing the caber.
Unless you fancy yourself as a porridge-eating muscle-head, events such as tossing the caber, the stone put (a stone used instead of shot) and hammer throw are best left to the professionals. That said, organizers welcome entrants for field events and, if you’ve got a willing partner, the 3-legged race. It’s always a good idea to be there at the end too – when highland folk like to sink a few wee drams and dance to reels and jigs at céilidhs.
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