The Highland games are a real tradition in the Highlands. These summer events can be compared to a modern version of the twelve labours of Hercules.

The Highland Games: what is it?

The games are a place where visitors come to admire the physical prowess of men (and women!).They can also attend traditional dance performances, bagpipe concerts and even taste the local specialties.

Competitors are professionals or amateurs, coming from around the world as well as locals. Wearing the traditional kilt, they compete with each other in traditional and heavy athletic sports such as tug-o-war and caber tossing. They can also participate in track and field events, Highland dance competitions and piping.

If you’re planning on going to Scotland this summer, it is a must do. The whole family will enjoy the joyful atmosphere and the one-of-a-kind show, all of it punctuated by rousing bagpipe music.

The origins

Long ago, Scottish clans had to defend their territories from the enemies. Highland chiefs had to prepare for battle. To do so, they organised contests based on physical performances to choose their strongest warriors. It is reported in many history books that King Malcolm III of Scotland once summoned several warriors to a running contest in order to choose the fastest man around the land and make him his royal messenger. Many see this event as being the first Highland game.

Officially, the Highland Games as we know them today are a Victorian invention, created after the Highland clearances during the 18th and 19th century.

The events

Though many activities make up the Games, many consider Highland athletics as being the major event, meaning that everything else is just basic entertainment.

As part of the “Heavy events” we can find (among others) the Caber toss, the Stone put, the Scottish hammer throw, the weight throw and the sheaf toss. Most of the competitors in this category are former high school track and field athletes and see the games as a good way to start a competitive career. Caber tossing is extremely impressive but unlike what people think, it isn’t all about strength. In fact, it requires an undeniable and ancestral expertise. In the Highlands, it is considered as an art.

The massive amount of traditional Scottish pipe bands is, for a great majority of visitors, the most remarkable event. During the festival, bands march and play traditional music together all day long. It also features numerous piping and drumming competitions. Pipes are not the only instrument played; you will also hear Celtic harp and fiddling music.

Among the variety of secondary attractions, the traditional dancing competitions are highly appreciated by locals and visitors.

Among the major events you don’t want to miss, there is the Braemar Gathering, which is famous because attended by the British Royal Family. There is also the Cowal Highland Gathering, the biggest festival overall and host to the famous dancing competition. Finally, the Burntisland Games are also famous because they are the second oldest Highland games in the world.