The modern version of the Highland Games is largely the product of the Victorian era, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there were early examples of the Games in Scotland as early as the 11th century. Less formal gatherings to test speed and strength predate recorded history in Scotland.
Most Highland Games will include a series of competitive events; from caber tossing and hammer throwing to traditional dancing, music and tug-of-war. There are now over 60 Highland Games events taking place every year in Scotland over the summer months.
The Highland Games have become emblematic of Scottish culture, and have experienced a significant revival in the last century, with events all over the country, and just an easy journey away with Caledonian Sleeper.
Arguably the most notable Event is the Braemar Gathering, held on Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. Located 60 miles west of Aberdeen, the Games are patronised by the Royal Family. The Queen’s summer residence of Balmoral is located just ten minutes from the site and is said to have hosted Malcolm III’s Highland Games in the late 11th century.
Queen Victoria took patronage of the revived games in 1840s, and it has remained a favourite of the ruling monarch ever since. Taking place on the first Saturday in September (the 3rd in 2016), the Braemar Gathering hosts the traditional heavy lifting competitions, as well as a tug-of-war between the competing branches of the armed services.
Located just over an hour from our stop at Glasgow Central, the Cowal Highland Gathering is the largest Highland Games event anywhere in Scotland, attracting an international rosteTrar of anything up to 3,500 competitors. The population of Dunoon – where the event has been held since 1894 – doubles over-night as 23,000 visitors descend on the Argyll town.
Taking place over the final weekend in August (25th-27th in 2016), the Cowal Highland games features all of the events you’d expect from such a prodigious competition, as well as live music, traditional food tasting, classic car displays and ceilidh events.
The modern version of the event is a little more in keeping with wider traditions, featuring the heavy lifting events, dancing and piping, as well as cycling and fairground attractions. Perth also boasts particularly fine crafts and trade stands, offering local produce and fare.
Most impressive of all the events is the Creag Dhubh hill race, an obstacle course where competitors much navigate fences, rivers, grasses, rocky trails, not to mention a field of thistles. Not for the faint of heart.
All of these events are closer than you think, with Caledonian Sleeper services running from Euston to stations throughout Scotland. Find out more about Highland Games in Scotland at visitscotland.com.
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