The Scottish Highland Games are in full swing during the summer. Respected and enjoyed around the World, with many offshoots in a surprising amount of locations, the Highland Games is one of the first things people think of when they imagine Scotland.
The Highland Games are not just about wearing kilts and throwing large objects through the air! Its deeply rooted in Scottish tradition and celebrates Scottish heritage with music, dancing and games.
For many people though, it is an unusual tradition and can be hard to understand what they are doing - so in our latest blog we take a good look at what's involved in the Highland Games. Once you've read this - maybe you'll have the confidence to take part in the future!
What are the Highland Games?
The Highland Games are seen as a celebration of Scottish culture and history and consists of:
People come from around the world to enjoy watching the competitions or to participate.
Arguably, the athletic events bring in the largest crowds and are the pinnacle of the Highland Games. There are quite a few events people participate in - all of which challenges the raw strength of the individual. Of course, this strength goes hand in hand with skill as well!
The most well-known of these feats of strength is the Caber Toss. The word ‘caber’ comes from ‘cabar’ or ‘kaber,’ which is Gaelic for wooden beam. The size of this large wooden beam varies, but is usually around 19 feet high and weighs around 175 pounds. The wood is sourced from local trees.
The aim of the game is simple - participants lift the wooden pole and then toss it in the air. The objective is for the caber/tree trunk to be tossed end over end away from the person and should fall in the 12 o’ clock position.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not about how far you toss the caber, but how the caber lands on the ground. Judges watch from the side to confirm it has landed correctly.
Another event you may recognise, since it’s incredibly similar to the Shot Put event in the Olympic Games, is the Stone Put (or Stone Throw) event. The idea is that you see how far you can throw a very heavy stone, ranging from 16 – 22 lbs to 20 - 26 lbs, depending on the technique allowed for the event.
The Braemar Stone allows participants to run towards the toeboard or 'trig' before releasing the stone. The Open Stone allows throwers to use any technique as long as the stone is put in one hand and cradled in the neck area before release.
The Hammer Throw
The Hammer Throw is another event that can test the strength and athleticism of the competitor. They will whirl a weighted ball (between 16 and 22 lb) attached to a handle that’s 4 feet in length, usually made from wood, over their head whilst they stand in a fixed position. Once they have reached a sufficient momentum they will launch over the shoulder for distance.
There are loads of other events too; such as the Weight Throw, Weight Over the Bar and Maide Leisg, in order to ascertain a winner of proceedings. It’s quite the spectacle and tends to be a large reason for why people attend the games.
The music feature of the games comprises a large gathering of pipe bands, for the uninitiated that would be the bagpipes. The bands will predominantly play together at the start and the end of the ceremony, with favourites such as Amazing Grace and Scotland the Brave played. The pipe bands will also compete against each other as well as solo pipers and smaller ensembles in competition.
The dance competitions are similar to the piping in that there are events for both groups and individuals, with their displays of Scottish dancing such as the Highland Fling. The outfits tend to be as eye catching as the dances themselves and can feature tropes from not only Scotland but around the world.
Highland dancing is very technical and competitive. The dance involves a combination of well timed steps, with arm and hand movements.
Like many other traditions, Highland dancing has changed and evolved over the years. Until the 1980s, only four traditional dances remained, with many lost over time. Now certain dances are being tweaked and modernised, increasing its popularity.
Alongside all the events are traditional food stalls, Clan gatherings, various vendors of Scottish products and some will have trials and exhibitions of livestock, such as Highland Coos.
If you aren’t going to be in Scotland anytime soon, and this blog has wet your appetite to see the games, you’ll be pleased to know that Highland Games take place all over the World. Still, there’s not substitute for coming to Scotland and seeing the real thing!
Images courtesy of Ian Robertson, Angus Chan, Jumborois and Ally Middleton via Flickr