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A healthy bit of competition at the Highland Games

Posted by Katy Peck on 20 May 2019
Related property: Tigh Mor Trossachs
A healthy bit of competition at the Highland Games

If you visit Tigh Mor Trossachs between May and August, make sure to take some time to experience a traditional Highland Games. The games have been a part of Scottish culture for centuries, bringing together communities for a bit of competition, celebration and history…. All set in some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK!

Where did the Highland Games come from?

There’s no definite answer as to why the Highland Games started. The most common theories are that it was used to find the strongest men for battle, or to find people to fill positions in the clan chieftains’ household. The first written reference to the games occurs all the way back in the 11th Century, during the reign of King Malcolm III. The King asked for men to race to the top of Craig Choinnich – potentially to evaluate them for the job of royal courier! Some of the events are thought to go back even further, perhaps as far as the third or fourth century when the Ancient Celts used them as tests of stamina and strength.

The oldest Highland Games still taking place in Scotland are the Ceres Games, which started in 1314. These began when Robert the Bruce allowed the village to host a fair in order to honour the clansmen and villagers who fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.

After the 18th Century, the games became less about war games and more about entertainment, with the addition of parades, music and other family events. Queen Victoria first attended the Braemar Highland Games in 1838, as they are relatively close to Balmoral Castle, and her approval led to the Highland Games growing in popularity across the country. The Royal Family still regularly attend these games today.

In 1889, the founder of the International Olympic Committee visited some Highland Games events in Paris, after which they added the hammer throw, shot put and tug o’war to the official Olympic Games! Hammer throwing and shot put are still part of the games today.

What happens at a Highland Games?

Highland Games are usually a one-day event taking place in outdoor settings all across Scotland. The main part of the games is the traditional spots, such as caber toss, tug o’ war and the hammer throw. There’s often Highland dancing and music, as well as plenty of food, drink and stalls. Many also hold livestock events, parades and other competitions.

The largest Highland Games in the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute. First held in 1894, it’s become the largest Highland Games in the World. These games also host the World Highland Dancing Championship, and thousands of people attend every year.

Most popular contests

There are many events at the Modern Highland Games, ranging from cycling to sheep-dog trials. However, the traditional 'Open Heavy Events’ are still the most popular. These events are only open to experienced athletes who can handle the weights and equipment safely and properly, and they make for really impressive viewing. Here we take a quick look at some of the iconic events which you’ll find at most Highland Games.

  • Toss the Caber - Possibly the most well-known of the heavy lifting events, the caber is a test of control, technique, balance and sheer strength. Very little is known about the origins of this event, but it’s been played for centuries. The caber itself is usually between 15 and 22 feet long, weighing between 7 and 13 stone. Contestants’ are required to throw the caber end over end in a straight line – the main aim is to have the caber land directly in front of the contestant, in line with his run up.

  • Stone Put – Very similar to the Shot Put, this involves throwing a heavy stone as far as possible. There is a wide variety of different types of stone put, involving different techniques and types of stone.

  • Tug O’War – Tug O’War is one of the oldest recorded games in history, dating back as far as 500 – 800 BC in China and Ancient Greece. It involves two teams of eight, who each aim to drag the other team over a line by pulling on opposite ends of a rope. It’s a combination of technique, sheer strength and often a great deal of attitude!

  • Sheaf Toss – In this game, a ‘sheaf’ is tossed over a bar using a pitchfork. While originally the ‘sheaf’ was a bale of hay, today it is usually a burlap bag stuffed with wheat, hay or straw. Each contestant gets three attempts and can toss the sheaf using any safe technique. The highest throw wins!

  • Hammer Throw – The Hammer Throw may go all the way back to the 13th Century, when King Edward I of England made it illegal for Scots to own weapons. Today, the hammer used isn’t an actual hammer, but a heavy metal ball attached to a sturdy pole. Contestants use the pole to swing the hammer around their head and then throw it over their shoulder. A skilled male competitor can throw the hammer somewhere around 100 to 130 ft, a female competitor between 75 and 100 ft.

  • Other Events – Of course, there are many other events which take place at the Highland Games, some of which are unique to that particular area. These can include ‘weight over the bar’ and ‘weight for distance’.

Last but not least, did you know that it’s always been traditional for Open Heavy event participants to wear tartan kilts during the Games. However, this only became an official requirement in 2013! 

Highland Games near Tigh Mor

If you’re looking to attend a Highland Games event during your visit, you can find the majority of gatherings happening across Scotland here.

The Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games take place every July and at just 35-minutes away, are a great choice for holidaymakers at Tigh Mor Trossachs. These traditional Highland Games have been running for over 200 years and involve dancing, piping and Open Heavy events. There are races for the children to get involved with as well as a range of stands offering entertainment and delicious food.

If you like the idea of learning how to toss the caber, throw a shot put and take part in a tug o’war, there are plenty of places which offer a ‘Mini Highland Games’ day out – Go Country are a good example based less than an hour from the property.

For more information on how you can stay at our beloved Tigh Mor property, set in the beauty of the Trossachs National Park, make sure to get in touch.

Katy Peck

Katy Peck

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