The Romance of the Highland Games

For football fans, the summer months seem to drag out for an unbearable length of time. Many are completely lost and are delighted to see that the new season is now well underway.
However, for those who live in the more northerly parts of the country, the summer calendar is full with sporting events in the form of Highland Games.
The games have been deeply rooted as part of Scotland’s culture for around 1000 years and many who take part or even attend such an event feel a huge sense of Scottish identity with blaring bagpipers being a major showpiece of the day.
It is believed they started off as being a war game where soldiers would battle it out in a variety of testing challenges to be crowned the bravest warrior. One of the many advantages of these games is that many of the celebrated traditions that were apparent back then are still very much cherished today.
These include activities such as tossing the caber, highland dancing (which historically men took part in) and the infamous tug of war. Nowadays, there are also less traditional activities taking place such as running, cycling and even the odd haggis hurling.
These unique and quirky features make the games so well attended as people flock to these events across the country. The Cowal Highland gathering claims to be the biggest of its kind in the world with around 30,000 spectators at its peak and the Braemar games attracting 10,000.
Highland games are also not restricted to this part of the world as many of these are held in the likes of Canada, New Zealand and across several countries in Europe, places where Scots have historically migrated in their droves.
Many do not consider Highland games to be an energetic sporting competition as they assume that local bodybuilders and large men are normally called up to be the star of the show.
However, serious competitors spend hours weight lifting, sprinting and completing other vigorous training regimes in order to be able to throw a tree further than anyone else.
Similar to other athletes, competitors have to follow a strict and healthy balanced diet full of red meat and vitamins in order to stay at the top of their game.
Donald Dinnie was believed to be one of the greatest athletes in the 19th Century as his achievements within Highland games championships (which included being reigning Scottish Champion for an outstanding 20 years) and the fact that he was still competing in his 70s earned him that noble title.
Despite the decline of volunteers wanting to help out at these events, locals and newcomers are still keen to immerse themselves in this key part of Scottish culture.
Furthermore, the lack of televised coverage the Games receive make them more exclusive with many celebrities such as Billy Connolly, Ewen MacGregor and Sean Connery all being known to make an appearance.
The Royal family also tend to make surprise visits to games themselves with the Queen herself turning up unannounced at the 150th Aboyne Highland Games last month.
So, if next year you don’t really feel like watching Scottish football teams being knocked out by European minnows in the qualifiers, head up north for some real sporting action.

Featured image credit – Conor Lawless