10 of the very brawest Highland Games this summer

10 of the very brawest Highland Games this summer
10 of the very brawest Highland Games this summer

HIGHLAND Games are as Scottish as Irn-Bru, shortbread and being optimistic about the national footy team’s prospects. (If only those other pesky teams didn’t insist on kicking the ball, too. Then we’d stand a chance.)

On the subject of ball blootering… that’s one of the few sports you’re unlikely to witness at a Highland Games. Instead, there’s oversized toothpick chucking. Or tossing the caber, as it’s sometimes known.

Bulky chaps also pretend to be Marvel Gods of Thunder, and hurl oversize hammers around, hoping none of them will land in a nearby cake stall. For even Gods of Thunder are terrified of grumpy grannies whose baking has been mashed.

The origins of the Games can be traced back over 900 years, to the era of King Malcolm III, the bloke who usurped Macbeth. (And, no, ‘usurping’ isn’t a competitive Highland sport, a bit like Tiddlywinks, only with a slightly higher fatality rate.)

The modern version of the Games began in Falkirk – as much a part of the Highlands as Chipping Norton – in 1781. Nowadays there are more than 60 gatherings. Here’s our pick of the best…

Bearsden & Milngavie Highland Games, June 11

LAUNCHED in 1973 as a small fundraising event for local communities, the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games is now the biggest single day out in East Dunbartonshire. As well as all the traditional sporting pursuits, visitors can watch, or participate, in the World Haggis Hurling Championship, which on the surface sounds fun.

But have the poor haggises been warned that they’re about to be launched into the stratosphere? Surely there is the possibility of at least one of the gentle and trusting creatures being seriously injured. Clearly the SSPCO (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Offal) must be alerted…


Strathmore Highland Games, June 12

SOME Highland Games have bouncy castles. A few go one better and have a castle of the non-inflatable variety.

Which brings us to Strathmore Highland Games, which has the very glam Glamis Castle as a backdrop.

Glamis was the childhood home of the Queen Mother. There’s also rumours of a monster locked up in the building. Let’s hope the foul beastie doesn’t escape during the Strathmore Games. Not only would it run amok, maiming, mauling and mashing, it might also bag victory in one of the dancing competitions, which would be most unfair, as only bona fide homo sapiens are allowed to take part.


Inveraray Highland Games, July 19

THESE games were founded by Mary Queen of Scots, who visited the area in 1563, and encouraged local young bucks to show off their athletic prowess. She probably would have been just as impressed if they had taken her for a whizz in their Lamborghinis. Unfortunately for Mary, Lamborghinis wouldn’t be invented for a few hundred years.


Killin Highland Games, Aug 3

THE opening ceremony involves a parade from the magnificent Falls of Dochart, led by the reigning games champion, bearing ceremonial shield and sword. Expect terrific bagpipe playing, as there’s a piper prize fund of £1,560.

Let’s hope the victorious pipers don’t blow their winnings with the same energy they blow their pipes…


Newtonmore Highland Games, August 6

‘RETURN of the Mack’ is the title of a 1990s hit song by R&B warbler Mark Morrison. We imagine it’s about a bloke who loses his raincoat, then has it returned by an honest broker. (No doubt Mark Morrison scribbled his name and address in the inner collar, a clever ploy if you want to keep your wardrobe intact.)

Meanwhile, the Newtonmore Highland Games could be called the ‘Return of the Mac’, for this shindig plays host to the annual Clan Macpherson Association Gathering, which sees people of that surname from around the world uniting to celebrate their shared heritage.

Don’t be concerned if your surname is Smith, Carruthers or Finkelstein. There’s plenty of events you can also enjoy, including a race up the Creag Dhubh and oodles of Highland dancing.


The Crieff Highland Gathering, Aug 21

THRILLING the masses since 1870, the Crieff Highland Gathering is famous for being the home of the Scottish Heavyweight Championships and Scottish Native Heavyweight Championships (only open to those born and raised in Alba).

Both championships see mountainous fellows, made entirely out of testosterone and tartan, vying to bag victory through trials of strength such as tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, putting the shot and throwing the weight, (very different to throwing the weight around, which is what Donald Trump and other big-headed big shots are apt to do).

In 2013 Prince William became the Royal Chieftain of the games. We wonder if little bruv, Harry, found out. Perhaps that’s why the jealous Duke sloped off in a huff to California….


Cowal Highland Gathering, Aug 25th-27th

THE town of Dunoon in Argyll has roughly 23,000 visitors every year for its Highland Games. Attendees arrive from Canada, America, South Africa and Australia, many looking to commune with their Scottish roots while blending in with the locals by wearing kilts and attempting to speak like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

The games attract about 3,500 competitors, and there’s lots of things to enjoy besides the sporting spectacle, including The World Highland Dancing Championships and the Cowal Pipe Band Championship, the oldest pipe band competition in the world.

There’s an evening piping parade, too, plus crazy golf, which, to be fair, isn’t particularly Scottish, for round these parts folk prefer the sane version of whacking a dimpled ball into shrubbery.


Lonach Highland Gathering & Games, Aug 27

GLAMOROUS former visitors to the Lonach Highland Gathering have included Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Ewan McGregor and Queen Elizabeth. In Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, the festivities include the march of the Lonach Highlanders, who parade from Bellabeg to Strathdon.

There’s the usual heavyweight events plus Highland dancing competitions. Look out for the Highland Fling, Sword Dance and Reel of Tulloch.

There’s also a hill race, which sounds delightful, until you realise the running is mostly in a precipitously upward direction, rather than casually skipping down a gently inclining, daisy-scattered, embankment.


The Braemar GatheringSept 3

QUEEN Victoria is famous for her catchphrase: “We are not amused.” Though we bet she was plenty amused when she visited the village of Braemar in Aberdeenshire for the Braemar Gathering.

One of the most prestigious Highland Games, it has long been a favourite with the royal family. (Excluding Harry and Meghan, who prefer chilling out by an LA pool, as we mentioned previously.)

Every reigning monarch since Vicky’s era has been a patron to the Braemar Royal Highland Society, so this is the real deal. The crème de la crème of caber toss culture.

The setting of the Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park in Braemar is also prettier than anything etched on a shortbread tin.


Peebles Highland Games, Sept 3

THE athletic endeavours involved in any Highland Games are exhausting. Thankfully the Peebles gathering has gourmet food stalls plus whisky and gin tasting, providing a perfect perk-me-up. Just don’t try the strenuous stuff after imbibing the hard stuff, or you won’t be tossing the caber… you’ll be tossing your lunch.