Updated: Mar 1
The Highland Games are as iconically Scottish as bagpipes, kilts & whisky – all of which feature heavily at any gathering. The Braemar Gathering which take place during the first weekend in September, is the only Games attended annually by the British Royal Family. This year the Queen attended with her son the Duke of Rothesay; her daughter the Princess Royal & Sir Timothy Laurence.
The Queen is the current, & longest serving, patron of the Braemar Royal Highland Society. Having first attended with her parents &grandparents at the age of seven in 1933, she has only missed the Gathering four times since taking the throne in 1952.
Its origins are Royal too. The contests of strength, jumping, running, throwing & riding – were introduced by Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III was King of Scots from 1058 to 1093) in 1040 as a means of selecting the most able men for soldiers & couriers.
It's said the Highland Games originate from Ireland in 2000 BC & that they crossed the water to Scotland with the fourth & fifth century migrations of the Scotti into Dalriada (Argyll) & beyond.
The Games, of course, are as much about music & dancing as they are about sports. Dancing, piping, fiddling, & playing the clarsach (Gaelic harp). There was a competitive element here too. The clan chieftains pitted their pipers against those of other clans & the prestige that came from success was considerable.
In addition to the Games all across Scotland itself, there are more than 200 annual games & gatherings across the US & Canada, with games also in New Zealand & Australia.
The competitive element is a major attraction but when combined with the spectacle of Highland dancers & pipers & the colour & grandeur of the Scottish scenery which forms their backdrop, Highland Games become a must on any visitor's Scotland itinerary.
The Games are also noted for their unique sporting & athletic events many of which involve throwing & lifting. These include the shot put, tug-o-war, caber toss & hammer throw - collectively known as heavy events.
Some of the traditions & typical features of any Highland Games are:
The caber toss has come to almost symbolise the Highland games & no gathering anywhere in the world would be complete without it.
In the caber toss, a full length log, usually made of Scots pine, is stood upright & lifted by the competitor using both hands under the bottom of the caber to rest against their body. The competitor then runs forward, building momentum, before tossing the caber into the air so that it turns end over end with the upper end landing before the end originally held by the competitor follows through & hits the ground.
The aim is for the caber to land in line with the original run. If it is straight the toss is said to be in the 12 o'clock position. Competitors are judged on how closely their toss lands to 12 o'clock.
The hammer throwing (picture above) event features a hammer made from a metal ball weighing around 22 lb for men or 16 lb for women, attached to a wooden pole or handle. The competitors use the handle to whirl the hammer around their head & then throw it as far as they can.
The shot put you will have seen at any Olympic games during the track & field events, is a favourite at all Highland Games. Competitors throw a large stone of around 20 - 26lbs in weight as far as they can. The stone is thrown either after a short run-up to the toeboard or from a fixed standing position, depending on the rules of the competition. The contestant who throws the furthest wins.
The tug o'war is one of the most fiercely fought over competitions at the Highland Games. This involves eight men pulling against another team of eight, coached by an additional member of the team who encourages the team & shouts instructions of technique to ensure they pull their opposite number across the line.
The Queen also unveiled a plaque as she officially opened the Duke of Rothesay Highland Games Pavilion at this years event & Her Majesty viewed an exhibition inside the Pavilion.
DID YOU KNOW? In Scotland Prince Charles uses his Scottish title the Duke of Rothesay.
The Duke of Rothesay is a dynastic title of the heir apparent to the British throne It was a title of the heir apparent to the throne of the Kingdom of Scotland before 1707, of the Kingdom of Great Britain from 1707 to 1801, & now of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. It is the title mandated for use by the heir apparent when in Scotland, in preference to the titles Duke of Cornwall (which also belongs to the eldest living son of the monarch, when & only when he is also heir apparent, by right) & Prince of Wales (traditionally granted to the heir apparent), which are used in the rest of the United Kingdom & overseas. The Duke of Rothesay also holds other Scottish titles, including those of Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles & Prince & Great Steward of Scotland. The title is named after Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, Argyll and Bute, but is not associated with any legal entity or landed property, unlike the Duchy of Cornwall.
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