Highland Games in Scotland: Culture, Traditions and Sports

Are you interested to know more about the Highland Games? What is more characteristically Scottish than clans, kilts, or bagpipes? The celebration of the Highland games, a distinctive way to experience Scottish and Gaelic culture, is a place where all three come together.

There are hundreds of Highland games today all over the world, even though they may date back to the time of the Druids in Scotland more than a thousand years ago. Thousands of participants and spectators attend Highland festivals.

What are the Highland Games, you ask?

The Highland Games are an outdoor competition that typically lasts for one day. Some of the spectators participate in traditional Highlands sports like the renowned hammer throw. Despite the competition being the main attraction, there will also be Highland dancing, live music, food vendors, and non-competitive games available.

Although the games originated in the Highlands, they are now held from May to August throughout all of Scotland. To encourage more people to attend, most events are scheduled for the weekend. Between 8000 and 15,000 people typically attend Aberdeen’s own Highland Games each year!

Highland Games is one of the UK’s most fun British cultures, traditions, and celebrations. If you are curious about the others, I wrote another article about British culture and traditions.

Brief History of the Highland Games

Highland Games in Scotland
Highland Games in Scotland

Although the Highland Games as we know them today have only been held since the early 19th century, they have roots in older customs and gatherings. In fact, a lot of things date back to the 11th century.

The tradition may have begun with Malcolm III, the murdered King Duncan’s son whose tale served as the basis for Macbeth. He allegedly organized a foot race close to Braemar to choose the nation’s top runner as his personal courier. Many games still feature a hill race today!

The games evolved over time into a means of amusement for clan chiefs, kings, and queens. In the Disney movie “Brave,” where the firstborns of each clan leader compete in an archery match for Princess Merida’s hand, you can see a representation of these games.

The Highland Games haven’t always evolved in the same way throughout history. The highland culture was suppressed as a result of interruptions caused by war and a British attempt to undermine the clan system. It wasn’t until Queen Victoria’s reign, in the middle to late 19th century, that the games assumed a more official and sanctioned structure.

Due to the competition’s current popularity, the hammer throw and shot put events are now part of the Olympic Games.

What is the Oldest Highland Games?

The oldest games in Scotland are the Ceres Games, which have been held in Fife since 1314.

More than 700 years have passed since Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotland, gave the village permission to hold a market and fair in honor of the farmers, laborers, artisans, and “the small folk” who fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Where are the Best Places to See the Highland Games?

More than 60 Highland Games are held in Scotland each season, from Carmunnock in the south to Durness in the north. Here are some of the most famous Highland Games events.

Perth Highland Games

One of the most well-attended occasions on the Scottish Highland Games calendar, which runs from May to mid-September each year, is the Perth Highland Games. You may check the ticket availability on their website.

The games include traditional Heavyweight competitions like throwing weights, hammers, and cabers within the magnificent Scone Palace grounds. Additionally, there are Highland dancing competitions, foot and bicycle races, and the hugely popular pipe band competition, in which numerous bands from abroad frequently participate.

Crieff Highland Games

The Gathering is held in the famous Market Park in the heart of Crieff. They are offering a full schedule of traditional Highland Games competitions, such as Heavyweights, Light Field, Tug of War, Cycling, Highland Dancing, and Running for Youth. Along with the spine-tingling salute to the Chieftain and the customary Massed Pipe Bands finale, they also feature a number of piling performances throughout the day.

For more ticket information and more details, you may check their website at Crieff Highland Games.

Cowal Highland Gathering

The Cowal Highland Gathering has long asserted its status as the world’s largest sporting event. Although attendance peaked at 30,000, it’s more likely that there were around 20,000 people there for the entire three-day event. The World Highland Dancing Championships are held at the games, and competitors from the US, Canada, and Australia frequently participate.

For tickets announcements, you may check their website at cowalgathering.com.

Braemar Gathering

This event, which takes place every September in Aberdeenshire, is regarded as the most prestigious games in the world because every year, members of the Royal Family attend. In reality, during her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II only missed four games.

For ticket questions and concerns, contact the bookings secretary via – bookings@braemargathering.org, or you may check it here.

The Atholl Gathering

Blair Castle will host the Atholl Gathering and Highland Games once again soon. With a “March On,” accompanied by the beat of their pipes and drums, the Atholl Highlanders formally kick off the Highland Games. Scottish strongmen from all over the country compete on stage.

Throwing the hammer, putting the shot, and tossing the caber are among the activities. Numerous additional activities, including highland dancing, tug of war, solo piping, trade stands, and refreshments, make for a fun family day out.

For more details and ticket concerns, you may visit atholl-estates.co.uk

Bridge of Allan Games

One of Scotland’s top Highland Games, Bridge of Allan draws between 8,000 and 10,000 spectators. The games take place at the Bridge of Allan, where the National Wallace Monument, made famous by the blockbuster film Braveheart, is nestled between Stirling Castle, Scotland’s most important historic site, the lovely Ochil Hills, and the field.

For admission and ticket prices, please visit bofagames.com

What are the Games Played in the Highland Games?

You can participate in two different types of games: heavy competitions and light events. While light events test speed and stamina, heavy competitions are a test of strength. The following are a few of the most well-known games you can play at the Highland Games:

1. Caber Toss

The game that best represents the event is the caber toss. Without it, no gathering anywhere in the world would be considered complete. It has almost come to symbolize the Highland Games.

Caber Toss Highland Games in Scotland
Caber Toss: Highland Games in Scotland

A full-length log, typically made of Scots pine, is lifted by the participant in the caber toss using both hands under the caber’s bottom to rest against their body. After gathering speed, the competitor sprints forward before launching the caber into the air so that it flips over and the upper end lands before the end the competitor was holding initially follows through and lands on the ground.

The caber is supposed to land parallel to the initial run. The toss is said to be at 12 o’clock if it is straight. Competition winners are determined by how closely their tosses land on the hour.

2. Hammer Throw

Hammer Throw: Scottish Highland Games

Due to its inclusion in the Olympics, the hammer throw has gained international recognition. The hammer used in the Highland Games is composed of a metal ball that is fastened to a long wooden pole. For men, the metal ball weighs 9.98kg (22lb), while for women, it weighs 7.25kg (16lb). The game’s simple objective is to throw the hammer as far as you can.

3. Weight over the bar

Weight over the bar or Weight Throw in Scotland
Weight over the bar or Weight Throw in Scotland

The Weight for Height is another name for this. Competitors in this event must use just one hand toss a 25.4 kg (56 lb) weight over a raised bar. If they are successful, they can attempt to throw the weight again with a higher target. They persist until they give up. In 2014, American Dan Williams broke the record for the highest throw with a bar that was 6.17 meters (20 feet, 3 inches) high.

4. Tug o’ war

Tug o war Highland Games in Scotland
Tug o war: Highland Games in Scotland

In a fierce competition known as the tug of war, two teams pit their strength against one another. In this game, players pull on opposite ends of a rope with the intention of dragging the opposing team across a line in the center. Eight members of each team are pulling on the rope, and a ninth person is shouting instructions and encouragement.

5. Shot Put or Stone Put

Shot put or Stone put Highland Games in Scotland
Shot put or Stone put: Highland Games in Scotland

At all reputable Highland Games, the shot put is a favorite event. A heavy stone that weighs between 20 and 26 pounds is thrown as far as possible by competitors. Depending on the competition’s rules, the stone is either thrown from a fixed standing position or after a brief run-up to the toeboard. Whoever throws the farthest wins the competition.

6. Highland Dancing

Highland dancing is featured in various ways during different games. Although primarily included for entertainment and a celebration of Highland dancing, the Highland Games also host a number of national and international competitions, with dancers coming from all over the world to compete!

Highland Dancing Highland Games in Scotland
Highland Dancing: Highland Games in Scotland

Women and children performed some solo and social dances at first, but only men performed Highland dances. Jenny Douglas made the decision to compete in a Highland dancing contest in the late nineteenth century. She was allowed to compete because it was not against the rules for women to compete, just not customary. It has since evolved into a sport and art form that is dominated by women.

Highland dance, which is often performed to traditional Scottish music, is enchanting to watch and is easily identifiable by its vivid tartan, white socks, and vivacious kicks.

7. Hill Race

Hill Race: Highland Games in Scotland

Hill races feature runners using any available method to ascend a nearby hill as quickly as they can. Due to the challenging terrain and many steep hills, this Highland Games event can challenge even experienced runners.

Do You Have to Wear a Kilt to Compete in the Highland Games?

Yes, you have to wear a kilt if you wish to compete in the Highland Games.

Kilts continue to be an important part of Scottish culture and are prominently displayed during the Highland Games. According to the Scottish Highland Games Association’s rules, all participants in open heavy events are required to wear kilts while competing. You might see people wearing their clan’s distinctive tartan pattern on their kilts because many Highland Games are also a part of larger clan celebrations. If you’re curious to learn everything there is to know about Scottish tartan, check out this guide.

What are the Rules of the Highland Games?

The rules vary depending on the game. In this guide, you will learn about the general rules for all the event.

  • A Scottish Heavy Events competition includes at least five events. With five events, no two will be alike (such as two stones, two weight throws for distance, or two hammers).
  • If a broken implement can’t be repaired quickly, the round should be restarted with a new one. If time doesn’t permit, a new implement is used and the round continues where it left off.
  • The judge may disqualify competitors who cannot complete a throw without injuring themselves, other competitors, or spectators. The judge can disqualify poor sportsmen.
  • All competitors must wear a kilt during the Highland Games.
  • If the referee deems it necessary, the judge may set a time limit for each throw. The attempt will be a foul if the competitor does not start the throw within that window of time.
  • In the event of a tie after any of the above tie-breaking methods have been applied, the points for the places in question will be added together and divided evenly among the tied competitors.
  • Wood is to be used to create the trig. The trig will measure 6″ tall, 6″ wide, and 4′-6″ long. The trig must be firmly fastened to the ground in order to prevent movement during the competition in the event that a competitor steps against it.
  • The winner of the competition may attempt to break a record—whether it be a Games Record, a North American Record, or a World Record—with three additional throws. The Decathlon scoring system will not award points for additional throws made for records.
  • Some fingers or the thumb on the throwing hand may be taped, but not all of the fingers or thumb. No straps or other devices will be allowed to help the competitor hold the implement, only gloves. In height events, athletes won’t be allowed to wear shoes that might help them grow taller.
  • A person must try to compete in all of the events if they want to win or place in an overall competition. If a competitor doesn’t try to compete in all the events, the judge can decide that they won’t get points or prizes for any of the events or for the whole competition.
  • The points for an event are usually given in one of three ways: the person with the fewest points wins, the person with the most points wins, or the event is scored like a decathlon. For example:
Most points winsLeast points win

One-point scoring is suggested. The decathlon scoring system awards 1000 points to the event’s best throw or World Record. Distance or height determines throw points. If the best stone put throw is 50′-0″, it’s worth 1000 points; a 45′-0″ throw is worth 45/50*1000=900 points.

To determine the overall champion, total competition points will be added and the competitor with the most or fewest points will win. If there’s a tie for first overall, the winner is the competitor with the most individual wins. If not, the competitors are tied. All places other than first are tied.

  • In all events, measurements must be taken and recorded after being rounded to the nearest 1/4″.
  • The competitor who threw first is now placed last in the following event after each completed event, and all other competitors move up one spot. This is done following each occasion.
  • The Judge or Athletic Director must verify American, North American, or World Records. The Record must follow event rules. The implement’s weight will be equal to or greater than the legal weight. In Distance, Height, and Hammer Throw, the overall length of the implement must be equal to or less than the legal length. Americans can set American records anywhere in the world. Canadian records can be set anywhere by Canadian citizens.
  • Records for North America may be set anywhere in the world, but competitors must be citizens of North America. Any competitor, anywhere in the world, has the ability to set a world record.
  • The competition’s organizers, judges, competitors, helpers, and spectators must all place a high priority on safety. To keep these people safe, precautions should be taken. To keep spectators off the athletic field, the throwing area needs to be cordoned off. The hammer throw needs some sort of cage or backstop.
  • The following order is advised for the events: Stone Put(s), Weight Throw(s) for Height, Weight for Distance, Hammer Throw(s), Caber Toss, and Sheaf Toss. If the competition spans two days, the events should be set up so that each day will feature an equal number of heavy and light implement throws.
  • If the referee has any reservations about flagging a competitor for a foul, they should not do so.
  • The decision to conduct a drug test on any competitors is up to the Games being played. A competitor who fails a drug test and receives a ban or suspension will not be permitted to compete again until the ban or suspension is lifted. There will be enforced bans/suspensions from other sports. A competitor who has been suspended or banned from another sport is not eligible to compete in the Games.
Highland Games in Scotland Culture, Traditions and Sports pin
Highland Games in Scotland: Culture, Traditions and Sports


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