Highland games

Opening ceremonies of 2004 Canmore Highland games

Highland games are events held in spring and summer in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centred on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.

The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August, is the largest Highland games in the world, attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 23,000 spectators[1] from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is exceeded in terms of spectators by two gatherings in the United States: the estimated 30,000[2] that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the even larger gathering—the largest in the Northern Hemisphere[3]—that has taken place every year since 1866 hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco.[4] This event is currently held on Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California, and their Sesquicentennial Games held on September 5–6, 2015, attracted record crowds close to 50,000.[3]

The games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he was planning the revival of the Olympic Games. De Coubertin saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.[5]


The origin of human games and sports predates recorded history. An example of a possible early games venue is at Fetteresso, although that location is technically a few miles south of the Scotland Highlands.

It is reported in numerous Highland games programs, that King Malcolm III of Scotland, in the 11th century, summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar). King Malcolm created this foot race in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. Some have seen this apocryphal event to be the origin of today's modern Highland games.

There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant, Clan Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and "also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk". From this letter, it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.

However, the modern Highland games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.


Heavy events

A caber being thrown at the 2000 New Hampshire Highland Games

In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics to be what the games are all about—in short, that the athletics are the Games, and all the other activities are just entertainment. Regardless, it remains true today that the athletic competitions are at least an integral part of the events and one—the caber toss—has come to almost symbolize the Highland games.

Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.

Weight throw

Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.

Increasingly in the USA, the Heavy Events are attracting women and master class athletes which has led to a proliferation of additional classes in Heavy Events competitions. Lighter implements are used in the classes.


Massed bands at the 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games
Highland Pipeband Competition Circle [Prince Charles Pipe Band 2008]

For many Highland games festival attendees, the most memorable of all the events at the games is the massing of the pipe bands. Normally held in conjunction with the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, as many as 20 or more pipe bands will march and play together. The result is a thunderous rendition of Scotland the Brave or Amazing Grace, and other crowd-pleasing favourites.

It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to symbolize music at the Games and, indeed, in Scotland itself. In addition to the massed bands, nearly all Highland games gatherings feature a wide range of piping and drumming competition, including solo piping and drumming, small group ensembles and, of course, the pipe bands themselves.

Music at Highland games gatherings also includes other forms, such as fiddling, harp circles and Celtic bands, usually spiced with a large amount of bagpipe music.


The Cowal Highland Gathering hosts the annual World Highland Dancing Championship. This event gathers the best competitive dancers from around the world who compete for the SOBHD sanctioned World Championship title.

Secondary events and attractions

Assembling for the parade of clans at the 2005 Tacoma Highland Games

At modern-day Highland Games events, a wide variety of other activities and events are generally available. Foremost among these are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish related goods. The various clan societies make the Highland games one of the main focus of their seasonal activities, usually making an appearance at as many such events as possible. Visitors can find out information about the Scottish roots and can become active in their own clan society if they wish.

At modern games, armouries will display their collections of swords and armour, and often perform mock battles. Various vendors selling Scottish memorabilia are also present selling everything from Irn-Bru to the stuffed likeness of the Loch Ness Monster.

Herding dog trials and exhibitions are often held, showcasing the breeder's and trainer's skills. In addition, there may be other types of Highland animals present, such as the Highland cattle.

Various traditional and modern Celtic arts are often showcased. This could include Harper's circles, Scottish country dancing, and one or more entertainment stages. In addition, most events usually feature a pre-event ceilidh (a type of social event with traditional music, dancing, song, and other forms of entertainment).

Various food vendors will also offer assorted types of traditional Scottish refreshment and sustenance.

Major events in Scotland

Location Name of Event Details
Gourock, Inverclyde Gourock Highland Games[6] The first Highland games of the Scottish season - held on the second Sunday in May
Blair Atholl, Perthshire Atholl Gathering[7] Europe's only private army, the Atholl Highlanders, open the games in the grounds of Blair Castle
Braemar, Aberdeenshire Braemar Gathering Attended by the British Royal Family.
Burntisland, Fife Burntisland Highland Games Second oldest in the world
Carloway, Western Isles Carloway Show and Highland Games Home to the oldest 'Maide Leisg' competition in the world
Ceres, Fife Ceres Highland Games Oldest free games in Scotland
Crieff, Perthshire Crieff Highland Games Home of the Scottish Heavyweight Championships and has HRH the Earl of Strathearn (Prince William) as the Royal Chieftain
Dunoon, Argyllshire Cowal Highland Gathering Biggest games in Scotland
Inverkeithing, Fife Inverkeithing Highland Games
Halkirk, Caithness Halkirk Highland Games Started in 1886
Glenisla, Angus Glenisla Highland Games[8] Started in 1869
Lochearnhead, Perthshire Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games Cameron, MacLaren and MacGregor clans linked to the games
Strathdon, Aberdeenshire Lonach Highland Gathering & Games Held by The Lonach Highland & Friendly Society Est. 1823, features the march of the Lonach Highlanders consisting of Forbes, Wallace and Gordons
Pitlochry, Perthshire Pitlochry Highland Games
Portree, Inverness-shire Isle Of Skye Highland Games
St. Andrews, Fife St. Andrews Highland Games
Stirling, Stirlingshire Stirling Highland Games First Stirling Highland Games were held in July 1870
Inverness, Inverness-shire Inverness Highland Games Staged in the world's oldest highland games stadium, Northern Meeting Park

Major events outside Scotland


Location Name
Alden Biesen Scottisch weekend


Location Name
Somerset (2012); Pembroke (2013) Bermuda Highland Games


Location Name
Estância Velha, Rio Grande do Sul Scout Highland Games - GEJL46RS
Sapucaia do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul Scottish Highland Games Brazil


On 1 August 1997 Canada Post issued 'Highland Games' designed by Fraser Ross, based on photographs by Andrew Balfour. The 45¢ stamps are perforated 12.5 x 13 and were printed by Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited.[9]

Location[10] Name Month Held
Calgary, Alberta Calgary Highland Games[11] September
Canmore, Alberta Canmore Highland Games[12] August
Edmonton, Alberta Edmonton Scottish Society Highland Gathering[13] May
Grande Prairie, Alberta Grande Prairie Highland Games[14] June
High River, Alberta Foothills Highland Games[15] August
Red Deer, Alberta Red Deer Highland Games[16] June
British Columbia
Coquitlam, British Columbia BC Highland Games June
Kamloops, British Columbia Kamloops Highland Games[17] July
Penticton, British Columbia Penticton Scottish Festival[18] July
Victoria, British Columbia Victoria Highland Games[19] May
Selkirk, Manitoba Manitoba Highland Gathering[20] June
Winnipeg, Manitoba Pavilion of Scotland, Folklorama[21] August
New Brunswick
Fredericton, New Brunswick New Brunswick Highland Games[22] July
Moncton, New Brunswick Moncton Highland Games[23] June
Perth-Andover, New Brunswick Gathering of the Scots Festival[24] May
Nova Scotia
Antigonish, Nova Scotia Antigonish Highland Games[25] July
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia Festival of the Tartans & Highland Games[26] July
Almonte, Ontario North Lanark Highland Games[27] August
Cambridge, Ontario Cambridge Highland Games[28] July
Cobourg, Ontario Cobourg Highland Games[29] June
Embro, Ontario Embro Highland Games[30] July
Fergus, Ontario Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games[31] August
Georgetown, Ontario Georgetown Highland Games[32] June
Kincardine, Ontario Kincardine Scottish Festival & Highland Games[33] July
Kingston, Ontario Kingston Scottish Festival May
Maxville, Ontario Glengarry Highland Games August
Sutton, Ontario The Georgina Gathering[34] June
Uxbridge, Ontario The Highlands of Durham Games[35] July
Montreal, Quebec Montreal Highland Games[36] August
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival (not to be held in 2015)[37] May
Regina, Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival[38] May

Czech Republic

Location Name
Sychrov Castle Skotské hry Sychrov[39]


Location Name
Csesznek, Veszprém Scottish Highland Games (Skót Felföldi Játékok)
Zichyújfalu, Fejér Highland Games Cup (Felföldi Játékok Kupa)[40]


Location Name
Jakarta Jakarta Highland Gathering

New Zealand

Location Name
Hororata Hororata Highland Games (2011)
Fairlie, New Zealand Mackenzie Easter Show & Highland Games (1898)
Paeroa Paeroa Highland Games & Tattoo (1993)
Waipu Waipu Highland Games (1871)


Location Name
Abtwil, St. Gallen Appowila Highland Games
Fehraltdorf, Zurich Highland-Games Fehraltdorf[41]

United States

Location[10] Name
Santa Cruz County, California Scottish Renaissance Festival featuring the Loch Lomond Highland Games & Celtic Gathering[42]
Pleasanton, California Scottish Highland Gathering and Games[43]
San Diego, California San Diego Scottish Highland Games & Gathering of the Clans[44]
Ventura, California Seaside Highland Games[45]
Woodland, California Sacramento Valley Scottish Games & Festival[46]
Elizabeth, Colorado Elizabeth Celtic Festival[47]
Hartford, Connecticut Pipes in the Valley[48]
Dunedin, Florida Dunedin Highland Games and Festivals[49]
Green Cove Springs, Florida Northeast Florida Scottish Highland Games[50]
Marianna, Florida The Big Bend Highland Games & Scottish Festival[51]
Sarasota, Florida Sarasota Highland Games[52]
Blairsville, Georgia Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games[53]
Stone Mountain, Georgia Stone Mountain Highland Games and Scottish Festival[54]
Indianapolis, Indiana Indianapolis Scottish Highland Games and Festival[55]
Columbus, Indiana Columbus Scottish Festival and Highland Games[56]
South Bend, Indiana Celtic Festival and Bryan Verkler Invitational Highland Games
Davenport, Iowa Celtic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad-Cities[57]
Eminence, Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival[58]
Glasgow, Kentucky Glasgow Highland Games
Baton Rouge, Louisiana The Highland Games of Louisiana[59]
Mount Airy, Maryland Frederick Celtic Festival
St. Leonard, Maryland Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering[60]
Alma, Michigan Alma Highland Festival and Games[61]
St. Charles, Missouri Missouri Tartan Day Festivities[62]
St. Louis, Missouri St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival[63]
Lincoln, New Hampshire New Hampshire Highland Games[64]
Old Westbury, New York Scottish Festival and Games[65]
Olcott, New York Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival & Highland Games[66]
Huntersville, North Carolina Loch Norman Highland Games[67]
Laurinburg, North Carolina Scotland County Highland Games[68]
Linville, North Carolina Grandfather Mountain Highland Games[69]
Winston-Salem, North Carolina Triad Highland Games[70]
Portland, Oregon Portland Highland Games[71]
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival[72]
Ligonier, Pennsylvania Ligonier Highland Games[73]
Charleston, South Carolina Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering[74]
Greenville, South Carolina Gallabrae Greenville Scottish Games
Elizabethton, Tennessee Scottish Heavy Athletics Clinic and Competition / East Tennessee Celtic Festival[75]
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Gatlinburg Scottish Highland Games[76]
Maryville, Tennessee Smoky Mountain Highland Games at Maryville College[77]
Arlington, Texas Texas Scottish Festival and Highland Games[78]
Austin, Texas Austin Celtic Festival[79]
Houston, Texas Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games[80]
Delaplane, Virginia Virginia Scottish Games and Festival[81]
Kelso, Washington Kelso Highlander Festival[82]
Bridgeport, West Virginia North Central West Virginia Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering[83]
Milwaukee, Wisconsin Milwaukee Highland Games[84]
Radford, Virginia Radford Highlander's Festival[85]
Estes Park, Colorado Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival[86]
Lehi, Utah Utah Scots Festival

See also


  1. ^ Cowal Highland Gathering can be verified as the world's largest highland games on the Official Scottish Tourist Board Website at VisitScotland.com
  2. ^ For a modern-day fictional account of this event, see The origins of the Braemar Games Hill Race, by Les Wheeler
  3. ^ Many Highland games web sites contain a brief sketch on the history of the Highland games. Most will mention this hill climb, some referring to it as a story or legend, others as if it were an established fact. Webster, in Scottish Highland Games recounts the story, labelling it as story, or legend only. Thomas Owen Clancy and Barbara E. Crawford, in the Bibliographical essay to chapter 2 (The Formation of the Scottish Kingdom) of The New Penguin History of Scotland state: "Little of significance has been written about the eleventh century kingdom otherwise, except on the dispute over the reliability of the early documentary sources. . .".
  4. ^ As quoted on the history page of the Aboyne Highland Gathering web site
  5. ^ The web site of the International Wrestling Association reports rather more expansively on the role of the 1889 Paris event and its effect on the development of the Olympics, considering it to have had a "huge impact" on world sport. An article published in 2004 in the Christian Science Monitor points to two other events, including that of Much Wenlock, a small English village in Shropshire


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