Everything You Need to Know About the Highland Games

If you’re planning a Scottish vacation with your family, there are many fun things you can do together here in the Highlands. With amazing scenery and endless walking trails, there’s no place better to get out and enjoy a hike. This is a destination made for embracing the outdoors, and here at Corrour Lodge we have over 65,000 acres of private land for our guests to explore.

We aim to make your vacation unforgettable and that’s why we have a huge choice of outdoor activities for all ages on our estate. Our activities include everything from quad bikes and canoeing to abseiling, and even a mini Highland Games experience.

If you’ve never heard of the Highland Games before, here’s everything you need to know…

Highland Games Practice

What are the Highland games

The Highland games are usually one-day events that take place outdoors in various locations across the country. They have been a part of Scotland’s culture for hundreds of years, but are still as popular today as they were when the event first began.

The day is built around traditional Highland sports, providing wholesome competition and a fantastic social event for the entire family. Not only are there games and activities such as tug ‘o’ war and the hammer throw, but there’s also traditional Highland dancing, music, and plenty of food and drink on offer. For families, it makes a great day out as there are a lot of craft stalls and smaller games for children.

Some events on the day will be parades, best dressed competitions, and livestock events. There are also some Highland Games that carry on into the evening, with live music gigs, discos or ‘ceilidhs’ (gatherings with Gaelic folk music).

While the entertainment and live competitions are the biggest draw, nothing really beats the sense of community at these celebrations. The Highland Games bring entire communities together, young and old, to celebrate Scotland’s rich heritage. What’s even more special is that every Highlands Games event has its own unique traditions, so if you’re lucky enough to attend more than one you may notice that they are all different.

One thing all Highland Games have in common is their outdoor locations. They are always held in the most beautiful grounds with incredible views. So even if you’re just after some fresh air and you want to admire the fantastic Highlands landscape, these games are definitely worth adding to your bucket list.

When Highland Games take place

The Highland Games season begins in early May, with The Gourock Highland Games being the first to kick things off. Each year, there are events taking place across the months of May, June, July and August. The very last games usually end in early September time. During the peak of the season, July and August, there are over 30 events each month. This is a great time to attend as the weather will be wonderfully hot at this time of year.

Closing the season are the very last games, usually The Braemar Gathering, Blairgowrie Highland Games, and Pitlochry Highland Games.

Most of these events take place at the weekend, either on the Saturday or Sunday. This means they tend to get very busy as locals come to enjoy the festivities with their families. If you are planning to attend one of these events, it’s recommended to plan ahead and book your travel/accommodation in advance.

Braemar Gathering

Where you can attend the Highland Games

The Highland Games take place in multiple locations across the country. Here is a list of all the Highland Games in Scotland, organized by the month and with their exact locations.

May:

  • Gourock Highland Games (at Battery Park)
  • Gordon Castle Highland Games (at Gordon Castle Estate)
  • Atholl Gathering and Highland Games (at Blair Castle in Blair Atholl)
  • West Lothian Highland Games (at Meadow Park in Bathgate)
  • Carmunnock Highland Games (at King George V Football Field)
  • Blackford Highland Games (at Games Park, Moray Street, Blackford)

June:

  • Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games (at Rugby Ground in Helensburgh)
  • Cornhill Highland Games (at Cornhill Playing Field)
  • Strathmore Highland Games (at Glamis Castle)
  • Ardrossan Highland Games (at Memorial Playing Fields)
  • Cupar Highland Games (at Duffus Park)
  • Drumtochty Highland Games (at Drumtochty Castle)
  • Ceres Highland Games (at Ceres Village)

July:

  • Kenmore Highland Games (at Kenmore Sports Field)
  • Luss Highland Games (at Luss Games Field)
  • Forres Highland Games (at Grant Park)
  • Alva Games (at Johnstone Park)
  • Loch Lomond Highland Games (at Moss o Balloch Park in Balloch)
  • City of Inverness Highland Games (at Bught Park)
  • Lochcarron Highland Games (at Attadale Estate)
  • Tomintoul Highland Games (at the southern end of Public Park)
  • Rosneath Peninsula Highland Games (at Howie Park)
  • Stonehaven Peninsula Highland Games (at Mackie Academy)
  • Inveraray Highland Games (at Inveraray Castle)
  • Durness Highland Gathering (at Shore Park)
  • Balquhidder, Lochearnhead & Strathyre Highland Games (at Games Park in Lochearnhead village)
  • Airth Highland Games (at The Wilderness in Falkirk)
  • Dufftown Highland Games (on the Mortlach School field)
  • Halkirk Highland Games (in Caithness)
  • St Andrews Highland Games (at Station Park)
  • Arisaig Highland Games (at Traigh Farm)

August:

  • Aboyne Highland Games (at The Green)
  • Dundonald Highland Games (at Royal Dundonald Castle)
  • Bridge of Allan Highland Games (at Strathallan Games Park)
  • Aberlour Strathspey Highland Games
  • Killin Highland Gathering (at Breadalbane Park)
  • Isle of Skye Highland Games (in Portree)
  • Dornoch Highland Gathering
  • Abernethy Highland Games (at Nethy Bridge)
  • North Berwick International Highland Games
  • Perth Highland Games (at Scone Palace)
  • Ballater Highland Games (at Monaltrie Park)
  • Assynt Highland Games (in Lochinver)
  • Helmsdale Highland Games (at Couper Park)
  • Stirling Highland Games (at Stirling Sports Village)
  • Atholl & Breadalbane Highland Games (in Aberfeldy)
  • Crieff Highland Gathering (at Market Park)
  • Glenisla Highland Games
  • Bute Highland Games (at The Stadium, High Street, Rothesay)
  • Glenurquhart Highland Games (at Blairbeg Park, Drumnadrochit)
  • Strathardle Highland Gathering (in Bannerfield, Kirkmichael, Blairgowrie)
  • Lonach Highland Games (in Bellabeg, Strathdon)
  • Oban Gathering
  • Cowal Highland Gathering (in Dunoon)

September:

  • The Braemar Gathering (at Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park)
  • Blairgowrie Highland Games(at Bogles Field on Essendy Road)
  • Pitlochry Highland Games (at Recreation Ground on Ferry Road)

Please be aware that some dates and locations may be subject to change from year to year. However, many of the main Highland Games events have been running for a long time and take place at the same time and place annually.

A short history

It’s believed that the Highland Games have been around, in one form or another, for centuries. Said to originate from Ireland in 200BC then crossing the water to Scotland during the fourth and fifth century migrations of the Scotti into Dalriada (Argyll), these games are the country’s oldest and most treasured tradition.

Throughout history, these traditional sports have been played by Celtic tribes as a way to determine the strongest fighters. The different competitions were used to select the clan’s best warriors.

The first ever Highland Games gathering to be recorded as an official calendar event for the nation was during the reign of King Malcom III in the 11th Century. This event was staged by the king as a way to find the fastest, strongest people in his kingdom as he was in search of people to take on the roles of his important messengers.

But the first free games, open to the public, were held in the 14th Century at the village of Ceres in Fife. This followed the Battle of Bannockburn, when local villagers had supported Robert the Bruce. This event still takes place today in the same spot in Ceres Village. 

Not only have the Highland Games continued to be popular in modern day society in Scotland, but they have also crossed over to other lands over the centuries. For instance, Highland Games have been taking place in parts of the US since 1836, and are also popular in other countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Brazil and Norway. 

Of course, for the most authentic experience, there’s no better place in the world to experience the Highland Games than the Scottish Highlands. Whether you plan on visiting one of the main events on your next vacation, or you wish to arrange a mini Highland Games day during your stay at Corrour Lodge, it’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed!

Highland Games Sports/Activities

So what’s exactly involved on the day? Here we list the official Highland sports that are usually played. They’re great to watch, and crowds are always encouraged to cheer competitors on. A great atmosphere is always guaranteed. Here’s what to expect:

Caber toss:

The caber toss is the signature event at any Highland Games gathering, and is always on the sporting schedule. This game involved competitors tossing a 20ft long caber (essentially a large log) as far as they possibly can. The log normally weighs around 150lb, and the technique of tossing a seen as a great test of stability. It requires balance the caber in the hands while performing a run-up before tossing. Throws are ranked based on their straightness, so form is everything.

Hammer throw:

The hammer throw competition is another popular event, which is also an Olympic sport. As a Highland sport though, it’s quite different. The most distinct differentiation between Highland hammers and Olympic hammers is that the Highland hammer has a wooden handle. The ball is made of metal and can weigh up to 22lbs. And unlike the Olympics, competitors must not spin when throwing the hammer. Instead, they must bring the hammer over their heads and turn 180 degrees to launch it.

Highland Games

Tug ‘o’ war:

One of the most exciting events for spectators is the traditional Scottish tug ‘o’ war game. It was actually an Olympic event until 1910, but has remained popular across the country and gathers the largest crowds at the Highland Games. The large rope is pulled between two teams of 15 people, and in order to win one team must pull the opposite team forward by 6 feet.

Stone put:

Very similar to the shot put, the stone put game is all about throwing as far as possible. With the stone put, athletes use stones that are normally picked from a nearby river and these stones normally weigh around 18lb. Each competitor gets three attempts to gain their best distance.

Hill race:

The fun hill racing game is excellent to watch, and families love to cheer the runners on. Competitors must get to the top of a hill as fast as possible, in any way they see fit (as long as they are within the rules). The terrain is often very steep and uneven, resulting the race being a great test even for the most seasoned of runners.

Things to do there

As well as watching all the sports, there are also plenty of other things happening at the Highland Games. Highland dancing is an important feature of any celebration, and there’s often a competitive spin on it too. For some of the larger gatherings, there will be groups and solo dancers in the running, hoping to win over the crowds with their signature dance moves. Some of these are the popular sword dance or the Highland fling. The Cowal Highland Gathering hosts the Highland Dance World Championships every year, so if you are looking to experience this tradition in a competitive way, make sure you consider this one for your trip.

Traditional Highland music, such as bagpipes will be there for entertainment too. And there’ll be performances with drums, fiddles, Gaelic harps, and much more.

piper-ribbon

Many families that attend spend the day walking around the stalls shopping for crafts and gifts, or enjoying the fantastic street food on offer. Be sure to watch out for the ‘clan tents’ when you’re wandering around – these are tents set up by families to bring together distant relatives from the same clan.

Highland traditions

One of the Highland traditions you’ll notice when you arrive is the kilts. Kilts are worn as a symbol of Scottish culture, and anyone who is taking part in the heavy events must wear one. But it’s not just the competitors that will be wearing kilts. Often the clans who are setting up stalls or tents will be wearing kilts too, and even some of the visitors.

You’ll see many people wearing different tartans, and this is because each clan has their own tartan pattern.

To find out more about our miniature Highland Games experience or to book your stay at Corrour Lodge in the Highlands, get in touch with our team today.

Highland games-men in kilts

For more inspiration on what to do when you’re vacationing in Scotland, visit our library of ideas.