What can you expect at a Scottish Highland Games?


Highland Games are a huge part of national culture all over Scotland, and while centuries ago these events would have been a display of clan rivalry for the biggest and bravest soldiers to compete, these are a much more friendly affair nowadays!

Most bigger towns across Scotland may have a Highland gathering, and a calendar with all the remaining events for 2018 can be found here. Scottish Culture is also celebrated at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

You can expect to pay an entrance charge for Highland games (between £5-10 depending on the event) – for organisers, using a field, printing programmes, erecting tents, applying for alcohol and music licences can be an expensive business, and many of the profits go into the funding of events for future years. But for paying an entrance charge, visitors can enjoy a whole day of sport and entertainment!

Team sports feature highly on the programme of events, with one of the most popular being the tug o’ war. At the Mey Games which I attended at the beginning of August, para athletes and armed forces competed alongside local teams in an Invictus-style competition.

As well as team sports, there are individual disciplines to complete in – the tossing of the caber and hammer throw being some of the most well known. It was brilliant to see a ladies competition for the hammer throw and cheer them on. The atmosphere between athletes is nothing less than supportive – everyone is cheering everyone else on as they compete.

Another common sight at Highland Games, and in fact many scottish events throughout the year, is Highland dancing. Once traditionally used as a selection method for clan chiefs to select their best warriors, it has now moved to being a sport where the overwhelming majority of competitors are female.

Perhaps the oldest and most well known Highland dance is the sword dance (or Ghillie Callum in Scottish Gaelic).

Watch this video  – I dare you not to be impressed at the agility, strength and stamina on display!

As well as seeing sport and dancing, a Highland games is not complete without a Pipe Band, who often lead the official games with a parade around the games arena.

Back to the sport, and if you feel in the mood to compete, there are often public races to compete in. At the Mey Games, anyone could enter running, three-legged, and even egg and spoon races!

In the main arena, there are often special displays from dance and other groups. At the Mey games, we were treated to a demonstration by the Vulcan police dogs (who are based at the nearby nuclear power station Dounreay).

I don’t think my labrador Bartie would be cut out for the life of a police dog, but maybe next year maybe I can enter him in for most handsome dog! Many games have a dog show, as Scottish people love their dugs!

At any Highland games gathering you can expect a good feed, and at the Mey games there was local meat and fish being sold to eat there and then. You’ll also commonly find local food and drink producers selling their wares and building their profile. Do go and talk to them and find out about their products, try and buy!  I found Highland Cure – a new charcuterie which has just launched, producing salamis and other cured meats on the uppermost north coast of Scotland.

Finally, you might (but don’t expect!) see some special guests, even royalty! HRH the Duke of Rothesay attends the Mey Games every year due to taking his holidays up at the nearby Castle of Mey which is also where the late Queen Mother used to take her holidays. , He is the Chieftain of the Games, so everyone enjoys meeting him when he tours round the various stalls and activities.

So, have I whetted your appetite yet for the Highland Games?