The Highland Games
The Highland Games
The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar
First Saturday in September, around 9.30am-5pm
Braemar sits in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, close to the Queen's Scottish residence at Balmoral.
The lovely village is famous for its picturesque location, surrounded as it is by breathtaking mountains, gorgeous glens and ancient pine forests. It is also well known for its Highland Games, which are known as the Braemar Gathering.
The Braemar Gathering is one of the biggest and most highly regarded Highland Games events of the year. Thousands flock here each year, including members of the Royal family and others of the great and good.
Competitors and spectators come here from all over the world to enjoy the day of events. Around 16,000 people come each year to hear the finest pipe bands, see Highland dancers and cheer on athletes to their impressive feats, all in a stunning setting in the heart of heather-clad mountains.
The Braemar Gatherings have a rich history that stretches back over 900 years. There have been Gatherings of some sort here in Braemar since the days of the reign of King Malcolm Canmore. But the roots of the modern event are to be found in the 19th Century.
In 1832, the Braemar Royal Highland Society took charge of organising the event. The foot races held at the Gathering are the world's oldest, since they have been held on a regular basis by the same body since 1832.
Queen Victoria was the first royal to take an interest in the Gathering, and the royal patronage has continued to this day. The Queen herself, and many members of the royal family, have chosen to attend this event over the years.
Guests are advised to stay the weekend, so soak up the atmosphere of pageantry and celebration surrounding the games, highlights of which include the tossing of the Braemar caber, the massed pipe bands and the inter-services tug-of-war.
Tickets for the Gathering are on sale now, and can be booked online, subject to a booking fee. Fundraising is currently ongoing for a World Highland Games Heritage Centre, to be located in the games park.
The plan is to use this as a venue to display accumulated archives and memorabilia from the Gathering currently not accessible by the public.
The first weekend in September is a good time to visit Braemar, but by all means consider a longer stay - or a stay at any time of year - and enjoy some of the other attractions that the Braemar area has to offer, from hiking or biking in the surrounding hills, to historic sites and natural wonders.
Blairgowrie and Rattray
Bogles Field, Blairgowrie
First Sunday after the first Saturday in September, from 10am
Blairgowrie and Rattray is a picturesque market town sitting on the banks of the River Ericht in Perthshire. The locals call the town 'Blair' for short.
Blairgowrie is a wonderful base for those who would like to make the most of the outward bound activities on offer in south Central Scotland and the picturesque scenery of Perthshire and the surrounding regions.
It is also a good place for golf, and a wonderful place to sample some of Scotland's delicious local produce. On the first Sunday after the first Saturday in September, the town also boasts its Highland Games.
The Blairgowrie and Rattray Highland Games are one of many local cultural events that take place here throughout the year. These traditional Highland Games, like those found in many towns across Scotland, are fun for competitors and spectators alike and make for a fun family day out.
There are a number of heavyweight and tug-of-war competitions, including a tug-of-war between friendly rivals from Blairgowrie and from Rattray.
There are also running and cycling races for all ages, including school events, and local kids will perform Scottish country dancing.
There will be competition between pipers for solos, and music is provided by a range of pipe bands who will plan Scottish traditional favourites. Anyone can test their strength against the Ardblair Stones and dogs will also compete in a dog show with pedigree competitions and other competitions that are just for fun.
In addition to all the entertainment, you can enjoy shopping for local food, craft items, clothing and gifts at a range of trader's stalls and will get the chance to enjoy some of the best that local farmers, small businesses and craftspeople have to offer.
Blairgowrie's community comes together for its Highland Games and the weekend when the games are held is one of the most lively of the entire year. That said, Blairgowrie could be a good place to visit at any time of year, with more than just the games to tempt visitors.
Recreation Ground, Ferry Road, Pitlochry PH16 5DZ
Saturday 8th September
Pitlochry is the largest town in Highland Perthshire and a popular tourist hub for this beautiful area. It has a scenic location on the banks of the River Tummel and gives access to a number of beautiful natural areas and historic sites.
There is a busy schedule of cultural events in Pitlochry throughout the year, one of which is the town's Highland Games.
The games held in Pitlochry are amongst the last games of a season, held as they are on the second Saturday of September each year. Though the date has changed over time, the events and pageantry have remained more or less the same since the games began in 1852.
The games are known to have been held in that year because a brooch was found which had been inscribed, 'Presented by Lady Feilden at the first Pitlochrie Highland Games to Mr Charles Dunavourdie as the Best Player of the Highland Bagpipes.'
The original location of the Games is now submerged beneath Loch Faskally. When the loch was formed in 1950, the games moved to their current location and the original pavilion was brought from the old site. That pavilion was renovated and upgraded in 1994.
For a time until 1921, the Games were known as the Pitlochry Athletic Sports and were considered to be one of only a handful of places where Scottish, British and World records could be registered. A notice in 1925 mentioned that more professional records have been established at Pitlochry than at all other games.
The events that are to be found at the Games in recent years are very similar to those found on the programme one hundred years earlier. Visitors can enjoy Highland dancing, heavy events, solo piping competitions, running, field events, tug o' war and cycling.
There are some events, however, that have fallen by the wayside - a hurdle race, steeple chase, pipers playing the 'pibroch' and Cumberland wrestling all examples of historic events held here.
Up to 5,000 visitors come here on the average year (especially when the weather is good), along with all the competitors and competition organisers, making this rather a large event, and one that is enjoyable for locals and visitors alike.
Balblair Farm, Lairg Road, Bonar Bridge. IV24 3AW
Saturday 15th September, 10am-5-5.30pm
Invercharron is well placed for exploration of the ancient and majestic Highlands. The scenic surrounding area is teeming with wildlife and just waiting for adventurers to get out there and explore it.
Just a few miles away you will find the picturesque Falls of Shin, where you can see leaping salmon at the right time of year. Also within a short distance are the Glenmorangie, Balblair and Clynelish whisky distilleries.
The Invercharron Highland Games are traditionally the final games of the season. This means that it is at Invercharron that many of the Scottish Highland Games Association league results are decided. This added element of interest makes these games one event that it would be a shame to miss. There is something for everyone at this traditional family day out.
This is a fun-filled event with many traditional games and competitions, including heavy events, piping competitions, Highland dancing, track and field, hill races, children's races, cycling and tug o' war. There are also a variety of stalls and amusements to enjoy.
The Invercharron Games has its roots in the 19th Century. The Invercharron Highland Gathering, as it was then known, began in 1888 in the grounds of Invercharron House, with the permission of the Littlejohn family. The Games were revived in 1981 and celebrated their 25th year in 2006.
For visitors, one of the most interesting elements of these Games is the opening ceremony, 'The Beating of the Targe'.
The origins of this spiked shield are lost to posterity, though it is believed that they were used at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 by Robert the Bruce and his clansmen. They were also used at the infamous Battle of Culloden in 1745.
Many clans have their own designs on their targe. These were symbolic objects as well as being used in hand-to-hand combat. They were originally beaten to summon clansmen to discussions, or as a call to arms.
The Invercharron targe used in the opening ceremony of the Games is made of wood, with a deerskin covering. It was studded in 1981 by one of the committee members. The sword used in the ceremony was presented for use in the games by a former president.
Visit the Invercharron Games and attractions in the local area to discover some of the most charming elements of Scottish traditional culture.
Luss, Alexandria, Argyll and Bute G83 8NX
Saturday 7th July, Around 10.30am - 4.30 or 5pm
Luss is a small village located on the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is easily accessible from the south and the major transport hubs of the Glasgow area and is, with good reason, one of the most popular of Scotland's lochs with international visitors.
The romance and history of Loch Lomond has been celebrated in several songs over the years and it is a picturesque place to enjoy outward bound adventure, to hike, or to simply relax and enjoy the fine views.
The Luss Highland Gathering was first held in 1875 and has been held every year since, excepting two breaks that - understandably - occurred during the World Wars.
The games have become a symbol of community spirit and pride, a testament to the enthusiasm of the local farmers and sportsmen who were behind the inception of the event.
Like the other Highland Games or Gatherings round Scotland, this one in Luss has changed little since it began and still offers many of the same traditional events that it did back in the 19th Century. These include, (as you might expect if you are familiar with the format of a traditional Highland Games): tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, hill races, piping and Highland dancing.
Competitions are not all as they were, however, and, sadly, the test of skills in knitting socks and making shepherd's crooks have fallen by the wayside at some point.
One of the interesting things about these Games is that they are also the site of the gathering of Clan Colquhoun.
People who are, or believe themselves to be related to that clan come from all over the world to meet up here in Luss during the Highland Games. The Chief of the Clan Colquhoun is, by tradition, the Chieftain of the Luss Highland Gathering.
Even if you have no ties to the clan, however, everyone is more than welcome at this family-friendly event. Everyone can get involved, meet local people and enjoy the competitions - which are sometimes fiercely contested!
There are races for children and adults, tests of strength, speed and skill throughout the day, and all of this is accompanied by the rousing sound of the pipes.
Johnstone Park, Alva. Car parking in the adjacent Cochrane Park, FK12 5LJ
14th July, 12.30pm
Alva sits nestled at the foot of the Ochil Hills close to the historic town of Stirling, gateway to the Highlands. In Stirling you will be able to visit the castle, the Wallace Monument, and a range of other historic sites.
Plenty of fine hillwalking can be enjoyed in the surrounding area. Also within a short drive is Dollar Glen, a picturesque location where you can visit atmospheric Castle Campbell. Once a year, the small, quiet village of Alva comes alive with the famous Alva Games.
The Famous Alva Games are the last surviving sports and games event to be run in Clackmannanshire. The games feature the full range of traditional Scottish sporting events including athletics, heavy events, hill races, cycling, and Highland Dancing.
The Alloa Bowmar Pipe Band will lead the guests into the games arena just before 1pm and will play again during the interval in events. Also during the interval, visiting children and adults alike will be able to compete in some races - just for fun.
For many, the games themselves are perhaps attraction enough, but for families with younger children, the fun fair is likely to be the major draw. The traditional fun fair begins from the Wednesday before the games each year and is open from 6pm-10pm daily, then is open from noon on the day of the games.
The first games (originally Gymnastic Games) were held here at the foot of the Ochil hills in 1845. Interestingly, records show that while nowadays the day of the games is always the second Saturday in July, the actual date of the occasion was a bit of a moving feast in the early days.
The games were sometimes held on a weekday, and they were also held in August for a number of years. It was only after the hiatus of the Great War that the Games' date became more fixed.
There was another break from the event during the Second World War, but other than that, the games have been held each year, developing into something more akin to what we see today through the second half of the 20th Century.
Old events no longer held at Alva include quoiting, wresting, high jump and pole vault, as well as the former finale event of pony trotting. Though there are still plenty of traditional events on show and visitors will surely all find something that is of interest.