July 21, 2012 -
CelticRadio.net - Highland games have long since been a staple of the Scottish tourist season and can offer a great day out to experience something memorable but they are for more than just tourists and you may even find yourself taking part. There are many to events to watch; from the track events, both short and long distances, dancing, piping and of course the most quintessentially Scottish "heavies". The games are held across Scotland and are well supported by Scots and tourists alike.
The Heavies are what many people come to see. These are split into a variety of different disciplines. The weight for distance is intended to see how far you can through a heavy weight on a chain.You can have a nine foot run up but must be standing after throwing. The weight for distance is not to be confused with the Olympic event, in the Scottish version the hammer is attached to a wooden cane of just over four feet in length. You throw the hammer standing with your back to the direction you are throwing it with your feet still.
Objective of the weight for height is exactly as it sounds with the competitor attempting to throw a 56lb weight over a bar. Rather like high jump you have three attempts and the winner is the person who cleared the highest distance. Csaba Meszaros broke the record for weight for height in 2011 slinging a weight just 2 inches short of 19 feet.
As with all the "heavy" events technique is as important as strength. Know how will help you achieve the greatest distance so brawn is often beaten by experience and know how. This is certainly the case for tossing the caber. This is a test of timing and balance as well as strength. The tree trunk is around 100 pounds and usually about 18 feet in length. You have three attempts to try to make the large end of the pole land first and the pole fall away from you with the small end moving in a half circle. The pole is as likely to fall sideways as forwards or back on the thrower. The winner is not the person who throws it furthest but the one who makes it fall closest to 12 o'clock with penalties for angle it falls at. This is not the competition for the amateur.
The Inverness Highland Games in July feature all the favourites as well as many races and events for juniors. Braemar Highland Gathering is perhaps the most famous event often watched by the Royal family but there are many more games around Scotland. Oban has particularly friendly games in late August.
Mackays Self Catering Scotland has a range of self catering cottages near the locations of the games.
Melissa Turner is a 40 year old female from Edinburgh who is always out to explore something others have been known to fear – the world outside their own comfort zones. Her father, grand father and great grand father were all big travellers and as are her siblings. Travel is the best education. She has acquired an amazing amount of travel experience. She not only travels but also talks about it. She has been writing about scotland holiday homes for long.
More About Highland Games
Highland games are traditional competitions originating in
the highland areas of Scotland and still held there and in other parts of the
world where Scots have settled. The largest Highland Games in North America are
held yearly at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The competitions are best
known for traditional competitive athletic heavy events. Watch this excellent
video about the 26th Annual Chicago Scots Highland Games and Scottish Festival
to get a taste of what Highland Games are all about!
The best-known games are the ones held at Braemar,Inverness,
Cowal, Lonach, Ballater and Aboyne. Although they can be dated back to the 11th
century, there have been many long breaks and revivals. The City of Inverness
Highland Games was first held in 1822 and the Aboyne games have been running
since 1867 without a break apart from the two world wars. There is a document
from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant. They were to arrive wearing
Highland coats and "also with gun, sword, pistill and dirk". From this letter,
it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.
In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games
gatherings centered around athletic and sports competitions. Though other
activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider that
Highand athletics are 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.
Caber toss: a long tapered wooden pole or log is stood
upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the
smaller end in his hands. Then the competitor attempts to toss it, turning it
end over end in such a way that, first, the upper (larger) end will strike the
ground (see photo) and then, following that, the smaller end, originally held
by the athlete, will follow through and in turn strike the ground in the 12
o'clock position measured relative to the point (considered at the 6 o'clock
position) at which the caber was released. If successful, the athlete is said
to have turned the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper and
balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful
toss. Competitors are judged on the accuracy of their throws.
Stone put: sometimes incorrectly called the Clachneart or
"Stone of Strength", is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the
Olympic Games. However, instead of a steel shot, most American games use a
large stone, of variable weight (somewhere between 16 and 28 pounds) while
most Scottish games use a steel shot of appropriate weight. There are also
some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. Some games
will feature two stone toss events. The "Braemar Stone" using a 22+ lb stone
allows no run up to the toeboard or "trig" to deliver the stone, i.e. a
standing put. In the "Open Stone" using a 16-18 lb stone, the thrower is
allowed to make a limited moving approach to deliver the stone. Most athletes
use either the "glide" or the "spin" techniques.
Scottish hammer throw: this event is similar to the hammer
throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some
differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball weighing 16 or 22
pounds is attached to the end of a cane shaft about 4 feet in length. It is
whirled about one's head and thrown for distance over either the right or left
shoulder. Hammer throwers usually employ specially designed footwear with flat
blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance.
Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event.
Again, these are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 pound or
2 stone) and the other a heavy (56 pound or 4 stone) weight. The weights, made
of metal, have an attached chain and handle, and are thrown one handed. The
longest throw wins. Weight over the bar, also known as weight for height. The
athletes attempt to toss a 56 pound (4 stone) weight with an attached handle
over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three
attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete
to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is
determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to
break tie scores.
Sheaf toss: A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20
pounds (9 kg) for the men or 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a
burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like
that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is
similar to the Weight Over The Bar. There is significant debate among athletes
as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. Some
argue it is actually a country fair event but all agree that it is a great
Many of the competitors in Scottish highland atheltics 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.
Music in a variety of forms, along with the heavy athletics
and dancing, is one of the main pillars of nearly all Highland Games events.
Many such events offer fiddling, harp circles, Celtic bands and other forms of
musical entertainment, the latter usually spiced with a healthy amount of
But it is the music of the bagpipe, which has come to symbolize music at the
Games and, indeed, Scotland itself. 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.
There are two basic forms of dancing at modern Highland Games
gatherings. Scottish country dancing is a social dance like ballroom dancing or
square dancing, the latter of which evolved from country dancing.
The other type of dancing which one can see at Highland Games events is the
highly competitive and technical form known as Highland dancing. This again
takes two forms. First there are the traditional Highland dances - the Sword
Dance (or Gillie Calum), the Highland Fling, the Highland Reel, and the Seann
Triubhas (pronounced shawn trews). The other competition dances are known as
national dances, the most well known of which are the Scottish Lilt, the Flora
MacDonald, the Earl of Errol, Highland Laddie, Blue Bonnets and Village Maid.
Also common at the games are the Irish Jig and the Sailor's Hornpipe dances.
Highland dancing, in all its competitive forms, is a very technical dance form,
requiring many hours of practice and training over a period of several years in
order to perfect. It has more in common with ballet than with the social dancing
of the Scottish Country Dance. In addition, the Highland dances are perfomed
solo, unlike country dancing. Even the Reel, which is performed with other
dancers, is judged on an individual basis.
Many Highland gatherings worldwide, and almost all in the United States,
recognize the Scottish Official Board of Highland Dancing (SOBHD), formed in
1950, as the world governing body of Highland dancing. The SOBHD standardizes
the dance steps, establishes rules for competitions and attire, certifies
competitions and instructors and the like. In addition, a World Highland Dance
Championship, sanctioned by the SOBHD, has been held annually at the Cowal
Highland Gathering since 1948.
Historically, the Highland dances were danced only by men. This came about as
the result of the nature and origin of the dances themselves as well as the fact
that during the years of Proscription, only military regiments were permitted to
adopt Highland attire and practice the traditions such as dancing.
But late in the 19th Century, a young woman named Jenny Douglas decided to enter
a Highland dance competition. As this was not expressely forbidden, she was
allowed to enter and since then, the number of females participating in the
sport has increased until today in excess of 95% of all dancers are female.
There have been several female World Highland Dance Champions crowned at the
Cowal Gathering since they began organizing the competition in 1948.
Secondary events and attractions
Herding dog trials and exhibitions can be held, showcasing
the breeders and trainers skills. 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.
Highland Games are a great source of history, culture and
fun. Most areas have a local Highland Game in your state or county. Try a search
for a local Highland Game near you and be sure to arrive early to get a good
spot for the heavy events. Before you plan your trip, be sure to read our
which includes planning for Highland Games!