Highland Games: What’s the story?

This is Highland Games season in Scotland with games taking place the length and breadth of the country between May and September. Competitive tests of strength, speed and endurance are the centrepiece of Highland Games with some contests unique to such events. Where else do competitors toss the caber by attempting to hurl telegraph-pole lengths of timber end-over-end, or try to consume a pound of haggis in less than a minute? Music and dance also feature strongly at Highland Games with piping, fiddling and Highland dancing as important a part of the event as displays of physical prowess.

Highland Games now take place all over the world. From New Zealand to Norway and California to Japan, Games are staged wherever emigrant Scots have settled. Explanations of the origins Highland Games vary. According to some stories, in 1064 Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore) staged a foot race to the summit of Creag Choinnich, near Braemar, intending to make the winner his personal courier. An annual Creag Choinnich hill race still takes place at mid-summer. In another story, also involving Malcolm III, the King used contests of strength as a way of identifying the strongest and most able men for his fighting forces.

An even earlier story has it that Highland Games originated in Ireland in 2000 BCE and were brought to the ancient kingdom of Dalriada (modern day Argyll) by the Scotti imigrants from Ireland in the 4th and 5th centuries. It’s perhaps fitting then that the Cowal Highland Gathering, which takes place each year in the Argyll town of Dunoon, lays claim to being the biggest Highland Games in Scotland today (https://www.cowalgathering.com/).

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