Highland Games / Gatherings

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
Highland Games & gatherings

Highland games are extremely popular events in Scotland. Usually held over one-day in the summer months between May and September, each Highland games event or "gathering" has unique traditions and helps build a sense of community in many of Scotland's towns and villages. From as far north as the Mey Highland games in John O'Groats, to the Dundonald games in the far south, the games are also a celebration of all things Scottish - tartan, bagpiping and Highland dancing, to name but a few.

As a child, I attended many Highland games, and clearly remember meeting strongmen Geoff Capes and Jón Páll Sigmarsson at the Dalfaber games in the 1980s; their hands were huge!

Most events typically include food stalls, parades, pet competitions, highland dancing and live traditional music. Country fairs are often combined to sell farm goods, display livestock (Highland cows!), or show herding dog trials. Evenings will typically end with a ceilidh dance in the event tent or the local town hall.

History of Scottish Highland Games

The first historical reference to Highland games begins with King Malcolm III (1058–1093), seeking a new royal messenger; he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich to try and find the fastest runner in Scotland. Similar events were used to find the bravest and strongest soldiers in Scotland.

Dancers and musicians sought to play these events to best represent their clans and keep kings, queens and clan chiefs entertained throughout the day.

The first highland games

The Ceres Games held in Fife in 1314 are considered to be the oldest free games in Scotland and the precursor to the modern day format of highland games. It's said that Robert the Bruce held "a market and fair" after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 as a reward to the locals who answered the call to arms.

Act of Proscription 1746

Roll on a few hundred years, and Highland games were put on hold after the final Jacobite rebellion was defeated at Culloden in 1746. The Act of Proscription 1746 followed shortly after and was designed to dismantle the Highland way of life and end the clan system.

Severe penalties were issued for wearing "highland clothing" such as tartan, including imprisonment for a minimum of six months for a first offence. Those caught flouting the rules for a second time would be transported to an overseas penal colony. It's amazing that Scottish culture wasn't completely eliminated in the face of these harsh punishments.

The act was finally repealed on the 1st of July 1782, and Highland games were no longer illegal under British rule.

Highland dancing!
Highland dancing competitions are very popular.

The first modern Highland games

King George IV greatly helped the revival of the traditional Highland games in 1822 at the Edinburgh games dressed in full Highland garb. This greatly popularised Highland culture and the many different tartans available.

What activities are at the Highland games?

Read below to find out more about the main events held at Highland games around Scotland.

Highland games events

Highland games usually include "heavy events" or "athletic events" and are generally based on tests of strength and are the main events of the day. The most famous event is likely to be the caber toss which has come to symbolise Highland games worldwide. Track and field events are also common with short marathons being part of the day.

Here is a list of the main heavy events held at Highland games:

Caber toss

No Highland games would be complete without the caber toss (caber meaning a tapered pole or wood beam in Scottish Gaelic). This involves a full-length log usually made of Scots pine.

Participants will hold the log upright and lift it with both hands until the bottom of the caber is resting against their body. Competitors will begin to run forward to build momentum and then toss the caber into the air with the goal of turning it end over end.

Winners are judged on how straight their throw is and if the end initially held hits the ground again. This event requires strength, balance and skill to achieve the perfect caber toss.

Stone put / Shot put

The stone put or "putting the stone" involves throwing a large stone of 16lb or 22lb using one hand only from in front of the shoulders. This is different from the shot put in the Olympics, where a steel shot is used.

Scottish hammer throw

The hammer used at Highland games is a metal ball weighing around 22lb for men or 16lb for women, which is attached to a wooden pole or handle about 4 feet long. The participant will spin the hammer around their head and throw it as far as possible. Whoever throws the hammer the furthest is the winner. Hammer throwing is one of the most skilled events requiring much practise to achieve the correct technique.

Weight throw

This is sometimes called "throwing the weight for distance". This time a 28lb sphere is attached to a chain with a handle. The weight is swung in front of the competitor, followed by a 360° spin before releasing the weight and completing the throw.

Weight over the bar

A weight must be thrown over a bar using one hand only in this event. With each successful attempt, the bar is raised higher and higher until contestants are eliminated (by hitting the raised bar or failing to clear it), and the winner remains. The weight thrown is 56 lb or 25.4 kg and the current record is held by American Dan Williams, who threw the weight over 20 feet high in 2014!

Sheaf Toss

Inspired by farming, participants must hurl a burlap bag with a pitchfork over a horizontal raised bar. The bag is usually filled with straw and weighs 16 lbs (7 kg). Three attempts are given to clear the bar; it is then raised upon each successful round until contenders are eliminated from the competition.

Maide-Leisg

Maide-Leisg is an event that many may not have heard of; two men face each other whilst seated. The soles of their feet either touch or there is a plank of wood between them. A wooden bar is then put into the hands of both men and they must try and pull the other onto their side or off the ground. It's hard to explain, but watch this video from a Highland games held in Chile, which illustrates it perfectly!

Tug o' War

Tug o' War is one of the most fiercely contested competitions at Highland games. Two teams of eight take each side of a thick rope and must pull the other team across the line, exactly like the squid game TV show but without the fatal drop!

What is the oldest Highland game?

Probably the running event, as the original purpose of the games was to find the fastest messenger in the land.

Music at Highland games

It is very common for the amassing of bagpipe bands to open the Highland games and close them at the end of the event. Many different bagpipe bands will attend the games and play en masse. The songs Amazing Grace, Scotland the Brave, Highland Cathedral and Flower of Scotland are common choices for pipe bands.

Piping and drumming competitions, either solo piping or in groups, are also common and add to the day's fun.

Massed bands are great to listen to at the Highland games.
Massed pipe bands make a great noise!

Highland games abroad

The Scottish diaspora scattered across the world took with them the Highland traditions of Scotland. Games are held in every corner of the planet, from America and Canada to Brazil and New Zealand.

Although the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon is the largest Scottish event, the North American games dwarf it, and the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival welcomes 35,000 spectators each year!

Highland cows are shown off as part of country fairs.
Highland cows are often beautified and shown at Highland Games.

Are the Highland games linked to the Olympic games?

Baron Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic games, found inspiration in the Highland games while watching a display at the 1889 Paris Exhibition. The shot put and hammer throw are still included in the modern day Olympics.

Royal Scottish Highland Games Association

Over 60 Highland games in Scotland are represented by the Royal Scottish Highland games Association (RSHGA). Established in 1947, the Association aimed to further the cause of the Highland games and is recognised by both the UK and Scottish governments as the official governing body of the Highland games. The main goal is to maintain the legacy of traditions that date back thousands of years.

Can I participate in a Highland games?

So you feel like you've got what it takes! Most websites will offer registration forms so you can apply for one of the many events available. Some games also allow you to register at the very beginning of the day if you speak to one of the officials.

Calendar of 2023 Highland Games - Updated for 2023

Here is a list of over 60 highland games in Scotland during 2023. Although they are called "Highland" games, they are no longer geographically linked to the Scottish Highlands and occur in all areas of Scotland.

Please note that this information was correct at the time of writing but is subject to change. Always double check the information on the game's social media and websites to see costs and dates.

May 2023

Sunday 14th May - Gourock Highland Games
Free entry
Battery Park, Eldon Street, Gourock, PA16 7QG
Gourock Highland Games website

Sunday 21st May - Gordon Castle Highland Games & Country Fair
Adult - £15.00, Child - £8.00
Gordon Castle Estate,Fochabers,IV32 7PQ
Gordon Castle Games website

Saturday 27th May - Blackford Highland Games - 151st Gathering
Adult - £8.00, Child - £5.00
The Highland Games Park, Blackford, Perthshire, PH4 1QF

Sunday 28th May - The Atholl Highlanders Parade & Gathering
Adult - £9.00, Child - £4.50
Atholl Estates, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, PH18 5TH
Athol website

Sunday 28th May - Carmunnock Highland Games
Adult - £8.00, Child - £5.00
King George V Football Field, Carmunnock, G76 9AH
Carmunnock Highland Games Website

June 2023

Saturday 3rd June - Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games
Adult - £9.26, Child - £4.92
Rugby Grounds, Rhu Road Higher, Ardencaple, Helensburgh, Argyll G84 8JZ
Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games Website

Saturday 3rd June - 23rd Cornhill Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Cornhill Playing Field, Cornhill, Banff, AB45 2EH
Cornhill games website

Sunday 4th of June - Carrick Lowland Gathering
Free entry
Victory Park, Girvan, KA26 9DQ
Carrick gathering website

Sunday 4th June - Markinch Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
John Dixon Park, Markinch, KY7 6DA
Markinch games website

Sunday 11th June - Strathmore Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Glamis Castle Angus DD8 1RJ
Strathmore games website

Sunday 11th June 2023 - Ardrossan Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Ardrossan Memorial Playing Fields, Ardrossan, North Ayrshire, KA22 8AP
Ardrossan games website

Saturday 18th June - Oldmeldrum Sports & Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Park Cres, Oldmeldrum, Inverurie, AB51 0DH
Oldmeldrum Sports & Highland Games Website

Sunday 19th June - Aberdeen Highland Games
Adult - £12.00, Child - £5.00
Hazelhead Park, Aberdeen, AB15 8BE
Aberdeen Highland Games Website

Cupar Highland Games - CANCELLED
Adult - £7.00m Child - £4.00
Duffus Park, Cupar, KY15 4AQ
Cupar Highland Games Website

Saturday 24th June - Drumtochty Highland Games
Adult - £12.00, Child - £6.00
Drumtochty Castle, Auchenblae, AB30 1TP
Drumtochty games website

Saturday 24th June - Ceres Highland Games
Free entry
Ceres, Fife Cupar, KY15 W5H
Ceres Highland Games Website

July 2023

Saturday 1st July - Luss Highland Games
Adult - £9.00, Child - £4.00
Luss Alexandria, Argyll and Bute, G83 8NX
Luss Highland Games Website

Saturday 8th July - Forres Highland Games
Adult - £8.00, Child - £4.00
Forres Highland Games Arena, Grant Park, Forres, IV36 3BT
Forres Highland Games Website

Wednesday 5th July - Kenmore Highland Games
Payment on door TBC
Kenmore, Perthshire, PH15 2NU
Kenmore games website

Saturday 8th July - Alva Games
Adult - £8.00, Child - £5.00
Johnstone Park, Alva, FK12 5LJ
Alva Games Website

Loch Lomond Highland Games - No event information available
Ticketing TBC
Moss O'Balloch, Balloch Road, Balloch, G83 8LQ
Loch Lomond Highland Games Website

Saturday 15th July - City of Inverness Highland Games - 200th Anniversary
Adult/child - £10.00
Bught Park Pitches, Bught Road, Inverness, IV3 5SP
Inverness games website

Saturday 15th July - Lochcarron Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - free
Attadale Estate, Strathcarron, IV54 8YX 
Lochcarron games website

Saturday 15th July - Morvern Games and Gala Week
Donation entry
Knock Park, Lochaline
Knock Park website

Saturday 15th July - The Tomintoul & Strathavon Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Tomintoul, Ballindalloch, AB37 9EX
Tomintoul games website

Sunday, July 16th July - Stonehaven Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Mackie Academy Playing Fields, Stonehaven, AB39 2BJ
Stonehaven games website

Monday 17th July - Burntisland Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
The Links, Burntisland, KY3 9DY
Burntisland games website

Tuesday 18th July - Inveraray Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Inveraray Castle, Inveraray, PA32 8XE
Inveraray Highland Games Website

Thursday 20th July - Mull Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Erray Rd, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, PA75 6PS
Mull Highland Games Website

Saturday 22nd July - Balquhidder, Lochearnhead & Strathyre Highland Games
Adult - £7.00, Child - £5.00
The Games park, Lochearnhead, FK19 8PR
Website

Saturday 22nd July - Airth Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
The Wilderness, Airth, Falkirk, FK2 8LD
Airth Highland Games Website

Wednesday 26th July - Arisaig Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Traigh Farm, Arisaig, PH39 4NT
Arisaig Games website

Friday 28th July - The Durness Highland Gathering
Ticketing TBC
Shore Park, Durness, IV27 4PN
Durness games website

Saturday 29th July - Dufftown Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Mortlach School Field on Hill street, Dufftown, AB55 4AP 
Dufftown games website

Saturday 29th July - Halkirk Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Braal Terrace, Halkirk, KW12 6YN
Halkirk Highland Games Website

Highland games sports
A flurry of tartan.

August 2023

Wednesday 9th August - Isle of Skye Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £4.00
The Lump, Portree, Isle of Skye, IV51 9EW
Skye Highland Games Website

Wednesday 2nd August - Killin Highland Gathering
Ticketing TBC
Breadalbane Park, Killin, Perthshire, FK21 8UT
Killin Highland Gathering Website

Friday 4th August - Dornoch Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
The Meadows Park, Dornoch, IV25 3SU
Dornoch games website

Saturday 5th August - Aboyne Highland Games
Adult - £11.50, Child - £3.00
The Green, Aboyne, AB34 5HE
Aboyne Highland Games Website

Saturday 5th August - Inverkeithing Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Ballast Bank Playing Fields, Inverkeithing, Fife, KY11 1DS
Inverkeithing games website

Saturday 5th August - Newtonmore Highland Games
Adult - £7.00, Child - £2.00
Games Arena, Newtonmore, PH20 1BB
Newtonmore games website

Saturday 5th August - Dundonald Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Dundonald Playing Fields, Dundonald, Ayrshire, KA2 9HD
Dundonald Highland Games Website

Saturday 12th August - North Berwick International Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
North Berwick, EH39 4EE
North Berwick games website

Saturday 5th August - Aberlour Strathspey Highland Gamess
Ticketing TBC
Alice Littler Memorial Park, Aberlour, AB38 9QP
Aberlour Games Website

Strathpeffer Highland Gathering - no information available
Ticketing TBC
Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, IV14 9AA
Strathpeffer Gathering website

Saturday 5th August - The Mey Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
John O'Groats, KW1 4YR
Mey games website

Sunday 6th August - Bridge of Allan Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £6.00
Bridge Of Allan, Games Field, Bridge of Allan, FK9 4RB
Bridge of Allan Highland Games Website

Thursday 10th August - Ballater Highland Games
Adult - £12.00, Child - £5.00
Monaltrie Park, Ballater, AB35 5RG
Ballater games website

Assynt Highland Games - no information available
Ticketing TBC
Culag Park, Lochinver, Assynt, IV27 4LE
Assynt games website

Friday 11th & Saturday 12th August - The Atholl & Breadalbane Agricultural Show and Highland Gathering
Ticketing TBC
Wades Park, Aberfeldy, PH15 2LD
Aberfeldy games website

Saturday 12th August - Abernethy Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Nethy Bridge Games Field, PH25 3DA
Abernethy games website

Saturday 12th August - Tain Highland Gathering
Adult - £8.00, Child - £4.00
Near Glenmorangie Distillery
Tain gathering website

Saturday 12th August - Bute Highland Games
Adult - £15.00, Child - £5.00
The Stadium, High Street, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, PA20 9BS
Bute Highland Games Website

Sunday 13th August - Perth Highland Games
Adult - £11.00, Child - £5.50
Scone Palace, Perth, PH2 6BD
Perth Highland Games Website

Cortachy Highland Games - no information available
Adult - £5.00, Child - £2.00
Cortachy Castle Grounds, Kirriemuir, DD8 4LX
Cortachy Highland Games Website

Friday 18th August - Glenisla Highland Games
Adult - £7.00, under 14s free
The Haugh, Forter, Angus, PH11 8QW
Glenisla games website

Saturday 19th August - Rannoch Highland Gathering
Adult - £5.00, Child - £3.00
Weller Poley Park, Kinloch Rannoch, PH16 5PX
Rannoch games website

Saturday 19th August - Helmsdale and District Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Couper Park, Helmsdale, Highland, KW8 6HH
Helmsdale and District Highland Games

Saturday 19th August - Stirling Highland Games
Adult - £9.00, Child - £4.50
Stirling Sports Village, Stirling, FK7 7UJ
Stirling Games Website

Sunday 20th August - Crieff Highland Gathering
Adult - £15.00, Child - £7.50
Market Park, King Street, Crieff, PH7 3HE
Crieff Games website

Thursday 24th August - The Argyllshire Gathering / Oban Games
Adult - £15.00, Child - £7.00
Mossfield Stadium, Oban, PA34 4EL
Oban Games website

Thursday 24th - Saturday 26th August - Cowal Highland Gathering
Check here for ticket options.
Dunoon Stadium, Argyll Rd, Kirn, Dunoon, PA23 7RL
Cowal Gathering Website

Birnam Highland Games - no information available
Adult - £6.00, Child - £4.00
Birnam Highland Games Park, Dunkeld PH8 0AD
Birnam Games

Saturday 26th August - Glenurquhart Highland Games
Adult - £6.00, Child - £3.00
Blairbeg Park, Drumnadrochit, IV63 6UQ
Glenurquhart games website

Saturday 26th August - Strathardle Highland Gathering
Tickets TBC
Bannerfield, Kirkmichael, PH10 7NX
Strathardle gathering website

Saturday 26th August - The Lonach Highland Gathering & Games
Adult - £13.50, Child - £4.50
Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, AB36 8UL
Lonach Highland Gathering Website

Sunday August 30th - St Andrews Highland Games
Adult - £8.50, Child - £5.00
Station Park, St. Andrews, KY16 9SP 
St Andrews games website

September 2023

Saturday 2nd September - The Braemar Gathering
Adult - £15.00, Child - £5.00
Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar, AB35 5YX
Braemar Gathering Website

Sunday 3rd September - Blairgowrie & Rattray Highland Games
Adult - £10.00, Child - £5.00
Bogles Field, Essendy Road, Blairgowrie, PH10 6QU
Blairgowrie games website

Saturday 9th September - Pitlochry Highland Games
Adult - £11.00, Child - £2.25
Recreation Ground, Ferry Road, Pitlochry, PH16 5DZ
Pitlochry games website

Sunday 10th September - Bowhill Highland Games
Ticketing TBC
Wallsgreen Park, Wallsgreen Road, Cardenden, KY5 0JF
Bowhill games website

Scottish country dancing at opening and closing ceremonies.
A flurry of tartan.

Conclusion

If you are visiting Scotland this year or are a local who has never attended a Highland Games, why not head along to your nearest gathering and take in a day full of events and music - a fun day out for the whole family.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Comments:


Lorraine
25th of July 2023 @ 00:26:48

I will be in Scotland in September, but not until the 17th, so I am soooooo dissapointed that I will miss all Highland Games and the Tattoo. I know there will plenty of other events and activities to keep me busy. so looking forward to that.