Today, these festivals, take place year round, all over the world But, the most best and most authentic Highland celebrations of Celtic traditions, sports and culture still take place in Scotland in through the summer and early autumn.
The festivals usually feature competitions in Highland dancing, bag piping -solo and in bands - and the picturesque heavy sports unique to highland games. The events included usually vary somewhat between different Highland Games and Gatherings
What are Heavy Sports?A unique aspect of Highland Games, heavy sports have traditionally been demonstrations of masculine strength and prowess. The heavy sports include:
- Tossing the caber - The caber is a long pine log - pretty much the size of a tree. The competitor balances it vertically in his hands and then throws is so that it will turn end-over-end through the air.
- Stone put - Competitors throw a large stone - the weight varies according to the particular Highland Games because the stones are real stones rather than weights. At Braemar, there is a lighter stone for women to throw.
- Hammer throw Similar to the Olympic event, the Scottish hammer is a ball weighing about 23 pounds at the end of a four foot handle (at some competitions there are lighter hammers for women). The competitor whirls the hammer around his head before throwing it.
- Weight throws - There are usually two different events, one involves throwing a weight, attached to a handle, for distance and the other involves throwing the weight over a bar for height. The iron balls, or cubes used in the weight throws weigh about 57 pounds.
Highland Games - Where to See and Take PartThese are some of the best:
- The Cowal Highland Gathering
- When: End of August
- Where:Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland
- What: Claiming to be the biggest and most spectacular Highland Gathering, the 3-day Cowal Gathering has been taking place in Argyll since 1894. Events include Highland dancing, heavy sports, solo piping and pipe bands. At least 3,500 competitors attend from all over the world at there are usually about 15,000 spectators.
- The Braemar Gathering
- When: The first Saturday in September
- Where: The Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park, Braemar, Aberdeenshire
- What: One of the oldest clan gatherings, this one has the patronage of the Queen herself. The sponsoring Braemar Royal Highland Society has been around, organizing the games since about 1815 - though they didn't award any prizes until 1837.
Actually, gatherings at Braemar have been taking place, in one form or another for about 900 years, since the time of King Malcolm Canmore. And it has long been traditional for the clans to gather to proclaim the monarch chief of the games.
The modern Braemar Gathering, attended by the Queen, Prince Charles and other members of the Royal Family includes piping and Highland dancing competitions, heavy sports, various sprints and hill races, a "long leap", a tug-of-war and a children's sack race.
- Pitlochry Highland Games
- When: Mid September
- Where:Recreation Ground, Ferry Road, Pitlochry
- What: One of the last Highland Games of the season, Pitlochry includes the usual heavy sports, piping and dancing competitions as well as cycling, track events and a parade of massed piping bands.
- Blairgowrie & Rattray Highland Games
- When: A Sunday in early September
- Where: Blairgowrie, Perthshire
- What: In addition to the usual events, this Highland Games includes Bird of Prey demonstrations and Shinty - an Celtic game with ball and sticks similar to hockey.
Links to More Highland Games
- Crieff Highland Gathering - Includes the Scottish Professional Heavyweight Championship
- Lochearnhead Highland Games including Strathyre & Balquhidder - In the Trossachs, near Rob Roy country
- Birnham Highland Games - Events include the Mad Kiltie Dash and the World Haggis Eating Championship
- Royal Burgh of Peebles Highland Games