- Simon Varwell
- 1 June 2009
Are you game?
Not sure which Highland Games to check out? Simon Varwell offers a comprehensive round-up of this summer's best Games. And, if you still can't decide, you could always just visit them all.
Who would have thought that the country that brought you the deep-fried Mars bar could have also been responsible for one of the toughest and oldest sporting traditions? Centuries-old and tracing its roots to Scotland's ancient clan system, Highland Games are Scotland's very own Olympics - with inter-clan prestige now replaced with fun days out and a chance to compete in a variety of pursuits. With off-beat events like haggis-eating now joining the more traditional spectacles of tossing the caber, piping and dancing, Highland Games can be a great way of seeing Scottish culture at its most iconic, and in some of its most breath-taking locations.
Sat 25-Sun 26 Jul, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, www.clangathering.org
Scotland's capital is a bulging feast of architecture, culture and history - it doesn't do things by halves, and the same goes for its Highland Games. The 2009 Deuchars World Highland Games Heavy Events Championship includes some of the toughest sports, including putting the stone (a form of shot put with stones weighing up to 11kg (26lb), hammer throwing, and weight throwing with a 25kg (56lb) weight - and of course the eponymous tossing the caber. It will be quite a sight to see the heavies (strongmen from across the world, who regularly compete in the Games tours and often have Olympic or Commonwealth Games experience) take on these tasks. And, for those with extra energy, there's a hill race over Arthur's Seat which - if you stop for a breather - offers stunning views across the city.
Sell it: Big events and even bigger challenges, and a truly global spectacle - this is the Olympic Games of the Highland Games circuit.
Sat 25-Sun 26 Jul, all across Dufftown, www.dufftownhighlandgames.org
If you want to get off the usual tourist trail, then head to beautiful Banffshire in North-East Scotland, and to Dufftown, in the heart of whisky country. This Games boasts not only the usual tough events that are exhausting even to write about, but a hill race, a tug-o-war, and various races and events for all ages. You have a real chance to make your mark on these Games too, because there's an 'Overseas Visitors' race (kilt presumably not mandatory). And don't worry if that all sounds a bit too much like hard work, because there's a beer tent so you can reward yourself with something refreshing and frothy topped afterwards.
Sell it: A small but perfectly formed event, keeping some of the authenticity, charm and community feel that Highland Games should.
Sat 18-Sun 19 Jul, Bught Park, Inverness, www.invernesshighlandgames.com
With nearly 200 years in its modern format, the Inverness Highland Games is a major highlight of the calendar, taking place just a few miles from scenic shores of Loch Ness. And it will take the strength of Nessie herself to take part in this year's Games, which - as part of Scotland's Year of Homecoming - plays host to the Masters World Championships. The Inverness Games will boast competitors from nearly a dozen countries, and events for men, women and juniors. This should prove to be one of the biggest Inverness Highland Games in history. But if that sounds like far too much excitement, there's always the more sublime competitions such as piping, Highland dancing and traditional music to (hopefully) soothe the senses.
Sell it: A huge event with an international flavour, the arrival of the Masters World Championships makes this pretty unmissable.
A pretty village in rural Aberdeenshire, Strathdon comes to life when it hosts the Lonach Gathering and Highland Games. Billed as ‘Scotland’s friendliest Highland Games’ and regularly attracting in the region of 8,000 spectators, it’s a pretty big calendar event. And one nearby resident who likes to join in the fun is comedian Billy Connolly, regularly attending with his celebrity chums in tow. The Games kick off with a March of the Men of Lonach, with whisky stops en route, and the events themselves include all the favourite sports and competitions - with cabers, weights and hammers flying through the air all day.
Sell it: This quiet village is given an adrenalin injection every August and this, their 168th Highland games no less, is set to be bigger and better than ever.
Sat 15 Aug, Glenfinnan, www.lochaber.com/highlandgames/glenfinnan.htm
Glenfinnan is a spectacular location on the shores of Loch Sheil, in the western Highlands. It is situated on the beautiful train journey from Fort William to Mallaig and from here you can sail to the Isle of Skye. And, for all you fact fans, the Glenfinnan rail viaduct is where the famous scenes of the Hogwarts Express are shot in the Harry Potter films. Moreover, the village is famous for the raising of the standard by the Jacobites before their ultimately failed rebellion in 1745. All that, even before you start on the Highland Games! The Glenfinnan Games are a pretty big event in the town, so expect it to be swimming with local talent - ready to pit themselves in one of the many sporting events. Are you game enough to take on a 'local'?
Sell it: A massive event in a small but spectacular location, this is a real chance to meet the locals and visit a truly authentic Highland Games.
Sat 29 Aug, Little Dunkeld, near Birnam, www.birnamhighlandgames.com
Birnam's probably most famous for its wood, which featured in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is in the middle of the dramatic Perthshire mountains, and just a caber toss from Dunkeld - home to an ancient cathedral. Yet this serene location is host to one of Scotland's most fun-loving Highland Games. The more typical events of hammer throwing, country dancing and bagpiping are joined by cycling, the World Haggis-Eating Championships, and the Mad Kiltie Dash. The haggis-eating championships are exactly as it says on the tin - and anyone can enter for free. Just don't remind yourself what haggis actually is and wash it down with a spot of whisky. Meanwhile the Mad Kiltie Dash is a race open to anyone with a kilt. Pants or no pants? We'll leave you to decide.
Sell it: This is a Games that clearly knows how to have a good time and not take itself too seriously, which sounds like just our kind of event.