Monday, August 8, 2011


   Highland games are events held throughout the year in Scotland and other countries as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture and heritage, especially that of the Scottish Highlands. Certain aspects of the games are so well known as to have become emblematic of Scotland, such as the bagpipes, the kilt, and the heavy events, especially the caber toss. While centred on competitions in piping and drumming, dancing, and Scottish heavy athletics, the games also include entertainment and exhibits related to other aspects of Scottish and Gaelic culture.
   The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland every August, is the largest Highland games in Scotland, attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 15–20,000 spectators from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is dwarfed by two gatherings in the United States: the 50,000 that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina and the even larger gathering—the largest in the Northern Hemisphere—that has taken place every year since 1865 hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. This event is currently held Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California.

   The games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he was planning the revival of the Olympic Games. De Coubertin saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.


   The origin of human games and sports predates recorded history. An example of a possible early games venue is at Fetteresso, although that location is technically a few miles south of the Scottish Highlands.
   It is reported in numerous books and Highland games programs, that King Malcolm III of Scotland, in the 11th century, summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar).    King Malcolm created this foot race in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. Some have seen this apocryphal event to be the origin of today's modern Highland games.

   There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant, Clan Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and "also with gun, sword, pistill [sic] and dirk".  From this letter, it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.
   However, the modern Highland games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.

Heavy Events

   In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics to be 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 pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands (see photo). Then the copetitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with the upper (larger) end striking the ground first. The smaller end that was originally held by the athlete then hits the ground in the 12 o'clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. 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 how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o'clock toss on an imaginary clock.

  • Stone put: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. There are also some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. There are two versions of the stone toss events, differing in allowable technique. The "Braemar Stone" uses a 20–26 lb stone for men (13–18 lb for women) and does not allow any run up to the toeboard or "trig" to deliver the stone, i.e., it is a standing put. In the "Open Stone" using a 16–22 lb stone for men (or 8–12 lb for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event 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 lb for men or 12 or 16 lb for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one's head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.

  • Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event. There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men and 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. 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 and 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 crowd pleaser.

  • Maide Leisg(Scots Gaelic meaning 'Lazy Stick'): Trial of strength performed by two men sitting on the ground with the soles of their feet pressing against each other. Thus seated, they held a stick between their toes which they pulled against each other till one of them was raised from the ground. The oldest 'Maide Leisg' competition in the world takes place at the Carloway show and Highland Games on the Isle of Lewis.

   Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics 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.


   For many Highland games festival attendees, the most memorable of all the events at the games is the massing of the pipe bands. Normally held in conjunction with the opening and closing ceremonies of the games, as many as 20 or more pipe bands will march and play together. The result is a thunderous rendition of traditional favourites Scotland the Brave or Amazing Grace, and other crowd-pleasing favorites.
   It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to symbolise music at the Games and, indeed, in Scotland itself. In addition to the massed bands, 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.
   But the pipes and drums are not the only music which can be heard at Highland games. Music at Highland games gatherings takes on a variety of forms. Many such events offer fiddling, harp circles, Celtic bands and other forms of musical entertainment, the latter usually spiced with a healthy amount of bagpipe music.


   People dance there. There were several traditional dances that were danced along to traditional music.

Secondary Events and Attractions

   At modern-day Highland Games events, a wide variety of other activities and events are generally available. Foremost among these are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish related goods. The various clan societies make the Highland games one of the main focus of their seasonal activities, usually making an appearance at as many such events as possible. Visitors can find out information about the Scottish roots and can become active in their own clan society if they wish.
   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.
   Herding dog trials and exhibitions are often held, showcasing the breeder's and trainer's skills. In addition, there may be other types of Highland animals present, such as the Highland cattle.
Various traditional and modern Celtic arts are often showcased. This could include Harper's circles, Scottish country dancing, and one or more entertainment stages. In addition, most events usually feature a pre-event ceilidh (a type of social event with traditional music, dancing, song, and other forms of entertainment).
Various food vendors will also offer assorted types of traditional Scottish refreshment and sustenance.

Major events in Scotland

Burntisland, FifeBurntisland Highland GamesSecond oldest in the world
Ceres, FifeCERES HIGHLAND GAMESOldest Free games in the world
CrieffCrieff Highland Games
DunoonCowal Highland GatheringBiggest Games in Scotland

Major events outside Scotland


Calgary, AlbertaCalgary Highland Games
Cambridge, OntarioCambridge Highland Games
Grande Prairie, AlbertaGrande Prairie Highland Games
Coquitlam, British ColumbiaBC Highland Games
Victoria, British ColumbiaVictoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Antigonish, Nova ScotiaAntigonish Highland Games
Almonte, OntarioNorth Lanark Highland Games
Cobourg, OntarioCobourg Highland Games
Maxville, OntarioGlengarry Highland Games
Sudbury, OntarioSudbury Celtic Festival & Highland Games
Montreal, QuebecMontreal Highland Games


St. Ursen, FribourgHighland Games Swiss Championships



United States

Scottsboro, AlabamaNorth Alabama Scottish Festival & Highland Games
Eagle River, AlaskaAlaskan Scottish Highland Games
Camp Verde, ArizonaVerde Valley Highland Games
Phoenix, ArizonaArizona Scottish Gathering and Highland Games
Prescott, ArizonaPrescott Highland Games
Tucson, ArizonaTucson Celtic Festival and Highland Games
Batesville, ArkansasArkansas Scottish Festival
Bakersfield, CaliforniaBakersfield High Games
Santa Cruz County, CaliforniaScottish Renaissance Festival featuring the Loch Lomond Highland Games & Celtic Gathering
Campbell, CaliforniaCampbell Highland Games
Costa Mesa, CaliforniaUnited Scottish Highland Gathering
Fresno, CaliforniaFresno Highland Games
Livermore, CaliforniaLivermore Scottish Games and Celtic Celebration
Modesto, CaliforniaModesto Highland Games
Oakland, CaliforniaOakland Scottish Games
Pleasanton, CaliforniaCaledonian Club of San Francisco Highland Gathering
Salinas, CaliforniaMonterey Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Santa Cruz, CaliforniaSanta Cruz Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Ventura, CaliforniaSeaside Highland Games
Vista, CaliforniaSan Diego Scottish Highland Games and Gathering
Woodland, CaliforniaSacramento Valley Scottish Games
Elizabeth, ColoradoElizabeth Celtic Festival
Estes Park, ColoradoLong's Peak Scottish/Irish Highland Festival
Highlands Ranch, ColoradoColorado Scottish Festival
Sterling, ColoradoSterling Celtic Festival
Goshen, ConnecticutSt. Andrews Society of Connecticut Scottish Festival
Norwalk, ConnecticutRound Hill Highland Games
Scotland, ConnecticutScotland Highland Festival
Dunedin, FloridaDunedin Highland Games
Fort Lauderdale, FloridaSoutheast Florida Scottish Festival and Games
Green Cove Springs, FloridaNortheast Florida Scottish Highland Games
Ocala, FloridaOcala Scottish Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Panama City, FloridaPanama City Highland Games
Pensacola, FloridaPensacola Highland Games
Tallahassee, FloridaTallahassee Highland Games
Sarasota, FloridaSarasota Highland Games
Winter Springs, FloridaCentral Florida Scottish Highland Games
Zephyrhills, FloridaZephyrhills Celtic Festival and Highland Games
Blairsville, GeorgiaBlairsville Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Chickamauga, GeorgiaAppalachian Celtic Festival
Anderson, South CarolinaLoch Hartwell Highland Games
Ringgold, GeorgiaRingold Highland Games
Savannah, GeorgiaSavannah Scottish Games and Highland Festival
Stone Mountain, GeorgiaStone Mountain Highland Games
Honolulu, HawaiiHawaiian Scottish Festival
Boise, IdahoTreasure Valley Highland Games
Oakbrook, IllinoisIllinois St. Andrew Society Highland Games
Springfield, IllinoisShamrock Games
Springfield, IllinoisSpringfield Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Columbus, IndianaColumbus, Indiana Scottish Festival
Fort Wayne, IndianaIndiana Highland Games
South Bend, IndianaCeltic Festival and Bryan Verkler Invitational Highland Games
Davenport, IowaCeltic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad-Cities
McPherson, KansasMcPherson Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Wakeeney, KansasTh' Gatherin' Fire Festival O'Beltane
Carrollton, KentuckyKentucky Scottish Weekend
Glasgow, KentuckyGlasgow Highland Games
Murray, KentuckyWestern Kentucky Highlands Festival
Jackson, LouisianaHighland Games of Louisiana
Minden, LouisianaTartan Day Celebration
West Monroe, LouisianaNortheast Louisiana Celtic Festival
Belfast, MaineMaine Celtic Celebration
Brunswick, MaineMaine Highland Games
Elkton, MarylandFair Hill Scottish Games
Frederick, MarylandFrederick Celtic Festival
Havre De Grace, MarylandStepping Stone Museum Highland Games
St. Leonard, MarylandSouthern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering
McHenry, MarylandMcHenry Higland Festival
Snow Hill, MarylandChesapeake Celtic Festival
Florence, MassachusettsGlasgow Lands Scottish Festival
Greenfield, MassachusettsWestern Massachusetts Highland Games and Festival
Alma, MichiganAlma Highland Festival and Games
Kalamazoo, MichiganKalamazoo Highland Games
Livonia, MichiganSt. Andrews Society of Detroit Highland Games
Saline, MichiganSaline Highland Games
Farmington, MinnesotaMinnesota Scottish Fair
Moorhead, MinnesotaCeltic Festival
Gulfport, MississippiHighlands and Islands Games on the Gulf Coast
Jackson, MississippiCeltic Fest Mississippi
Buffalo, MissouriSouthwest Missouri Celtic Heritage Festival
Riverside, MissouriKansas City Highland Games
St. Charles, MissouriMissouri Tartan Day Festivities
Hamilton, MontanaBitterroot Scottish Irish Festival
Las Vegas, NevadaLas Vegas Celtic Gathering
Reno, NevadaReno Celtic Celebration
Lincoln, New HampshireNew Hampshire Highland Games
Albuquerque, New MexicoRio Grande Valley Celtic Festival and Highland Games
Altamont, New YorkCapital District Scottish Games
Amherst, New YorkAmherst Museum Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Old Westbury, New YorkLong Island Scottish Games
Greensboro, North CarolinaTriad Highland Games
Hendersonville, North CarolinaFoothills Highland Games and Festival
Huntersville, North CarolinaLoch Norman Highland Games
Laurinburg, North CarolinaScotland County Highland Games
Linville, North CarolinaGrandfather Mountain Highland Games
Mint Hill, North CarolinaMint Hill Highland Games
Waxhaw, North CarolinaWaxhaw Scottish Highland Games
Winston-Salem, North CarolinaWinston-Salem Celtic Music Festival and Highland Games
Hartville, OhioBrigadoon Beltane Festival
Wellington, OhioOhio Scottish Festival
Tulsa, OklahomaOklahoma Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Yukon, OklahomaScottish Heritage Festival and Highland Games
Athena, OregonAthena Caledonian Games
Baker City, OregonEastern Oregon Highland Games
Gresham, OregonPortland Highland Games
Madras, OregonHigh Desert Celtic Festival and Games
Winston, OregonDouglas County Celtic Highland Games
Bethlehem, PennsylvaniaBethlehem Celtic Classic
Edinboro, PennsylvaniaEdinboro Highland Games
Ligonier, PennsylvaniaLigonier Highland Games
Manheim, PennsylvaniaCeltic Fling and Highland Games
Richmond, Rhode IslandRhode Island Scottish Highland Festival
Clover, South CarolinaClover Scottish Games
Greenville, South CarolinaGreenville Scottish Highland Games
Mt. Pleasant, South CarolinaCharleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering
Rapid City, South DakotaBlack Hills Dakota Gathering of the Clans
Gatlinburg, TennesseeGatlinburg Scottish Highland Games
Jackson, TennesseeCeltic Fest
Arlington, TexasTexas Scottish Festival and Highland Games
Bedford, TexasBedford Celtic Heritage Festival
Helotes, TexasSan Antonio Highland Games
Houston, TexasHouston Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Salado, TexasSalado Scottish Clan Gathering and Highland Games
Lehi, UtahUtah Highland Games
Payson, UtahPayson Scottish Festival
Delaplane, VirginiaVirginia Scottish Games and Festival
Leesburg, VirginiaPotomac Celtic Festival
Lanexa, VirginiaWilliamsburg Scottish Festival
Lexington, VirginiaLexington Scots Irish Festival
Mechanicsville, VirginiaMeadow Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Radford, VirginiaRadford Highlander Festival
Enumclaw, WashingtonPacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games
Bellingham, WashingtonBellingham Highland Games
Graham, WashingtonTacoma Highland Games
Greenbank, WashingtonWhidbey Island Highland Games
Kelso, WashingtonKelso Hilander Festival and Games
Mount Vernon, WashingtonSkagit Valley Highland Games and Celtic Festival
Prosser, WashingtonProsser Scottish Festival
Puyallup, WashingtonScottish American Festival
Spokane, WashingtonSpokane Highland Games
Bridgeport, West VirginiaNorth Central West Virginia Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering
Milwaukee, WisconsinMilwaukee Highland Games and Festival
Waukesha, WisconsinWisconsin Highland Games
Gillette, WyomingWyoming Celtic Festival
Jackson, WyomingJackson Hole Scottish Festival


  1. New annual Highland games in Indianapolis, Indiana,\.

  2. Thank for the infor. I always love to read comments.