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Highland Games :: Scotland

January 16, 2010 by  
Category: Festivals

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With their roots planted firmly in the Middle Ages, the Highland Games in Scotland are a celebration of Scottish history, culture, athleticism, and art. Originally intended as a county fair of sorts, it was an opportunity for the various clansmen, and of course the chiefs, to show off their physical prowess to impress each other and the many ladies who came to watch the activities. Frivolity and merriment follow the festival goers as they walk from one event to the next waiting to see who would be the winner of the next competition. Highland Games are held throughout the year, often sponsored by the different clans and named in their honor. Thought the main draw are the myriad athletic challenges, there is also music, food, dancing, and more to entertain young and old.

Among the sports practiced there, some of the more popular are “putting the stone”, “weight throw”, “tossing the caber”, and “throwing the hammer”. Clearly throwing-centric, many of these competitions began after the various Scottish uprisings against the English resulted in their not being permitted to bear arms. As a result, the people found alternative ways to engage in war games without raising the suspicions of the English aristocracy. Putting the stone would probably be the game most familiar to outsiders, as it is quite similar to shot put, however the object is stone and not metal. The weight throw also involves tossing a stone, however the technique here is not specific and simply asks that the competitor get the stone as far as possible. The hammer throw utilized a large metal ball rather than rock and has throwers using a bit of a spin method to get the hammer to go the farthest. Many of these sound similar to various Olympic or track and field competitions. Not so with the tossing the caber. A caber is a twenty foot long, 125 pound plus tree trunk that is hurled by the contestant in an attempt to get it to roll end over end somewhat like the hands of a clock. Clearly these activities are not for the untrained or out of shape. However, they are great fun to watch even if you’re not personally up to throwing an entire tree down a valley.

Aside from the sporting events, prepare to hear lots or rousing bag pipe music. Bands of bag pipers make their way throughout the festival grounds at the Highland Games each more beautiful than the next. You can also expect fiddlers, harpists, and other impresarios entertaining the many visitors come to see the games. With all this music, you can guarantee that there is plenty of dancing and singing being done by festival goers. Although the games are held throughout the year, the largest and most famous of these is the Cowal Highland Gathering which attracts some 20,000 visitors and over 3,000 competitors to the late August event. Previous years have even seen world famous bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers entertaining the masses. So grab a spot of whisky and a kilt and make your way to Scotland for great fun, great food, great music, and lots and lots of burley men showing the crowds what has made Scotland so special for thousands of years.

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