A Glimpse at the Highland Games
The Scots boast a proud and ancient history. Owing to such a unique culture stemming from Celtic times centuries ago, it should be no great surprise that certain traditions have carried down through the ages. One excellent example of this are the yearly highland games that are played throughout various parts of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. Celebrating Scottish heritage and culture, world-famous heavy lifting events are intermingles with the playing of bagpipes, the donning of kilts and numerous displays which illustrate Scottish history and lore.Content
- History and Events
- A Look at the Braemar Highland Games
- What to Expect at the Braemar Highland Games
- Useful Information
Many scholars believe that the highland games actually predate written history. Still, one of the earliest references to the Scottish highland games can be found in texts written in the reign of King Malcolm III (in the twelfth century). These describe a gathering of contestants that took place at the base of Craig Choinnich. Participants were asked to race to its summit which overlooked nearby Braemar; the king was looking to find the fastest foot messenger. However, it is highly likely that the Celts and the Scots held similar competitions of strength and speed long before this initial reference.
Many are the most familiar with the heavy lifting events which have come to dominate the Scottish highland games. Examples can include tossing a bundle of straw (called a sheif in the traditional tongue), tossing a large weight above an overhead bar of a predetermined height, the Scottish hammer throw and the shot put. Perhaps the most famous strength event is the caber toss. Other secondary attractions include the displaying of armour which has been held in families for centuries, mock battles and the singing of songs such as Amazing Grace or Scotland the Brave. Although there are numerous highland games that take place around the world, the most famous and reputable is arguably the Braemar Highland Games.
Also known as the Braemar Gathering, the Braemar Highland Games will always take place on the first Saturday during the month of September. This event is traditionally held in Memorial Park located in Braemar, Aberdeenshire.
The history of this particular venue can be traced back to 1815 when so-called "mutual assistance societies" were formed to help the old and the infirmed. The proceeds from each Braemar Gathering would go towards bettering the community as a whole. While few of such events lasted for more than a few years, the Braemar Highland Games thrived. In 1817, it was registered as a Scottish Friendly Society; now the oldest surviving one in the entire country.
Still, the primary recognition of the highland games in Braemar began when Queen Victoria famously visited the event for the first time in 1848. She took a keen interest in the games and their events, so it was not long before the entire royal family would make annual excursions to Scotland for such attractions. This was the primary reason why the title "Royal" was added in 1866.
Like many other Scottish highland games, one of the most dominant and long-lived attractions is the foot race. This event is actually the oldest in the world; stemming back to 1832. All events will begin at approximately 9:30 in the morning and conclude at 5 o'clock in the evening on the first Saturday of September.
As mentioned previously, there are many strength-related events. For example, the caber toss involves a participant very literally hurling a large pole as far as possible. A tug-of-war is also quite popular; normally drawing the strongest men from nearby communities. The "long leap" will bring out those with more prowess in speed (known as the long jump elsewhere). Tossing the Scottish hammer is another favourite enjoyed by many onlookers, as they feel that it is quite emblematic of Scotland itself. Some other physical activities include:
- Highland dancing
- A relay race
- Putting the stone
- A hill race
Still, we should recognise that this event is also just as fun for children. There is a children's sack race that will bring out smiles from the young ones.
The highland games in Braemar are also known for their rather traditional and interesting prizes. While the awards will vary, the reason that they are so very enticing is that they are normally presented by the queen herself. This is obviously quite an honour for those who have proven themselves to be worthy.
Tickets for the Scottish highland games are normally purchased in advance. In fact, they are often sold as early as November. As should be expected, the grandstand tickets are normally those which are sold out the quickest. Uncovered stand tickets for these highland games are generally £22 pounds while ringside seats are slightly less at £18 pounds. Families who wish to attend will normally pay £45 pounds to be seated in group sections. This includes two adults and two children up to 14 years of age. For those who do not hold a ticket, an entrance fee of £12 pounds is charged. A portion of the proceeds from these highland games will go towards charitable organisations. However, it should be noted that these prices may be subject to change. It is therefore wise to check with the official website well in advance. There are also programme schedules which can be downloaded. There are a limited number of parking spots for the highland games and this is based on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The highland games held in Braemar each year are certainly worth a closer look. For those who are interested in Scottish history, the event will be particularly inspiring. Still, these famous highland games are just as appropriate for anyone who enjoys tradition and the great outdoors. With a chance to catch a glimpse of the queen herself, it is well worth the visit. The Scottish highland games boast a long and proud history. There is no doubt that they will be held for centuries to follow.
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