Highland games

(Redirected from Scottish hammer throw)

Highland games are events held in spring and summer in Scotland and other countries with a large Scottish diaspora, as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture, 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 cultures.

Opening ceremonies of 2004 Canmore Highland games

The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, is held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August. It is the largest Highland games in the world,[note 1] attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 23,000 spectators[1][2] from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is exceeded in terms of spectators by three gatherings in the United States: the estimated 30,000[3] that attend Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, the New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival which attracts over 35,000 annual and the even larger gathering—the largest in the Northern Hemisphere[4]—that has taken place every year since 1866.[5] This event is currently held on Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California, and their Sesquicentennial Games held on 5–6 September 2015, attracted record crowds close to 50,000.[4]

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.[6][note 2]


The modern Highland games are largely a 19th-century development, from the period following the Jacobite rebellions and subsequent ban on Highland Dress.[7]

Attempts have been made to discover earlier traditions of games, although evidence is thin. The primary sources are from the bardic traditions of both contests between clans and of tests to select retainers for clan chiefs.

An example of a possible early games venue is at Fetteresso,[citation needed] although that location is technically a few miles south of the Scotland Highlands.

Some modern sources suggest more these games would originate from the deer hunts that the inhabitants of the Highlands engaged in.[8]

The first historical reference to the type of events held at Highland Games in Scotland was made during the time of King Malcolm III (Scottish Gaelic: Máel Coluim; c. 1031 – 13 November 1093) when he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich overlooking Braemar with the aim of finding the fastest runner in Scotland to be his royal messenger.[citation needed] There are also thought to have been events where the strongest and bravest soldiers in Scotland would be tested. Musicians and dancers were encouraged to reveal their skill and talents and so be a great credit to the clan that they represented.

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, pistol and dirk".[note 3] From this letter, it is surmised that the competitions would have included feats of arms[citation needed]


Heavy eventsEdit

A caber being thrown at the 2000 New Hampshire Highland Games

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 symbolise the Highland games.

  • Caber toss: A long log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands (see photo). Then the competitor 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 or “putting the heavy stone”: 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 (9–12 kg) stone for men (13–18 lb or 6–8 kg 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 (7–10 kg) stone for men (8–12 lb or 3.5–5.5 kg 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 (7.25 or 10 kg) for men, or 12 or 16 lb (5.5 or 7.25 kg) for women, is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet (1.2 metres) 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
  • 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 (9.1 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.[citation needed]
  • Maide-leisg (Scots Gaelic meaning 'Lazy Stick', pronounced [matʲəˈʎeʃkʲ]): Trial of strength performed by two men/people sitting on the ground with the soles of their feet pressing against each other. Thus seated, they hold a stick between their hands which they pull against each other until one of them is 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 US, 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.


Massed bands at the 2005 Pacific Northwest Highland Games
Highland Pipeband Competition Circle (Prince Charles Pipe Band 2008)

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 Scotland the Brave or Amazing Grace, and other crowd-pleasing favourites.

It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to symbolise music at the Games and, indeed, of 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.

Music at Highland games gatherings also includes other forms, such as fiddling, harp circles and Celtic bands, usually spiced with a large amount of bagpipe music.


The Cowal Highland Gathering hosts the annual World Highland Dancing Championship. This event gathers the best competitive dancers from around the world who compete for the SOBHD sanctioned World Championship title.

Secondary events and attractionsEdit

Assembling for the parade of clans at the 2005 Tacoma Highland Games

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. These could include harpers' 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 ScotlandEdit

Location Name of Event Details
Alva, Clackmannanshire First Alva Highland Games were held in summer 1856.[9] Johnstone park Alva at the foot of the Ochil Hills.
Blair Atholl, Perthshire Atholl Gathering[10] Europe's only private army, the Atholl Highlanders, open the games in the grounds of Blair Castle
Braemar, Aberdeenshire Braemar Gathering Attended by the British Royal Family.
Burntisland, Fife Burntisland Highland Games Second oldest in the world
Carloway, Isle of Lewis Carloway Show and Highland Games Home to the oldest 'Maide Leisg' competition in the world
Ceres, Fife Ceres Highland Games Oldest free games in Scotland
Crieff, Perthshire Crieff Highland Games Home of the Scottish Heavyweight Championships and has the Earl of Strathearn (Prince William) as the Royal Chieftain
Cupar, Fife Cupar Highland Games[11] Started in 1979
Dunoon, Argyllshire Cowal Highland Gathering Biggest games in Scotland
Glenisla, Angus Glenisla Highland Games[12] Started in 1869
Gourock, Inverclyde Gourock Highland Games[13] The first Highland games of the Scottish season – held on the second Sunday in May
Halkirk, Caithness Halkirk Highland Games Started in 1886
Inverkeithing, Fife Inverkeithing Highland Games
Lochearnhead, Perthshire Balquhidder, Lochearnhead and Strathyre Highland Games Cameron, MacLaren and MacGregor clans linked to the games
Luss, Dunbartonshire Luss Highland Gathering Clan Colquhoun linked to the games. Held regularly since 1875.
Strathdon, Aberdeenshire Lonach Highland Gathering & Games Held by The Lonach Highland & Friendly Society Est. 1823, features the march of the Lonach Highlanders consisting of Forbes, Wallace and Gordons
Perth, Perthshire Perth Highland Games Held on the second Sunday in August
Pitlochry, Perthshire Pitlochry Highland Games
Portree, Skye Isle of Skye Highland Games
St. Andrews, Fife St. Andrews Highland Games
Stirling Stirling Highland Games First Stirling Highland Games were held in July 1870
Tobermory, Isle of Mull Mull Highland Games Held every third Thursday in July, supported by Clan MacLean; considered one of the most picturesque Games events, overlooking Tobermory Bay and the Sound of Mull
Inverness Inverness Highland Games Staged in the world's oldest[citation needed] highland games stadium, Northern Meeting Park

Major events outside ScotlandEdit


Location Name
Daylesford, Victoria Highland Gathering


Location Name
Alden Biesen Scottish weekend


Location Name
Somerset (2012); Pembroke (2013) Bermuda Highland Games


Location Name
Estância Velha, Rio Grande do Sul Scout Highland Games - GEJL46RS
Sapucaia do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul Scottish Highland Games Brazil


On 1 August 1997 Canada Post issued 'Highland Games' designed by Fraser Ross, based on photographs by Andrew Balfour. The 45¢ stamps are perforated 12.5 x 13 and were printed by Canadian Bank Note Company, Limited.[14]

Location[15] Name Month Held
Calgary, Alberta Calgary Highland Games[16] September
Canmore, Alberta Canmore Highland Games[17] September
Edmonton, Alberta Edmonton Scottish Society Highland Gathering[18] June
Grande Prairie, Alberta Grande Prairie Highland Games[19] June
High River, Alberta Foothills Highland Games[20] August
Red Deer, Alberta Red Deer Highland Games[21] June
British Columbia
Coquitlam, British Columbia BC Highland Games June
Kamloops, British Columbia Kamloops Highland Games[22] July
Penticton, British Columbia Penticton Scottish Festival[23] July
Victoria, British Columbia Victoria Highland Games[24] May
East Selkirk, Manitoba Manitoba Highland Gathering[25] June
Winnipeg, Manitoba Pavilion of Scotland, Folklorama[26] August
Winnipeg, Manitoba Transcona Highland Gathering[27] September
New Brunswick
Fredericton, New Brunswick New Brunswick Highland Games[28] July
Moncton, New Brunswick Moncton Highland Games[29] June
Perth-Andover, New Brunswick Gathering of the Scots Festival[30] May
Nova Scotia
Antigonish, Nova Scotia Antigonish Highland Games[31] July
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia Festival of the Tartans & Highland Games[32] July
Almonte, Ontario North Lanark Highland Games[33] August
Cambridge, Ontario Cambridge Highland Games[34] July
Cobourg, Ontario Cobourg Highland Games[35] June
Embro, Ontario Embro Highland Games[36] July
Fergus, Ontario Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games[37] August
Georgetown, Ontario Georgetown Highland Games[38] June
Kincardine, Ontario Kincardine Scottish Festival & Highland Games[39] July
Kingston, Ontario Kingston Scottish Festival May
Maxville, Ontario Glengarry Highland Games August
Sutton, Ontario The Georgina Gathering[40] June
Uxbridge, Ontario The Highlands of Durham Games[41] July
Montreal, Quebec Montreal Highland Games[42] August
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival (not to be held in 2015)[43] May
Regina, Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Highland Gathering & Festival[44] May

Czech RepublicEdit

Location Name
Brno MonteBú Highland Games[45]
Sychrov Castle Skotské hry Sychrov[46]


Location Name
Csesznek, Veszprém Scottish Highland Games (Skót Felföldi Játékok)
Zichyújfalu, Fejér Highland Games Cup (Felföldi Játékok Kupa)[47]


Location Name
Jakarta Jakarta Highland Gathering

New ZealandEdit

Location Name
Hororata Hororata Highland Games (2011)
Fairlie Mackenzie Easter Show & Highland Games (1898)
Paeroa Paeroa Highland Games & Tattoo (1993)
Turakina Turakina Highland Games (1864)
Waipu Waipu Highland Games (1871)


Location Name
Abtwil, St. Gallen Appowila Highland Games
Fehraltdorf, Zurich Highland-Games Fehraltdorf[48]

United StatesEdit

Location[15] Name
Palmer, Alaska -
Prescott, Arizona Prescott Highland Games & Celtic Faire[50]
Phoenix, Arizona Scottish Highland Games[51][52]
Tucson, Arizona Tucson Celtic Festival & Scottish Highland Games[53]
Santa Cruz County, California Scottish Renaissance Festival featuring the Loch Lomond Highland Games & Celtic Gathering[54]
Pleasanton, California Scottish Highland Gathering and Games[55]
San Diego, California San Diego Scottish Highland Games & Gathering of the Clans[56]
Ventura, California Seaside Highland Games[57]
Woodland, California Sacramento Valley Scottish Games & Festival[58]
Elizabeth, Colorado Elizabeth Celtic Festival[59]
Estes Park, Colorado Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highland Festival[60]
Hartford, Connecticut Pipes in the Valley[61]
Scotland, Connecticut Scotland Connecticut Highland Games[62]
Dunedin, Florida Dunedin Highland Games and Festivals[63]
Green Cove Springs, Florida Northeast Florida Scottish Highland Games[64]
Marianna, Florida The Big Bend Highland Games & Scottish Festival[65]
Sarasota, Florida Sarasota Highland Games[66]
Blairsville, Georgia Blairsville Scottish Festival & Highland Games[67]
Stone Mountain, Georgia Stone Mountain Highland Games and Scottish Festival[68]
Honolulu, Hawaii Hawaiian Scottish Festival and Highland Games[69]
Indianapolis, Indiana Indianapolis Scottish Highland Games and Festival[70]
Columbus, Indiana Columbus Scottish Festival and Highland Games[71]
South Bend, Indiana Celtic Festival and Bryan Verkler Invitational Highland Games
Davenport, Iowa Celtic Festival and Highland Games of the Quad-Cities[72]
Eminence, Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival[73]
Glasgow, Kentucky Glasgow Highland Games
Baton Rouge, Louisiana The Highland Games of Louisiana[74]
Mount Airy, Maryland Frederick Celtic Festival
St. Leonard, Maryland Southern Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering[75]
Alma, Michigan Alma Highland Festival and Games[76]
Livonia, Michigan St. Andrew's Society of Detroit Highland Games[77]
Parchment, Michigan Kalamazoo Scottish Festival[78]
Sparta, Michigan Sparta Celtic Festival[79]
St. Charles, Missouri Missouri Tartan Day Festivities[80]
St. Louis, Missouri St. Louis Scottish Games and Cultural Festival[81]
Hamilton, Montana Bitterroot Celtic Games & Gathering[82]
Kalispell, Montana Flathead Celtic Festival[83]
Lincoln, New Hampshire New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival[84]
Las Vegas, Nevada Las Vegas Celtic Society Highland Games[85]
Altamont, New York Capital District Scottish Games[86]
Old Westbury, New York Scottish Festival and Games[87]
Olcott, New York Niagara Celtic Heritage Festival & Highland Games[88]
Liverpool, New York CNY Scottish Games & Celtic Festival[89]
Huntersville, North Carolina Loch Norman Highland Games[90]
Laurinburg, North Carolina Scotland County Highland Games[91]
Linville, North Carolina Grandfather Mountain Highland Games[92]
Winston-Salem, North Carolina Bethabara Highland Games[93]
Tulsa, Oklahoma SCOTFEST[94]
Portland, Oregon Portland Highland Games[95]
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Celtic Classic Highland Games & Festival[96]
Ligonier, Pennsylvania Ligonier Highland Games[97]
Charleston, South Carolina Charleston Scottish Games and Highland Gathering[98]
Greenville, South Carolina Gallabrae Greenville Scottish Games
Elizabethton, Tennessee Scottish Heavy Athletics Clinic and Competition / East Tennessee Celtic Festival[99]
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Gatlinburg Scottish Highland Games[100]
Townsend, Tennessee Smoky Mountain Scottish Festival and Games at Townsend, Tennessee[101]
Arlington, Texas Texas Scottish Festival and Highland Games[102]
Austin, Texas Austin Celtic Festival[103]
Grapevine, Texas Grapevine Celtic Heritage Festival and Highland Games
Houston, Texas Houston Celtic Festival and Highland Games[104]
Sherman, Texas Sherman Celtic Festival and Highland Games[105]
Moab, Utah Scots on the Rocks
Payson, Utah Payson Scottish Festival
Salt Lake City, Utah Utah Scots Festival
St. George, Utah RedStone Games
Delaplane, Virginia Virginia Scottish Games and Festival[106]
Kelso, Washington Kelso Highlander Festival[107]
Bridgeport, West Virginia North Central West Virginia Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering[108]
Milwaukee, Wisconsin Milwaukee Highland Games[109]
Waukesha, Wisconsin Wisconsin Highland Games[110]
Radford, Virginia Radford Highlander's Festival[111]
Monterey, California Monterey Scottish Games & Celtic Festival[112]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cowal Highland Gathering can be verified as the world's largest highland games on the Official Scottish Tourist Board Website at VisitScotland.com.
  2. ^ The website of the International Wrestling Association reports rather more expansively on the role of the 1889 Paris event and its effect on the development of the Olympics, considering it to have had a "huge impact" on world sport. An article published in 2004 in the Christian Science Monitor points to two other events, including that of Much Wenlock, a small English village in Shropshire.
  3. ^ As quoted on the history page of the Aboyne Highland Gathering website.


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  5. ^ "150th Scottish Highland Gathering & Games". thescottishgames.com. Retrieved 20 September 2015.
  6. ^ Horne, Marc (25 April 2010). "Highland games were the model for modern Olympics". The Times. London, England. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
  7. ^ The Dress Act as part of the Acts of Proscription 1746
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  • Michael Brander, Essential Guide to the Highland Games (1992) ISBN 0-86241-302-8
  • Emily Ann Donaldson, The Scottish Highland Games in America (Pelican Publishing Company, Gretna, LA, 1986). ISBN 0-88289-474-9.
  • Joan F. Flett and Thomas M. Flett, Traditional Dancing in Scotland (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1964, 1985), ISBN 0-7102-0731-X
  • John G. Gibson, Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745–1945 (McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal, 1998). ISBN 0-7735-1541-0. See esp. chapter 15, "Highland Games and Competition Piping"
  • Ian R. Mitchell, "Rheumatism, Romanticism and Revolution: Victoria, Balmorality and 1848" in History Scotland (Vol. 5, #5, September/October 2005)
  • John Prebble, The King's Jaunt (Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd,1988., 2000), ISBN 1-84158-068-6
  • Hugh Trevor-Roper, "The Invention of Tradition: The Highland Tradition of Scotland." in The Invention of Tradition ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, ISBN 0-521-24645-8.
  • David Webster, Scottish Highland Games (Edinburgh, Scotland 1973)

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