My flatmate Taylor came to me last week and asked if I'd heard about the Highland Games and wondered if I wanted to go with her. I wasn't hard to ask when I heard more about it. The train journey there and back cost about £30, and it was totally worth it. Let me tell you all about it.
We left the flat really early (about 5.40 am) and walked to the train station. From here we took a bus to Perth (they were doing maintenance on the tracks I think) and a train from Perth to Pitlochry. The Journey took us about 2 1/2 hours.
Pitlochry is a cute little town of about 3000 inhabitans. The first Highland Games were held in Pitlochry in 1852, when village had a population of about 300. This year is the 161st anniversary for the games, but only about 148 have been held because of the World Wars.
But what is it really? Originally it was the young men of the clans competing with each other to see who was the strongest. They did this by tossing rocks and hammers and logs, among other things. Over the years bagpiping and dancing was added to the games, then came athletics, cycling and tug of war.
All these activities took place on a large grass field in the course of eight hours. There was several things going on at once, there was always something to look at.
I will tell you about the different games, starting with the Heavy Events. The following information I have stolen from the programme I bought.
First there was putting the stone.
"Traditionally the first event of the Heavyweight programme, this was originally a smooth stone from the riverbed, sometimes shaped by a local mason. Now the stone is either 16lbs (ca 7kg) or 22lbs (ca 10kg). The weight is putt (delivered) with one hand only from in front of the shoulders. A run not exceeding 7' 6'' (ca 2,3 m) from the trig is allowed."
Throwing the weight for a distance.
"This is the most graceful of the heavy events, combining rhythm with power. The weight is an iron sphere of 28lbs (ca 12,5 kg) on a chain with a handle on the end, which measures 18'' (ca 45cm) overall. It is delivered from behind the trig, with a run up not exceeding 9 feet (ca 2,7m). The thrower swings the weight to the side, then round behind him, letting the weight drag as far as he can. He then waltzes round once, twice and on the third turn, he heaves the weight round and throws it as far as he can."
Throwing the hammer.
"This event represents an old contest where young locals would compete to see who could throw the Blacksmith's heavy sledgehammer the furthest. The sphere of the hammer, now weighs either 16lbs (ca 7kg) or 22lbs (ca 10 kg) and, unlike the Olympic hammer, the Scots hammer has a wooden shaft measuring 4' 6'' (ca 1,4m) long overall. No turning is allowed. The thrower stands with his back to the trig and takes a good grip with the aid of 6'' (ca 15cm) spikes which protrude from the front of his boots. The hammer is swung round the head, to gather momentum and then released."
Throwing the weight over the bar
"The weight is 56lbs (ca 25kg) and has a ring attached. Like the high jump, each competitor has three attempts at each height. Thrown correctly, the weight narrowly misses the competitor on the way down. The weight is equivalent to a bag of coal, yet as you will see our Ground Record stands at 15ft 10ins (ca 4,8m) - like throwing a seven-year-old over a double-decker bus!"
Throwing the caber.
"The most spectacular of the Heavy Events involves a tree trunk weighing perhaps 150lbs (67,5kg), about 18 feet (5,5m) long and tapering from about 9'' (23cm) thick at one end to about 5'' (12cm) at the other. The competitor lifts the caber by placing his interlocked hands under the narrower end, resting it's length against his shoulder, he then runs as fast as he can, stops dead and tosses the end he holds up in the air so that the heavy end lands on the ground and the light end passes over it and lands pointing away from him. There is an erroneous belief that the winner is the competitor who tosses the caber furthest, whereas it is in fact the one who tosses it straightest. The competition is judged by the aid of an imaginary clock-face. The competitor delivers the throw at six o'clock. He tosses the caber so that it lands in the centre of the dial. A perfect throw is one which goes straight over, with the light end landing at 12 o'clock precisely."
|The new caber being carried in|
Below is a video of a failed caber throw.
Below are two successful caber throws.
|Here are the winners of the local Heavy Events, |
the winner on the left, number 2 second to the left and so on.
They are all so lovely in their kilts <3
Then there was the piping. The pipe bands paraded through town and appeared on the field around 12 noon.
|Each pipe band consist of bagpipers and drummers.|
At 1pm the piping contest began. The 21 bands marched onto the field, played a song, stood in a circle, did a turn and walked out again. I have no idea what criteria the judges looked at, if it was the music or the marching or both. Being used to marching bands I found the competition a bit unusual. You can se for yourself in the videos below.
I didn't film the part in the middle where they just stood and played, and skipped right to the end.
The competition went on till about 5pm, so there were always piping to be heard and bands to look at. After a while it just became a part of the background. I think the most exciting thing about the competition was when this band marched out and did a circle within the circle.
|A drum circle within a pipe circle!|
The Highland Dancing was also an event that continued throughout the day with different dances and age groups. There were five different types of dances. The following descriptions are from the programme I bought.
The Highland Fling
"This is the most famous of the solo Highland Dances, said to derive from the antics of a courting stag on a Scottish hillside. The raised arms imitate the Stag's antlers. There are no traveling steps in the Fling, the whole dance being performed on the spot."
"The Hullachan, to give it its Gaelic name, is a dance of four which is also called the Reel o' Tulloch as it was said to have originated on a wintry Sunday at the small village of Tulloch in Pertshire. The minister was late in arriving and the congregation, in order to keep warm, started to dance Reel steps and swing each other by the arms across the aisle. Although the dancers dance in fours, they are not judged as a team but individually."
"This is the graceful dance, in Gaelic meaning 'old trousers', which starts slowly and increases in tempo on the final two steps. The dance recognized the repression after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 when both Bagpipes and Kilt were banned. Any dancing had to be done in trousers and the slow tempo represented the disgust at having to do so while the shaking movements represent the shaking off of the trews and the quick steps are a display of pleasure when the Scots were once more able to wear the kilt."
|(Don't think I got any pictures of this particular dance, so have this one instead.)|
"Although not a Scottish dance, the hornpipe has formed part of the Games tradition for a long time. It is performed in stylised Navy uniform and simulates the various jobs of pulling ropes, manning the yard-arm and splicing the mainbrace which seamen carried out in the days of sail."
"Another popular import is the Jig, performed in a traditional green and red outfit. The dance is a portrayal of anger as the man has donned a pair of clean leather breeches which have shrunk and so grip him uncomfortably. His resulting anger expressed at the washerwoman is returned by her in kind."
The British Tug of War Championship.
These guys had some real skills. Watch and learn!
There were also various athletics going on during the day. There were races, ling jump, triple jump, high jump and sprints. And there were cycling.
|Children under 10 year old getting ready for their race.|
|Look at him go! Some of this guys were really fast on their feet.|
|The schools in the area competed against each other in relay races, |
and this is the teams receiving their prices.
|The best thing about the whole day was of course all the young men in kilts.|
At the end all the pipe bands marched in together.
They recieved their prizes and marched out again. We civilians were allowed onto the field to take pictures up close when they marched off. If you want to hear what it was like when they (half of them) marched by, check out the video below.
And that was it for the Highland Games in Pitlochry. Sorry most of the pictures are a bit grainy, Taylor and I sat far up on the bleachers and I had to zoom a lot on my simple digital camera to get decent pictures. And I'm not that great of a photographer. But I hope I was able to convey some of the Highland Games spirit to you!