Kick up your heels at the Highland games

Highland games have a long and storied history in Scotland. They began as a way for kings and clan chiefs to select their entourage.

The fastest runners were chosen to deliver orders or messages and rally the clans, while the strongest men became personal bodyguards. The hammer throw and the shot putt started as Highland sports, and are now part and parcel of the international sporting circuit. The best dancers and pipers were employed to entertain in the chief’s household and compose tunes and dances that exalted the virtues and war victories of the clan.

When not at war, the clans would hold competitions between their athletes, dancers and pipers, who could garner great honours for the clan through their feats. Eventually, whenever there was any large gathering, horse fair or market, games might be held as part of the overall festivities.

Mull & Iona Pipe Band ushers in the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban

After the 1745 Rebellion, Highland sport, dress and music was banned, but by the 1820s, games began to creep up once again. Under Queen Victoria, tartan made an official comeback and the modern Highland game began to evolve.

Highland Games are now celebrated all over the world as those of Scots descent and those who just love the Scottish spirit take up the hammer and caber and proudly wear tartan. In fact, the biggest games in the world are held in Highland, North Carolina in the United States.

The caber toss is a popular Highland games event.

But for the authentic experience, visitors won’t want to miss true Highland games. Dancing, piping, track and field and races are exciting to watch and hear. Participants can even join in, as many games feature foot races or other events for audience members.

Have you ever wondered why most of the Highland games in Argyll are held in the last two weeks of July? It is so that they coincide with the Glasgow Fair. So many people left to seek work in the big city, and the only time they could make what was a long and expensive journey home was during the annual holiday.

Highland games in Argyll

Argyllshire Gathering Oban Games

The Argyllshire Gathering (Oban Games) is one of the grandest Highland Games held in Scotland. Held usually the third Thursday in August the event includes some of the biggest dancing, track, field and piping competitions around.The gathering also plays host to one of the world's top piping events; if you've won the gold or silver medal here then you are amongst piping's elite. These competitions take place over two days during the Oban Games week at various venues around the town. The march to the games field has a pipe band made up of the competitors. The Oban Ball is traditionally held during games week.

Dancers kick up their heels at the Oban Games.

Campbeltown Highland Games

Campbeltown Highland Games are held in May on the Meadows playing field in the centre of town, making it easy for locals and transport to reach. There is a small admission fee, but it'll all be worth it to see local athletes doing the town proud.

The fun kicks off at 11am with events including track and field, Highland dancing, heavy events, shot-put, kids entertainments and, of course, the ever popular beer tent.

Inveraray Highland Games

Inveraray Highland Games are usually hosted in mid July. This is one of the big ones, held in the shadow of Inveraray Castle at Winterton Park. It features the world caber championship so expect to hear accents from all over the world. His Grace the Duke of Argyll leads the parade to the games field through the Royal Burgh with Inveraray and District Pipe Band playing. There is also cycling and wrestling included on the packed programme. There's so much going on and the events begin at 9am.

Mull Highland Games

Erray Park, Tobermory, has the Sound of Mull and the hills of Ardnamurchan as its backdrop making it a perfect place to hold Highland games. Events held include heavy weights, light field events and Highland dancing. The park is also a great place to begin - and end - a hill race with the pipe band playing and spectators cheering the runners home. Mull games always has a great atmosphere and that extends to the trip there are back on the ferry. Make sure you get your tickets booked in advance; the boats are always packed on games day.

Taynuilt Highland Games

Who is going to make it to the top of the greasy pole, and who is going to break the record for throwing the Nant stone? Taynuilt Highland Games host a variety of different events include piping, field, dancing and track. Taynuilt has a reputation for being friendly games, attracting many foreign tourists. The organisers always encourage people to join in the competitions. The piping contest always attracts some of the best. The games begin at 11am and the march to the games field is lead by Oban Pipe Band.

Southend Highland Games

There are bigger Highland games with larger crowds but is there another Highland games where people have this much fun or visitors are made to feel so welcome?

The tiny village of Southend, down on the tip of the Kintyre peninsula holds its games in the afternoon into the evening. There are all the traditional field events, piping and dancing and their own tossing the tyre competition. Southend always places an emphasis on children's events and the result is a wonderful family-friendly event with two bars, one with a drinks licence for the over 18s and a separate soft drinks bar.

Bute Highland Games

What better way to start your day at a Highland games than with a trip 'doon the watter' to Rothesay? Bute shows just how games move with the times: today's runners hoping to catch the eye of a chieftain have a 10k road race. Bute always has a reputation for a good turn out of bands and drum majors.

Helensburgh Highland Games

The Helensburgh Games are linked to the Colquhoun and MacAuley clans, whose chiefs alternate the duties of Clan Chieftain. Traditional competitions such as the dancing and athletics are on show, with the Heavies events such as caber tossing attract competitors from all around the UK. The spectators can even get in the act by competing in race events for old and young alike, with prize money in play. The Helensburgh Games started in 1889 with the modern version kicking off in 2008. It's a highlight of the season for both locals and visitors, and in 2011 was featured on The One Show.

Cowal Highland Gathering

Welcoming over 23,000 people each year to one of Scotland’s premier cultural events, Cowal Highland Gathering showcases Scotland’s great traditions and sports such as pipe band competitions and heavy athletics as well as playing home to the World Highland Dancing Championships. These games are renowned for its unique atmosphere, world-class competitors, a beautiful Highland location and spine-tingling salute to the Chieftain.

If your travels bring you to Argyll in the summer, you might be lucky enough to catch an authentic Highland Games. Let Imagine Alba plan a local experience or day tour from Oban that includes this iconic event. Get in touch today to find out how you can experience a real Highland Games in Oban!

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