Highland Games that I almost missed
Who would come to Scotland and miss such an opportunity as seeing Highland Games? Well, I almost did 😉
When I went there last summer I wasn’t planning on attending one, as I simply didn’t know much about them. I thought I would just hike the whole time. When I got there I saw leaflets advertising local Highland Games – many towns and villages organized their own throughout the summer. Without a car and having already some plans of trails set I was worried I would miss it in the end.
But I was lucky. When I completed the shorter version of The Great Glen Way, I arrived in Portree late on August the 1st. (By the way – the bus ride anywhere in Highlands is a treat in itself. The views are stunning!) My plan was to go early next day up to Rubha Hunish to start my Skye Trail. But when I was in town I saw huge banners announcing the Isle of Skye Highland Games for the 3rd of August! I decided that this was too good to pass! I was staying in Portree 😀
As I had one day extra I went hiking the Old Man of Storr the next day and was lucky to be there on an absolutely beautiful day. Later on, the weather went south, but I had no problems with that. I did grocery shopping, laundry and some easy walking around Portree on the Scorrybreac circuit.
So what exactly are the Highland Games?
Simply put, it’s a day of family-friendly fun, mixing track and field events, traditional dance and music and traditional heavy athletic events. As the Visit Scotland site describes it:
Highland games combine sport, fun and culture in a uniquely Scottish style and take place every weekend in the summer. From May to September you can get in on the action at one of over 80 Highland games taking place on islands and in towns, villages and cities across the country – some castle grounds host games too.
The Isle of Skye Highland Games were officially inaugurated in 1877, but its tradition and history reach ages past. For hundreds of men tried to prove their strength and stamina in a variety of informal competitions and from those Highland Games were born.
The Highland Games as a tourist attraction
For me, being a tourist, the most interesting to watch were obviously the events unique to Scotland: the hammer throw and weight for height or tug o’ war, Highland dance (women only – aren’t there any male dancing Scots?) and piping (male only) competition. I was also impressed by the great piping band with bagpipes and drums (here I saw men and women playing together). I was mesmerized while watching the girls and young women dance really complex steps to the piping melodies.
There was also a sailing competition held in the Portree bay, but I couldn’t see it well.
Oh, and the best part? in the traditional competitions, a bottle of whisky was one of the awards. Now that’s a motivation! 😀
From what I understood the men taking part in traditional athletic competition (like hammer throw or cobbler) had to wear a kilt, but those in regular field and track didn’t have to. And before anyone asks: the gentlemen were wearing regular sports shorts under the kilts 😉
Some of the athletes were local but some came even from the other side of the world! There were also two brothers from Poland competing. There were separate events for local participants only and separate for open participation – quite often international.
The big downside was the weather – it was raining almost all the time and although the Scots seemed well-adjusted and prepared, to me it was taking away quite a lot of the fun. I think it might have been a good idea to bring binoculars, too!
Unfortunately, I didn’t stay to the end – I wanted to catch the afternoon bus to Duntulm. But I was glad I could have a glimpse of this rich Scottish tradition.
For the practical: the entry ticket was £10.
Have you ever been to Highland Games? What did you think? Or maybe you participated in them? Let me know in the comments below!
Enough with this talking – let the photos tell the story 🙂
FYI: All photos in this post were taken with this little gem.
Read more about my adventures on the Isle of Skye: