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Highland Games

Highland games are events held throughout the year as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic  culture and heritage, 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 centered 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 culture.

 Major events:

The Cowal Highland Gathering, better known as the Cowal Games, held in Dunoon, Scotland, every August, is the largest Highland games in Scotland, attracting around 3,500 competitors and somewhere in the region of 15–20,000 spectators from around the globe. Worldwide, however, it is dwarfed by two gatherings in the United States: the 50,000 that attend Grandfather Mountain in North  Carolina and the even larger gathering—the largest in the Northern Hemisphere—that has taken place every year since 1865, hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco. This event is currently held Labor Day weekend in Pleasanton, California.


It is reported that King Malcolm III of Scotland, in the 11th century, summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar). King Malcolm created this foot race in order to find the fastest runner in the land to be his royal messenger. There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and “also with gun, sword, pistill [sic] and dirk“.From this letter, it is believed that the competitions would have included feats of arms.

However, the modern Highland games are largely a Victorian invention, developed after the Highland Clearances.


Athletic Events

In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.

  • Caber toss: A long tapered pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holdingthe 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: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. There are two versions of the stone toss events, differing in allowable technique.
    • The “Braemar Stone” uses a 20–26 lb stone for men (13–18 lb 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.
    • The “Open Stone” using a 16–22 lb stone for men (or 8–12 lb 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. 
  • 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 for men or 12 or 16 lb for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet 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. 
  • Weight throw: Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event. There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28lb 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. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.

Weight over the bar,: Also known as weight for ht. 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 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.

  • Maide Leisg(Scots Gaelic meaning ‘Lazy Stick’): Trial of strength performed by two men sitting on the ground with the soles of their feet pressing against each other. Thus seated, they held a stick between their toes which they pulled against each other till one of them was 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.


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

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

But the pipes and drums are not the only music which can be heard at Highland games. Music at Highland games gatherings takes on a variety of forms. Many such events offer fiddling, harp circles, Celtic bands and other forms of musical entertainment, the latter usually spiced with a healthy amount of bagpipe music.


The Cowal_Highland_Gathering hosts the annual World Championship Highland Dancing Competition. This event gathers the best
competitive dancers from around the world who compete for the World Championship Title.

Secondary events and attractions

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. This could include Harper’s 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 Scotland




Braemar Gathering Attended by the British Royal Family.
Burntisland Highland Games Second oldest in the world
Ceres, Fife CERES HIGHLAND GAMES Oldest Free games in the world
Crieff Crieff Highland Games
Dunoon Cowal Highland Gathering Biggest Games in Scotland
Inverkeithing Inverkeithing Highland Games
Halkirk Halkirk Highland Games started in 1886,
Lochearnhead Balquhidder, Lochearnhead &
Strathyre Highland Games
Cameron’s, MacLaren and MacGregor
clans linked to the games
Pitlochry Pitlochry Highland GamesIsle Of
Skye Highland Games
Portree Isle Of Skye Highland Games
St. Andrews St. Andrews Highland Games

Major events in Canada



Calgary Highland Games
Cambridge, Ontario Cambridge Highland Games
Grande Prairie, Alberta Grande Prairie Highland Games
British Columbia
BC Highland Games
Victoria, British Columbia Victoria Highland Games and Celtic
Antigonish, Nova Scotia Antigonish Highland Games
North Lanark Highland Games
Cobourg Highland Games
Fergus Scottish Festival and
Highland Games
Maxville, Ontario Glengarry Highland Games
Sudbury Celtic Festival &
Highland Games
Montreal Highland Games




St. Ursen,
Highland Games Swiss Championships

Major Events in the United States



Scottsboro, Alabama North Alabama Scottish Festival
& Highland Games
Eagle River, Alaska Alaskan Scottish Highland Games
Camp Verde, Arizona Verde Valley Highland Games
Arizona Scottish Gathering and
Highland Games
Prescott, Arizona Prescott Highland Games
Tucson Celtic Festival and
Highland Games
Batesville, Arkansas Arkansas Scottish Festival
Bakersfield, California Bakersfield High Games
Santa Cruz County, California Scottish Renaissance Festival
featuring the Loch Lomond Highland Games & Celtic Gathering
Campbell, California Campbell Highland Games
Costa Mesa, California United Scottish Highland Gathering
Fresno, California Fresno Highland Games
Livermore, California Livermore Scottish Games and
Celtic Celebration
Modesto, California Modesto Highland Games
Oakland, California Oakland Scottish Games
Pleasanton, California Caledonian Club of San Francisco
Highland Gathering
Salinas, California Monterey Highland Games and Celtic
Santa Cruz, California Santa Cruz Highland Games and
Celtic Festival
Ventura, California Seaside Highland Games
Vista, California San Diego Scottish Highland Games
and Gathering
Woodland, California Sacramento Valley Scottish Games
Elizabeth, Colorado Elizabeth Celtic Festival
Estes Park, Colorado Long’s Peak Scottish/Irish
Highland Festival
Highlands Ranch, Colorado Colorado Scottish Festival
Sterling, Colorado Sterling Celtic Festival
Goshen, Connecticut St. Andrews Society of Connecticut
Scottish Festival
Norwalk, Connecticut Round Hill Highland Games
Scotland, Connecticut Scotland Highland Festival
Dunedin Highland Games
Fort Lauderdale, Florida Southeast Florida Scottish
Festival and Games
Green Cove Springs, Florida Northeast Florida Scottish
Highland Games
Ocala Scottish Highland Games and
Celtic Festival
Panama City, Florida Panama City Highland Games
Pensacola, Florida Pensacola Highland Games
Tallahassee, Florida Tallahassee Highland Games
Sarasota, Florida Sarasota Highland Games
Winter Springs, Florida Central Florida Scottish Highland
Zephyrhills, Florida Zephyrhills Celtic Festival and
Highland Games
Blairsville, Georgia Blairsville Scottish Festival and
Highland Games
Chickamauga, Georgia Appalachian Celtic Festival
Anderson, South Carolina Loch Hartwell Highland Games
Ringgold, Georgia Ringold Highland Games
Savannah, Georgia Savannah Scottish Games and
Highland Festival
Stone Mountain, Georgia Stone Mountain Highland Games
Hawaiian Scottish Festival
Treasure Valley Highland Games
Oakbrook, Illinois Illinois St. Andrew Society
Highland Games
Springfield, Illinois Shamrock Games
Springfield, Illinois Springfield Highland Games and
Celtic Festival
Columbus, Indiana Columbus, Indiana Scottish
Fort Wayne, Indiana Indiana Highland Games
South Bend, Indiana Celtic Festival and Bryan Verkler
Invitational Highland Games
Celtic Festival and Highland Games
of the Quad-Cities
McPherson, Kansas McPherson Scottish Festival and
Highland Games
Th’ Gatherin’ Fire Festival
Carrollton, Kentucky Kentucky Scottish Weekend
Glasgow, Kentucky Glasgow Highland Games
Western Kentucky Highlands
Jackson, Louisiana Highland Games of Louisiana
Minden, Louisiana Tartan Day Celebration
West Monroe, Louisiana Northeast Louisiana Celtic
Maine Celtic Celebration
Maine Highland Games
Fair Hill Scottish Games
Frederick, Maryland Frederick Celtic Festival
Havre De Grace, Maryland Stepping Stone Museum Highland
St. Leonard, Maryland Southern
Maryland Celtic Festival and Highland Gathering
McHenry, Maryland McHenry Higland Festival
Snow Hill, Maryland Chesapeake Celtic Festival
Florence, Massachusetts Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
Greenfield, Massachusetts Western Massachusetts Highland
Games and Festival
Alma Highland Festival and Games
Kalamazoo, Michigan Kalamazoo Highland Games
Livonia, Michigan St. Andrews Society of Detroit
Highland Games
Saline Highland Games
Farmington, Minnesota Minnesota Scottish Fair
Moorhead, Minnesota Celtic Festival
Gulfport, Mississippi Highlands and Islands Games on the
Gulf Coast
Jackson, Mississippi Celtic Fest Mississippi
Buffalo, Missouri Southwest Missouri Celtic Heritage
Riverside, Missouri Kansas City Highland Games
St. Charles, Missouri Missouri Tartan Day Festivities
Hamilton, Montana Bitterroot Scottish Irish Festival
Las Vegas, Nevada Las Vegas Celtic Gathering
Reno Celtic Celebration
Lincoln, New Hampshire New Hampshire Highland Games
Albuquerque, New Mexico Rio Grande Valley Celtic Festival
and Highland Games
Altamont, New York Capital District Scottish Games
Amherst, New York Amherst Museum Scottish Festival
and Highland Games
Old Westbury, New York Long Island Scottish Games
Greensboro, North Carolina Triad Highland Games
Hendersonville, North Carolina Foothills Highland Games and
Huntersville, North Carolina Loch Norman Highland Games
Laurinburg, North Carolina Scotland County Highland Games
Linville, North Carolina Grandfather Mountain Highland
Mint Hill, North Carolina Mint Hill Highland Games
Waxhaw, North Carolina Waxhaw Scottish Highland Games
Winston-Salem, North Carolina Winston-Salem Celtic Music
Festival and Highland Games
Brigadoon Beltane Festival
Ohio Scottish Festival
Oklahoma Scottish Festival and
Highland Games
Scottish Heritage Festival and
Highland Games
Athena Caledonian Games
Baker City, Oregon Eastern Oregon Highland Games
Portland Highland Games
High Desert Celtic Festival and
Douglas County Celtic Highland
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Bethlehem Celtic Classic
Edinboro, Pennsylvania Edinboro Highland Games
Ligonier, Pennsylvania Ligonier Highland Games
Manheim, Pennsylvania Celtic Fling and Highland Games
Richmond, Rhode Island Rhode Island Scottish Highland
Clover, South Carolina Clover Scottish Games
Greenville, South Carolina Greenville Scottish Highland Games
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina Charleston Scottish Games and
Highland Gathering
Rapid City, South Dakota Black Hills Dakota Gathering of
the Clans
Elizabethton, Tennessee Sycamore Shoals Celtic Festival
Gatlinburg, Tennessee Gatlinburg
Scottish Highland Games
Jackson, Tennessee Celtic Fest
Texas Scottish Festival and
Highland Games
Bedford Celtic Heritage Festival
San Antonio
Highland Games
Houston Highland Games and Celtic
Salado Scottish Clan Gathering and
Highland Games
Lehi, Utah Utah Highland Games
Payson Scottish Festival
Delaplane, Virginia Virginia Scottish Games and
Leesburg, Virginia Potomac Celtic Festival
Williamsburg Scottish Festival
Lexington, Virginia Lexington Scots Irish Festival
Mechanicsville, Virginia Meadow Highland Games and Celtic
Radford, Virginia Radford Highlander Festival
Enumclaw, Washington Pacific Northwest Scottish
Highland Games
Bellingham, Washington Bellingham Highland Games
Graham, Washington Tacoma Highland Games
Greenbank, Washington Whidbey Island Highland Games
Kelso, Washington Kelso Hilander Festival and Games
Mount Vernon, Washington Skagit Valley Highland Games and
Celtic Festival
Prosser, Washington Prosser Scottish Festival
Puyallup, Washington Scottish American Festival
Spokane, Washington Spokane Highland Games
Bridgeport, West Virginia North Central West Virginia
Scottish Festival and Celtic Gathering
Milwaukee, Wisconsin Milwaukee Highland Games and
Waukesha, Wisconsin Wisconsin Highland Games
Gillette, Wyoming Wyoming Celtic Festival
Jackson Hole Scottish Festival