Scottish Traditions and Highland Games

Though the Olympics ended months ago, the Highland Games in Scotland can replenish your thirst for competition. Bring the family to the Braemar Gathering in the Scottish Highlands, beginning Sept. 1, and celebrate the age-old tradition of rough-and-tumble sports, unique tests of strength and ancient history.

You’ll be in good company watching the Highland Games in Braemar, Scotland, alongside the Royal Family. The historic tradition, rooted in the 1800s, has been played since all over the Highlands of Scotland, but most famously celebrated in Braemar. Watch on and cheer as athletes participate in unique games and expect to see your fair share of kilt- and tartan-clad athletes competing with bagpipes booming in the background.

From the beginning, the 11th-century Scottish Highland Games started off as a mere footrace, but certainly evolved. The games modernized in the 19th century, expressing more competitive interest in strength, endurance and speed. Since the games gained immense popularity in the 19th century, not much changed by way of games, intense level of competition and brut strength.

The annual and highly anticipated tradition tests athletes in three major categories: heavyweight games, traditional dance and musical competitions. Expect serious competition and year-long training from heavyweight competitors, like the caber toss.

The caber toss is the signature game, when competitors carry logs more than 12 feet long. Participants require full-body strength to pick up, stabilize and fast-walk to their destination.

Highland Games - Scotland - Throwing the Hammer

© Steve Allen |

Next up, the stone put (much like the shot-put) is another popular competition for fans and competitors. The weighted stone toss is a primitive sport and time-long tradition, as well as the Maide Leisg toss, meaning “lazy stick.” All of the games remained mostly the same for hundreds of years — never modernizing with technology.

The dances too remained rooted in tradition with the Sword Dance of Gille Calum, dating all the way back to the year 1054. Bag pipe bands and solo pipe competitions make up another vital part of this Celtic tradition, where onlookers can dance, listen and enjoy the hauntingly beautiful competition. Expect the kids to dance along as the fans and onlookers love the musical aspect as much as the physical competition.

With a competitive tone close to the Olympics and the added cultural flare of tradition, the games are quite a spectacle in Scotland. Bring the family and enjoy the unique culture and family fun from a bygone era.