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Scotland’s Most Beloved Festivals

Although the Highland Games may have originated in Ireland 3,000 years ago, they are now one of Scotland’s oldest and most treasured traditions, taking place in localities throughout the country. Equal parts athletic competition, heritage celebration, and community festival, they are a highlight in the Scottish calendar each summer.

One of the main parts of any games are the Heavy Events—feats of strength performed in kilts of course! Some athletes compete semi-professionally nationally and around the world. The most iconic is the caber toss, where athletes lift what is basically a telephone pole (16-22 ft and 100-180 lbs) and toss it end over end.

Another typical heavy event is the hammer throw (seen here) involving a wooden pole with a metal ball at the end—weighing as much as 22 lbs! Contestants whirl it around their head and throw it as far as they can. The shot-put and the spirited tug-o-war are also not to be missed!

The thrilling competitions combined with music, costume, and the grandeur of the Scottish scenery create quite a spectacle, so I’m really excited that next year we’re offering a Highlands Games Special Departure for our Scotland hiking tour on July 31-August 7, 2021. I’ve enjoyed planning it and thinking ahead to future adventures!

In addition to sport, the games include music and dancing. It’s hard not to tap your toe to the rhythm of dancing competitions, bagpipe parades, fiddling, and the clarsach (Gaelic harp). Historically, piping competitions pitted clan against clan, with the winner gaining heaps of prestige.

During the one- or two-day festivities, attendees roam the food stalls to sample traditional Scottish cuisine, modern “fair fare,” or a wee dram of whisky (without the e). The artisan booths are a great place to find a unique, handmade souvenir.

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