Held year-round, all over the world, the Highland Games celebrate the strength of Scottish culture -- from the bagpipes to the kilts to the friendly competitions.
Members of the Atholl Highlanders -- Europe’s only legal private army -- participate in the Open Tug O' War at the Atholl Gathering at Blair Castle in Perthshire, Scotland. The earliest recorded highland games were held during the reign of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland nearly 1,000 years ago.
A sword-dancing event takes place at the Ballater Highland Games in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, as a piper provides musical accompaniment. The original highland games decreed that young men should gather to hold tests of strength so the best of them could be enrolled in royal service.
The Lonach Highlanders, a society formed in 1823 to preserve Highland dress and Gaelic language, march once a year to open the Lonach Highland Gathering in the Strathdon area of Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
In the weight-throw event, a weight ranging from 14 to 56 pounds (depending on the event) is thrown by either its handle or a chain. It can be thrown using any technique, although a spinning technique is the most popular. Here, a man participates in the Newtonmore Highland Games and Clan Macpherson Annual Rally in Newtonmore, Scotland.
In the weight-over-bar event, like the one pictured here at the Newtonmore Highland Games and Clan Macpherson Annual Rally, the athletes toss a 56-pound weight over a horizontal bar. The catch is they can only use one hand. They are allowed 3 attempts at different heights, and the highest successful toss with fewest misses wins.
A pipe band competes at the Newtonmore Highland Games and Clan Macpherson Annual Rally. The Newtonmore gathering was first held in October 1945 as a welcome home to the village’s returning servicemen after 6 years of war. Their first games were held in a small arena beside the 17th hole of the Newtonmore golf course.
The world’s biggest Highland Games are the Cowal Games held in Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland. These games are also home to the World Highland Dancing Championship where dancers gather from the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa to compete in this form of traditional Scottish dance in its homeland.
Members of the Atholl Highlanders dance during the Atholl Gathering at Blair Castle. The Atholl Gathering prides itself on having held onto many of the old Scottish traditions, and the grounds of Blair Castle make for a perfect afternoon for the spectators as well as the participants.
The McGlashen stone tests the athletes’ strength when they have to lift it onto a whisky barrel. For centuries, a young man was considered a man when he was able to lift his clan's testing stone to waist height.
In the caber-toss event, a long, tapered pine log is held upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically. Running forward, the competitor tosses the caber so that it turns end over end. In a successful toss, the caber is as close as possible to vertical and the athlete is said to have “turned the caber.”
A competitor prepares his swing in the Scottish hammer throw, where a round metal ball attached to the end of a wooden shaft about 4 feet long is whirled about the competitor’s head and thrown over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes even wear footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf so they don’t lose their balance mid-throw.
Most Highland Games include piping and drumming competitions, ranging from solo piping, pictured here on the Eden Court lawn during the Inverness Highland Games in Scotland, to solo drumming, small ensemble and pipe band competitions.
The pipes and drums of the Atholl Highlanders sound as they march from Blair castle to the field at the start of the Atholl Gathering held annually in Perthshire, Scotland. First employed as the personal bodyguards of the Duke of Atholl in 1839, the regiment is now purely ceremonial.