let the games begin!
One of the most enjoyable ways to immerse yourself in our rich heritage is by attending the Highland Games. Commonly held over the month of August, you'll find numerous Highland Games events along the popular North Coast 500 route that showcase each region’s unique blend of sport, music, and culture. In this blog post, we will explore some of the thrilling events you can dive into along this stunning road trip route, alongside a brief history and short descriptions of the most popular traditional events. Please note that event dates can vary year on year, so we encourage you to check online before travelling to your chosen Highland Games event.
Get ready to add a few to your itinerary!
A Potted History of the Highland Games
The origins of the Highland Games can be traced back to the 11th century after King Malcolm III invited local men to compete in a foot race up Craig Choinnich in order to select a royal messenger. Initially held as a test of strength, agility, and stamina, the games gradually transformed into multifaceted events featuring caber tossing, hammer throwing, stone putting, tug-of-war, and Highland dancing. Despite intermittent bans by British authorities, the Highland Games persevered and experienced a resurgence in the 19th century, evolving into popular sporting and social gatherings that continue to enchant participants and spectators alike to this day.
What you can expect
One of the most iconic events at the Highland Games is the caber toss. In this awe-inspiring display of strength, competitors aim to flip a large wooden pole called a caber end-over-end. The event requires skill, balance, and raw power, and it never fails to captivate the audience.
Another impressive spectacle at the Highland Games is the hammer throw. Athletes swing a metal ball attached to a chain and attempt to hurl it as far as possible. The power and technique displayed in this event are truly remarkable!
Tug of war
No Highland Games would be complete without an exhilarating tug of war match! Here, teams compete against each other in a test of strength and teamwork. With strained muscles and determined faces, participants give their all in a bid to claim victory.
pipe band competitions
For a rousing soundtrack to an exciting day, every Highland Games will showcase the talents of local pipe bands. After all, you can’t visit Scotland without an authentic bagpipe experience! Immerse yourself in the soul-stirring melodies as bands from different regions compete to be crowned the best. The skirling sound of the bagpipes combined with the visually stunning kilted performers create an unforgettable experience.
Highland dancing is an integral part of Scottish culture, and the Highland Games provide an excellent platform for dancers to showcase their skills. Watch as participants perform intricate footwork and graceful movements, telling stories through their traditional dances.
The Assynt Highland Games
Held in Lochinver’s picturesque Culag Park on the second Friday in August, the Assynt Highland Games is a captivating celebration of local culture and tradition and provides a unique insight into the vibrant heritage of Sutherland.
Set against the backdrop of rugged Suilven, Canisp and Quinag, the games showcase a plethora of traditional activities and sporting competitions, including track and field, piping, fly-casting and highland dancing. Bagpipe melodies fill the air as clansmen don their kilts and participate in fiercely competitive events such as caber tossing, hammer throwing, and tug-of-war. The games are not just about physical strength and skill, but also a testament to the resilience and camaraderie of our local community.
Witness the spectacle of the Chieftain of the Games being brought ashore on a barge accompanied by an official piper, being presented with a ceremonial shepherd’s crook (or cromag), then led by a pipe band from Culag Pier onto the games field.
Take a break from feats of strength and skill to browse the stalls in the Craft & Produce tent which is filled with local crafts, delicious delicacies, and fine whiskies.
Mey Highland Games, Thurso
The Mey Highland Games, held annually in John O’ Groats’ showground, Caithness, kick off the Highland Games season with great enthusiasm. Old favourites like caber tossing, hammer throwing, and the iconic tug-of-war feature alongside athletics, children’s races and sword dancing. You can even buy your very own Mey Highland Games tartan! With a backdrop of stunning Mey Castle, this gathering provides an authentic and charming Highland Games experience.
Helmsdale Highland Games, Helmsdale
Continuing south along the NC500, the picturesque village of Helmsdale hosts its own Highland Games event featuring beloved mascot, Couper the Coo! The Helmsdale Highland Games takes place in the stunning River Helmsdale valley and offers a delightful mix of athletic contests and cultural displays. Visitors can enjoy heavy events like the stone put and weight over the bar, while enjoying performances by Highland dancers, bagpipe bands, and live music, including an afternoon ceilidh and an evening dance. There’s even a Children’s Mini Highland Games for budding athletes!
Dornoch Highland Gathering, Dornoch
Moving further south, the Dornoch Highland Gathering at Meadows Park Field is an unmissable day out. This historic gathering has been celebrated since 1887 and draws crowds from near and far. The popular Chieftain’s Parade, led by the Dornoch Pipe Band, is particularly popular with spectators. Visitors can experience a true Highland Games atmosphere with competitions that attract both local athletes and participants from all over the globe, including tossing the caber, the hammer throw, and thrilling track and field races. The event also showcases traditional Scottish music, Highland dancing, and clan gatherings.
tradition, prowess and fun in one place
As you travel along the NC500, don't miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant world of Highland Games. These events bring together the best of Scottish athleticism, music, and culture. From Thurso to Muir of Ord, each gathering offers a unique experience with a backdrop of our most stunning landscapes. Whether you're a sports enthusiast or simply interested in experiencing Scottish traditions, attending the Highland Games events is sure to leave you with unforgettable memories.