|"All men die, but all men do not truly live until they toss the weights, the stones, the hammers and the caber."
Highland gatherings, or Highland Games as they are now called,
have been held in Scotland since its earliest history. For nearly a thousand years, clansmen, chiefs, and competitors came from all over Scotland and banded together to compete against one another in what is often defined as one of the most rigorous forms of competition in the world.
One of the first Highland Games
was held toward the end of the 11th Century, when King Malcolm Ceanmore became concerned about the way in which important news and documents were delivered to his highland retreat. He needed strong, healthy runners, full of stamina, to race against one another over rocky terrain to the top of Creag Choinnich. The winner received a beautiful baldric sword, a purse of gold, and the title of the King's Messenger. This somewhat rustic clan gathering became what we now know as the Scottish Highland Games.
|An important event
in the 18th Century put a 30-year hiatus on Highland Games. In 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Highland clansmen were soundly beaten and slaughtered by the armies of the Crown at the Battle of Culloden. As a result, Parliament passed the infamous "Act of Proscription" banning the carrying of arms, the wearing of the kilt, the playing of bagpipes, and the gathering together of people. At one fell swoop, the cultural traditions of the Highlanders were shattered.
In the late 1760s,
it became obvious that certain aspects of Scottish Highland culture had to be retained, particularly the traditional dancing and music. Towards this end, Highland Societies were formed, and the first society gathering was held at Falkirk in 1781.
As Scots emigrated throughout the world, they brought with them their love of the traditional Highland athletics, music, dance, and crafts. The first Highland Games in the United States were organized in the mid-1800s by the Highland Society of New York. Presently, there are more than 160 Highland Gatherings and Games held in the fifty states each year.
Today, Highland Games have grown into celebrations of all aspects of Scottish culture and are celebrated throughout the world.
Some of the most common events are:
This is the premier Scottish event. The competitor must "pick" a caber, run and toss it so it lands straight out from him/her at a 12 o'clock position. The caber is tossed for accuracy not distance. The judge must "call it" just as the stick hits the ground. A site judge will sometimes be used to determine if the caber rotated thru 90 degrees, if not it's a "Fifer", and not counted. The Caber can be any size, it's the style not the size, but a 23-26' stick is not uncommon today.
Weight For Distance
This event entails hurling a 56 or 28 lb. weight as far as possible while maintaining control behind a trig. The athlete spins to gain momentum on the weight then releases it. Women, amateurs and masters use various weights such as 14, 28, 42 and 56 lb. The principle remains the same.
These ancient weapons come in various sizes 12, 16 and 22 lb. They are tossed similar to the Olympic style: severe rotation imparts momentum to the hammer, then it is released for distance. The differences are mostly to the hammer, that being a heavier head and a wicker/rattan handle. The handle is strong and can flex on impact. Most athletes wear special hammer boots with bayonets on them to maintain ground contact during rotation.
Weight For Heights
This event is exactly as named, a 56 or 28 lb. weight is tossed up and over a horizontal bar. The athlete can only use one hand and the weight can strike the bar as long as it goes over. Women, some amateurs and masters also toss 42 lb. weights as the heavy weight.
This event derives from the farming traditions of Scotland. It grew out of a competition to see who could toss a sheaf of wheat highest. Today we use a 16 or 20 lb. weighted ball of twine and burlap, and a standard pitch fork to toss. The sheaf must pass over the horizontal bar and competitors get 3 attempts at a height before they are eliminated. The highest tosser wins. In the event of a tie for height, the one with the fewest misses wins.
This event is much like the more familiar shot put, except we use a field stone weighing between 17 and 26 lb. It is "put" from behind a trig, which is a marker log on the ground and the athlete may not cross the trig at any time. It may be put either Braemar (standing) or standard as in regular shot-put fashion.