Highland Games take place wherever Scots gather in the world. They happen in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and even Norway and Brazil. But the real home of the Highland Games is, of course, Scotland, and no family motorhome holiday in the country during the summer months is truly complete without a visit to one.
Highland Games are sometimes also called Gatherings; they were one of the few occasions in the year when people from remote glens and villages would come together to enjoy themselves, a day out from their normal hard work and isolation.
Despite the “Highland” tag, not all Gatherings take place in the Highlands region. You’ll find them down in the Borders, around Edinburgh and Glasgow, in Fife and Angus – in fact all over mainland Scotland and the Hebrides.
The most famous are the Braemar Games, attended by the British Royal Family every year; you’ll also find small community Games all over Scotland. You can download a list of the most popular Highland Games at https://www.visitscotland.com/see-do/events/highland-games/ but it doesn’t have space to cover all the events in the country.
You might decide to devote your entire motorhome holiday to watching Highland Games in different locations, taking in the scenery as you go. The Gatherings on the list will have space to park your family motorhome, and some of them may allow overnight camping; if not, there’s probably a caravan park nearby or you could indulge in some wild camping.
Highland Games often take place in the grounds of a castle or laird’s house, which may be open to the public, and the laird will usually be the chieftain of the show. Sometimes celebrities are asked to be chieftain for the day: famous celeb chieftains include Susan Boyle, Dougray Scott and Ewan McGregor.
What can you expect at a Highland Games? Lots of colour – plenty of tartan, for a start – so don’t forget your camera! Pipe bands, Highland dancers and competitors in the heavy events will all be wearing the kilt, with or without a sporran, plaid and fancy jacket.
The marching bands and Highland Dance competitions add to the show, and there are usually solo piping competitions too, with players in full Highland dress performing music in a range of styles. Some Games also have drumming competitions.
You’ll see some very strong men throwing the hammer, putting the shot, or tossing the caber (a tree trunk roughly 20 feet [6 m] long and weighing around 175 lbs [79 kg]), and more strong men taking part in tug-of-war contests, where two teams hold a rope, each team trying to pull the other one across a line.
Cycling and running races are a big feature of Highland Games, often up and down the local hills to test stamina as well as speed, and some Games attract competitors of very high calibre and even international stars. There are shorter, gentler races for younger competitors, too.
Slightly odder events may include haggis-eating or haggis-throwing competitions, terrier racing and best-dressed-pet judging, and you’ll often find the Games are part of an agricultural show with cattle and sheep being judged next door to the Highland Dancers.
Often there’ll be a band playing or a ceilidh in the evening after the competitions when everyone lets their hair down and has a drink or two, a dance and maybe a song.
The Games season starts in May and continues right through to September, with the bulk of events happening in the holiday months of July and August. While these are usually the warmest months in Scotland, there’s no guarantee of dry weather: the other “local colour” you’ll see comes from the coats and umbrellas of the spectators! The Games go on, in sunshine or downpour. It’s all part of the fun.
There are usually tents where you can take shelter, with crafters selling hand-made goods, home-made cakes and the like. There’s always a beer-and-whisky tent and at least one food tent or van to take care of your hunger and thirst.
Highland Games are fun, noisy, colourful, competitive, chatty, friendly and often very muddy events. If you’ve witnessed one abroad, come and see how the home-grown version compares. If you’ve never attended one, it’s a quintessential “must-do” for any summer visitor to Scotland.
If you’re looking for family motorhome holiday ideas, you’ll find something for everyone to enjoy at a Highland Gathering, and you’ll go home with some great photos. It’s a real Scottish day out you won’t forget.