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Whether spectating or participating, The Highland Games are a unifying rite of passage for any Scot. Amidst the vast ocean of tartan, bagpipes and clans, sits a cultural event steeped in skill, tradition and community.
From the months of May through to September, society across Scotland partakes in these games, which include heavyweight events like the caber toss, stone put and the Scottish hammer throw. Dancers of immense talent go for gold with jigs like the Highland fling, the pipe bands summon harmonious melodies, and the bagpipes steal the show. But where did this Hunger Games style shindig begin?
It turns out that the Highland Games, like many moments in Scottish history, are laced with a healthy dose of ambiguity. Multiple sources mention King Malcolm III of Scotland. During the 11th century, this royal chap proposed a foot race at the majestic summit of Craig Choinnich, which overlooks Braemar. The story goes that his motive was to uncover the fastest runner of the bunch, so that he could have a swift royal messenger! As entertaining as this story is, the chances of it pertaining wholly to the Highland Games are slim.
Alternatively, a document dating back to 1703 discusses a gathering involving the Clan Grant. Apparently, the clan were told to partake in a series of competitions — and that the attire was to be Highland coats complete with gun, sword, pistol and dagger. And so, the plot thickens!
In turn, many adhere to the thought that the Games originated as a type of war game or as a means of sifting through the ranks as a means of finding the best candidates to serve the clan chieftains, both of which focus on strength, agility, and to some degree, entertainment.
To stress the enduring nature of the Highland Games, rewind back to 1314 in Fife, where the Ceres Games, the oldest free games out there, were conceived.
Perhaps one of the biggest cheerleaders of the Highland Games was Queen Victoria, who adored Scottish idiosyncrasies and formed an immense bond with Scotland. This queen set the precedence for royalty being in attendance when she made a guest appearance in 1838.
At the end of the day, when it comes to the history of the Highland Games, the most important thing is the sporting element. For it is the sporting portion that has always been the star of this Scottish show.