Keltfacts: Highland Games

We would love to get you acquainted with the Celtic culture in our new series Keltfacts. In this blog we dive into the world of Highland Games.

The Highland games are a modern version of the clan games that took place in the Scottish Highlands. These first clan games originated from the eleventh century, and held the games and activities that used to be done during the annual clan meetings. For example, Scottish king Malcolm III created a foot race for his contestants. This way he hoped to find the new royal messenger amongst the fastest runners. Due to a Scottish uprising, the British government forbade any large gatherings, including the Highland Games, from 1745 until 1781. Playing the bagpipes or wearing a kilt was also prohibited for the Scottish during this time.
The first gathering after this period of prohibition took place in 1981 in Falkirk. The modern games were modelled around 1850 and are held up until this day in Scotland and far beyond.

The games

During the Highland Games there are different subjects in which you can take part. The most popular example is Cabertoss. Here you have to topple a pole or tree trunk. The goal is to topple it as straight as possible in front of you. If the pole doesn’t topple it’s an invalid throw. The more vertical the pole lands towards the thrower, the higher the points that you get rewarded. Next to that throwing weights can be a popular part of the Highland Games. The player has a weight on a string and slings it as far as they can into a field. Shot put is another popular subject, being one of the oldest means to measure strength. The final example is tug-of-war. In teams (the clans) they try and pull the other over the middle line. The clan that wins two times wins the match.

Of course there are way more games and activities, but they are all very dependant on the location of the event and the surrounding culture.

Participate in the Highland Games

Nowadays the Highland Games are a worldwide phenomenon. Every event has its own elements and traditions. You can find the Highland Games at Keltfest as well. The Highland Games Federation of the Netherlands and Belgium are hosting National Championship games, where you can see the real pros in action. Want to try the Highland Games yourself? Kris Stomphorst organises workshops at Keltfest for the Highland Games. During Keltfest you can register on the day in teams of at least three people. The workshop is about half an hour and you will learn all about, among other things, shot put and Caber toss.


Next to throwing, slinging and tugging there is much more to do during the Highland Games. Just like at Keltfest, you have market stalls and people dancing and partying. Bagpipe players hold parades with which they open and close the event. During the original clan games there were different parades and smaller competitions for dancing and music. In a way, one could say Keltfest is not far from the original Highland Games events.

Have you followed a workshop in Highland games during Keltfest or did you watch one of the matches? Will you join next Keltfest (again)?

Door Dewi van Zeggelaar

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