Lying on the east coast of Scotland, St Andrews lies in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Bordered by wild and unspoilt coastlines on one side and spectacular scenery on the other, it’s little surprise that St Andrews is a location which draws visitors back time and time again.
However, in July each year the town comes alive and transforms into a whirlwind hub of activity as the Highland Games begin in earnest.
A long Scottish tradition, St Andrews has been hosting its Highland Games for 29 years so is a relative newcomer to the scene. But despite this, the St Andrews Highland Games has become famous all over the region, and further afield, as one of the best places to watch the unique sports at their best.
Here’s a closer look at the St Andrews Highland Games and what you could enjoy.
History of the Highland Games
Even though the St Andrews Highland Games is a relative newcomer, it hooks up to the history of the Highland Games and their value in the past.
Originally a form of competition between the clans, some sources suggest that the chieftains used the occasion to identify those within their company who possessed certain skills. As well as looking out for the fittest men to become soldiers and bodyguards, they were also on the lookout for good runners to work as couriers whilst individuals good at singing and dancing were selected to become court jesters.
Many of the old pieces of equipment which may have been used centuries ago remain an integral part of the games today, with competitors preferring to stick to the traditional rather than switch to updated implements.
A great example of this is the caber, a giant log made from stripped Scots pine wood that participants are expected to throw around. Also integral to the Games are the broad flat river stones which double up as shot put, forging the link between old customs and contemporary fun.
The entire Highland Games which take place all over Scotland are of a traditional nature with a wide variety of activities ranging from the heavy and impressive to those of a much lighter nature.
None of the Highland Games in Scotland are identical so even if you have been to one, it doesn’t mean that you can’t go to any others.
There’s an order of events but none will be the same as any of the other Highland Games you might have encountered in the past; it really is an individual adventure.
Some of the lighter events you may have enjoyed outside the Highland Games; these include solo piping, tug of war, running and highland dancing. Some of these events are not overtly competitive and instead take place for entertainment purposes instead.
But there’s also plenty of the crowd-drawers, the activities which individuals come from miles around to see. Tossing the caber, hammer throwing and the shot are all very impressive activities to watch and require great feats of skill and strength to master the technique.
The 2014 programme begins at around 1pm with the entrance of the pipe band. This will quickly be followed by cycling, running and a throwing event. The programme will unfold over the next few hours, pausing at 3:10 and 3:15pm for the male and female Overseas Visitors Race. Celebrations will finally conclude at 5:00pm.
Whilst the events are ongoing, visitors will be able to get plenty to eat and drink and outside the arena there will be lots of other entertainment and activities going on.
Visitors flock to St Andrews because of its stunning scenery and world class golfing facilities. However once a year hundreds more descend on the town to enjoy the traditional spectacle of the Highland Games. With muscle-bound strong men, good food and the chance to finish the day with a wander along the seafront, if you can’t get to St Andrews for 27th July 2014, you could well be missing out on one of the top events of the year.
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Image credits: Foxypar4 and Joe Thomissen