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Compete or Attend the Inverness Highland Games in Scotland

As we continue our Scotland road trip and after really enjoying some adventure activities in Scotland, we head to Inverness where the clans of Scotland have been gathering for hundreds of generations; the highland games were a way of meeting up with scattered family members and friends, hearing and spreading the news of the past year, trading goods and crafts, and just generally having a good time.

All of that came to a screeching halt shortly after the failed Jacobite revolution when Scottish dress and customs were outlawed and clan gatherings were banned. This lasted for forty years but then the gatherings and games came back with a vengeance.

The Inverness Highland Games got their official start in 1822 but you can bet that men in kilts had been throwing heavy boulders and tossing long tree trunks around those green fields for more than a thousand years.

Tossing the caber, one of the traditional events of the Scottish Highland Games.
Grab your kilt, and grab the caber, it’s time for some tossing!

Visit The Original Scottish Highland Games In Inverness, Scotland

When you visit Scotland in the summer there is one thing you need to try and do and that’s the Inverness Highland Games and Clan Gathering. It just sounds so mysterious and magical doesn’t it? Now, mind you, I don’t believe there’s a drop of Scottish blood in either of our veins, but that didn’t stop us being drawn, almost like metal to a magnet, to the games that are held each year in July in the Bught Park Stadium. In fact, when we visited the clans tent and spent time talking to the various elders and representatives they were sure they could sense a distant relationship.

Competing hard, throwing the weight, at the Inverness Highland Games.

Scottish Heritage Check

Maybe there was something to that after all. We had been in Scotland for only a week or so and already we could understand everything everyone said (well almost anyway). The clan tent at the Inverness Highland Games is the place to go for a quick check on your ancestry. They’ve got the computers running and are eager to help would be Scots find their ancestral roots. They can even help you discover your rightful tartan pattern. After that stop, head on over the kilts and find one that fits. Even if you decided to pass on a new outfit, who wouldn’t be drawn to the gorgeous handmade jewelry and art work that the traders and craftsmen were peddling?

The line up of competitors in Inverness at the Highland Gathering.

Throw caution to the wind, join a clan, and deck yourself out in full Scots regalia, obviously involving some knee high attire and a specific pattern of tartan? I’m sorry to admit I was like the rock of Gibraltar resisting all attempts of the wily Scotsmen. I was especially worried that if I did go native, I’d end up out on the green competing with the “heavies” at their own game. And how would I have looked whirling around in a kilt trying to throw a massive hammer out into the grassy heath? I hear those snickers, obviously some of you have seen me in shorts!

I didn’t dress for the part, join a clan, or toss a caber, but spending the day at the Inverness Highland Games was a highlight of our trip. Here we were completely immersed in the local traditions, culture, and clans of the highlands. I think the entire city and surrounding towns and villages must have all come out to the park for the games. There was dancing, wrestling, flowing beer, meat searing over open fires, soldiers in kilts, break neck foot races, and even an owlery where you could feed and hold your very own owl; and all of this before the games even began!

Pin Attend the Inverness Highland Games!

Grab your kilt and head off to the Inverness Highland Games to root for your clan.
Compete or Attend the Inverness Highland Games in Scotland.
Traditional Scottish dance in Inverness.

Dancing And Music At The inverness Highland Games

So what else happens at the Highland Games? You will definitely want to spend some time around the dance stage in the outer field. There dancers of all ages are competing in traditional dances like the Highland Fling, the Sword Dance, and the Half Reel. It’s lively and fast paced. Later catch the couples performing Scottish Country dances and the mass highland fling where the brightly costumed dancers fill the entire field capering away to the melodious trill of the bagpipes.

Bagpipe players, piping in the competition of the Highland Games in Inverness.

Oh, did I forget to mention the bagpipes? You’ll here pipes all day long, from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave, somewhere in the massive gathering area one, or several, bagpipes will be serenading the participants, judges, and spectators with there evocative music. Indeed, it was several days later that I finally realized I wasn’t hearing bagpipes any more. They are like ear-worms that get in your head and just bounce around within your skull adding an eerie soundtrack to the world around you.

The band leader, kicking off the traditional Scottish games.

Don’t worry, though, the pipers aren’t alone. There are full marching bands in incredible regalia strutting their stuff while playing enchanting marching songs while parading around the green.

Highland Games Track And Field Events

Amazing concentration on the face of this man as he heaves 56 pounds over the high bar, one of the most traditional events of the Scottish Highland Games.
56 pounds over the high bar? Youve got to be kidding me!

There are the usual track and field events, such as foot races, long jumps, and shot putt, but then there are the heavy events that are unique to Scottish Highland Games. These include the 56lb. weight over the bar, tossing the caber, and the Braemer stone. But perhaps the most interesting is the belly bursting stonemasons challenge in which contestants attempt to pick up a massive boulder and toss it over a high bar.

All kinds of events, even foot racing, at the Inverness Highland Games.
Tossing the caber has been one thing that's been done for centuries at Highland gatherings.
The most iconic of Highland Games – the Caber toss

Ten Tips for Enjoying the Inverness Highland Games

We’ve compiled a few tips to make your visit to the Inverness Highland Games a complete success.

  1. The games are held each year in mid July. Be sure and visit the Inverness Highland Games official website and check out the schedule while planning your visit.
  2. Arrive early. You can’t buy your tickets ahead of time so you can get a good jump on the queue by getting to the park before the gates open. We went thirty minutes early and were first in line, but the line grew to massive lengths within minutes behind us.
  3. Take the bus (especially if you didn’t follow tip #3). There’s limited parking at the games park and plenty of bus pick up locations around town. If you followed tip #2 go ahead and drive yourselves. That’s what we did, and because we got there early, we found a perfect parking spot right at the park.
  4. Stake out a spot in the stands. Rain or shine, you’ll want protection from the elements. If you’ve brought your own clan along you can set up a spot on the bench explore the games in small groups while others stay behind in you area.
  5. Dress for the weather and bring extra layers. This is Scotland in the summer. It can go from hot and sunny T Shirt weather, to cold and rainy jackets, hats, and gloves weather in minutes, and the changes can go on all day. Also, if you can, bring a small blanket along to pad the bench or add an extra layer of warmth.
  6. Bring your food and drink. This was very popular with the locals, especially that bit about the drink. But don’t despair, there were plenty of delicious and affordable options at the games.
  7. Get out of the stands. Take turns holding your seats and get out and explore the games. This is a huge open grassy park with things going on in every corner. Don’t be afraid to poke your head in a tent, lean to, or helicopter. Everything and everyone is there to be on display so if the flaps open they probably want to show off their clan or craft to you.
  8. Get a program guide. Not only does it have the times for all of the events but it also has explanations for most of what you’ll see at the games. Plus, it has a handy map that will help you find that owlery!
  9. Search your Scottish roots. The kind clansmen and women in the gathering tents will help you with information and research about your Scottish ancestry. Don’t be afraid to ask!
  10. Eat. Drink. Be Merry. I know, that’s three tips, right? Just remember, this is a festival so try new things to eat, partake of the local cheer, and dance to the music of the pipe and drums!
Man lifting a huge stone, unique to the Inverness Highland Games.
A unique event to the Inverness Scottish Highland Games is the Stonemasons Challenge

After the games you’ll be looking for other ways to make the most of your trip to Scotland, and maybe you’ll want to take in some highland history at the Culloden Battlefields.

Have you visited the Highland Games of Inverness?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

David 344099

Friday 5th of April 2024

You were right not to wear a kilt, no one in the audience is wearing one, people wear jeans like anywhere in the world!

Jennifer St Louis

Tuesday 26th of April 2016

We really wanted to attend the Highland Games when we were in Scotland but it didn't work out. It looks so fun and I know my boys would love it!

Jim Vail

Wednesday 27th of April 2016

That's too bad Jennifer. You're right, the Games are great for kids, there was so much for them to do besides watching the events.