While Fort William’s very own Highland Games no longer takes place, there are several nearby Highland Games that take place in Lochaber that you might be able to catch if you stay with us in the summer. The closest one to Ben Nevis Holiday Park is the Glenfinnan Gathering, just 20 minutes away by car – the perfect opportunity to catch a slice of Scotland’s history alive and thriving!
What to expect at the Glenfinnan Gathering
We’re not just saying this, but the Glenfinnan Highland Games has a reputation for being one of the very best. It always takes place on the Saturday closest to the 19th August, in commemoration of the day of the Jacobite Rising at Glenfinnan in 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Raising of the Standard. The games are held at the exact location it all took place, on the banks of Loch Shiel near the Jacobite Monument. It’s a spectacular as well as historic backdrop, with the incredible Glenfinnan viaduct vying for your attention as mountains and loch.
The games themselves
The traditional Scottish sports are what these events are famed for. A number of feats will be on show – and usually participants wear full Scottish garb, or a kilt at the very least. Competing in these ancient events whilst dressing in the traditional way means it’s a sight that’s been unchanged in the Highlands for many hundreds of years. We’ll run you through some of the ‘heavy events’ you can expect to see…
Tossing the caber
The most instantly recognisable of Highland Games sports involves tossing a huge tree log – about 20 feet long and weighing about 150lbs! Competitors run with the log balanced upright in their hands before flinging the end they’re holding up and over, aiming for it to land perfectly straight.
This one will be familiar to anyone who watches much track and field, with the same approach of whirling that hammer round and round before letting it go to see how far you can get it. Unlike the hammer in modern athletics which is on a wire, in the highland games version the metal ball is attached to a pole or handle made of wood.
Sometimes also called the shot put – it’s pretty similar to the contemporary athletics event except that the shot is a large natural stone weighing 20 – 26lbs. It might be thrown from standing or with a short run-up depending on the individual games rules.
Weight for height/ weight over the bar
In this unusual event, competitors have to throw a 56lb weight over a bar – using just one hand to hold the weight’s handle. Just like in high jump, the bar is set higher after each successful attempt. The technique involves first swinging the weight back through the legs before swinging it back up and over the head, over the bar behind them.
Perhaps the best well known – and definitely the most entertaining to watch, is tug o’war. Usually featuring 8 people pulling on each side, though sometimes it’s 5 vs 5, there’s also a coach team member whose job it is to shout tactics and spur them on. The game is over when a team gets their marker over the centre line. It’s great fun for kids to have a go at too, as it’s much less dangerous than the other sporting events!
More than just games
While the traditional competitions are the main spectacle, there is lots more going on to keep you entertained. Music is another important part of a Highland Games, with lots of Highland dancing and piping – usually a traditional style of highland bagpipe music known as piobaireachd. There are events for children to get involved with and stalls selling local crafts and produce.
There’s plenty to keep you well fed and watered as well – you’ll often find beer tents, hog roasts and ice cream amongst other tasty treats, just like at a summer festival.
Other Highland Games in Lochaber
Not going to be staying with us around the 19th August? Another great Games nearby is the Invergarry Games near Loch Lochy – it’s about a 30-minute drive from us. Alternatively, head coastwards to check out the Arisaig Highland Games (45 minutes away) or the Mallaig & Morar Highland Games (an hour away). Each guarantees a superb family day out in a spectacular location.
Tips for attending the Highland Games
- Be ready for all weathers. Even in August, highland weather can be changeable so bring sun cream as well as raincoats – and wellies are almost always a good idea.
- Many people like to bring camping chairs to sit on, or perhaps a picnic blanket, especially if the ground is damp.
- If you want to catch a Highland Games during your stay with us, check the dates of the 3 nearest events before booking and remember, there are lots more regional games a little bit further away if those dates don’t work for you.