A long tapered pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted
by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the
smaller end in his hands.
Then the competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in
such a way that it turns end over end with first, the upper
(larger) end striking the ground and then the smaller end,
originally held by the athlete, following through and in
turn striking the ground in the 12 o'clock position measured
relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the
athlete is said to have turned the caber.
Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance,
all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a
successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their
throws approximate the ideal 12 o'clock toss on an imaginary
This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in
the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of
variable weight is often used. There are also some
differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable
techniques. There are two versions of the stone toss events,
differing in allowable technique.
The "Braemar Stone" uses a 20–26 lb. stone for men (13–18 lb
for women) and does not allow any run up to the toe board or
"trig" to deliver the stone, i.e., it is a standing put. In
the "Open Stone" using a 16–22 lb. stone for men (or 8–12
lb. for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing
style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the
stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of
release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either
the "glide" or the "spin" techniques.
Scottish hammer throw:
This event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in
modern-day track and field competitions, though with some
differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball
(weighing 16 or 22 lb. for men or 12 or 16 lb. for women) is
attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and
made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet
in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one's head
and thrown for distance over the shoulder.
Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear
with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their
balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement
as it is whirled about the head. This substantially
increases the distance attainable in the throw.
also known as the weight for distance event. There are
actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb. for
men and 14 lb. for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb. for
men, 42 lb. for masters’ men, and 28 lb. for women) weight.
The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached
either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is
thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any
technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The
longest throw wins.
Weight over the bar,
also known as weight for height. The athletes attempt to
toss a 56 pound (4 stone) weight with an attached handle
over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is
allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance
of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next
round at a greater height.
The competition is determined by the highest successful toss
with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.
Sheaf (not sheep) toss:
A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9 kg) for
the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in
a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a
raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting.
The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the
Weight over the Bar. There is significant debate among
athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an
authentic Highland event. Some argue it is actually a
country fair event, but all agree that it is a great crowd
For many Highland games festival attendees, the most
memorable of all the events at the games is the massing of
the pipe bands. Normally held in conjunction with the
opening and closing ceremonies of the games, as many as 20
or more pipe bands will march and play together.
It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which has come to
symbolize music at the Games and, indeed, in Scotland
itself. In addition to the massed bands, nearly all Highland
games gatherings feature a wide range of piping and drumming
competition, including solo piping and drumming, small group
ensembles and, of course, the pipe bands themselves.
There are two basic forms of dancing at modern Highland
Games gatherings. Scottish country dancing is a social dance
like ballroom dancing or square dancing, the latter of which
evolved from country dancing.
The other type of dancing which one can see at Highland
Games events is the highly competitive and technical form
known as Highland dancing. This again takes two forms. First
there are the traditional Highland dances - the Sword Dance
(or Gillie Calum), the Highland Fling, the Highland Reel,
and the Seann Triubhas (pronounced shawn trews). The
other competition dances are known as national dances, the
most well known of which are the Scottish Lilt, the Flora
MacDonald, the Earl of Erroll, Highland Laddie, Blue Bonnets
and Village Maid. Also common at the games are the Irish Jig
and the Sailor's Hornpipe dances.
Historically, the Highland dances were danced only by men.
This is most likely because men themselves came up with the
dances. The Highland Fling was a dance that started out to
imitate a courting stag on a hill, hence a man should dance
it in order to court his lady. The magnificent Sword dance
was in fact a victory dance that was accredited to King
Malcolm himself. This came about as the result of the nature
and origin of the dances themselves as well as the fact that
during the years of Proscription, only military regiments
were permitted to adopt Highland attire and practice the
traditions such as dancing.
But late in the 19th Century, a young woman named Jenny
Douglas decided to enter a Highland dance competition. As
this was not expressly forbidden, she was allowed to enter
and since then, the number of females participating in the
sport has increased until today in excess of 95% of all
dancers are female. There have been several female World
Highland Dance Champions crowned at the Cowal Gathering
since they began organizing the competition in 1948.
Secondary events & attractions
At modern-day Highland Games events, a wide variety of other
activities and events are generally available. Foremost
among these are the clan tents and vendors of Scottish
related goods. The various clan societies make the Highland
games one of the main focus of their seasonal activities,
usually making an appearance at as many such events as
possible. Visitors can find out information about the
Scottish roots and can become active in their own clan
society if they wish.
Herding dog trials and exhibitions are often held,
showcasing the breeder's and trainer's skills.