Socks of Scottish highland dancers

Crieff Highland Gathering: Guide to the Scottish Highland Games

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June 2020 update: The games are cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The organizers are planning to have the games in summer 2021.

If we had a checklist of everything you must do while in Scotland (hmmm, maybe we should have one), going to a Scottish Highland Games day would definitely be on the list. Not only are the games fun to watch, but it’s the perfect way to immerse yourself in the Scottish culture. Known as “Scotland’s Premier Highland Games,” the Crieff Highland Gathering takes place every August, and in 2020 is celebrating 150 years. 

Quick Overview

When: Sunday, August 16, 2020 / Games 10 am – 6 pm (gates open 9:30 am) Canceled for 2020.

Where: Market Park, in the center of Crieff 

Cost: Purchase online or at gate. / Adult early bird £11 / Family tickets available

Parking: Braidhaugh playing fields – Free / Free Shuttle Bus

Music Festival: Saturday, August 15, 2020 1 pm – 7 pm / Separate ticket required Canceled for 2020.

What Events Are At The Crieff Highland Gathering?

A long standing celebration of strength and agility, it’s no surprise the main attractions are games of strength. However, there’s also music, traditional highland dancing, bagpipes, amusement rides, track and field events. Plus, there’s usually a special guest performance; in 2019 the Edinburgh Tattoo joined the fun.

Though the Crieff games are only one day, the celebration kicks off on the Saturday with a music concert. 2020’s line up includes performances by Massaoke and Big Country. A Massaoke performance is quite the experience in its own right. Best described as a giant karaoke party, it’s sure to be a good time.

Most events are left to the locals, but if you are the participating type, consider running in the “Tartan Dash” kilt race.  The mile fun run, is downhill and open to everyone. Tickets for the run include entry to the festival and the music tent, so it’s a good deal.

Once in the festival, test your own strength with the ardblair stones; lift and place giant round stones going up in weight on the top of a barrel. They say the largest is similar to lifting a large panda. 

Or, if you prefer to sample local culture with your taste buds, head over to the trade stands and “Taste of Tartan” to see what the local businesses have on offer.

Highland Games Of Strength And Agility

Crieff Highland Gathering takes place on a giant sports field, Market Park. In the center, giants throw stones, logs and mammoth hammers to show their strength; and it is impressive. 

Crieff Highland Gathering Caber Toss

Arguably, the most impressive display of strength at the games is the caber toss.  The competitors lift massive telephone poles to about waist level. Once steady, they take what looks like a painful jog forward. Stopping suddenly, the pole launches into the air. The pole must flip so the top hits the ground and then lays straight in front of the competitor. In other words, the pole must lay in a 12:00 position, with the bottom of the pole facing the top of the clock and away from the competitor. Few are able to make this perfect throw.   

Man performing the caber toss at Crieff Highland Gathering

Crieff Highland Gathering Hammer Throw

It’s hard to think of this being any more dangerous, but traditionally it was. You may have seen old footage of someone spinning around and around with the hammer before letting ago. To minimize the hammer flying in the audience, participants must swing the hammer over their head before letting go over their shoulder.  

Man throwing hammer at Crieff Highland Gathering

Throwing the Weight and Shot

Very similar events include the Putting the Shot and Throwing the Weight. The shot is done for distance, but the weight is done for height and another throw for distance. 

Man throwing weight at Crieff Highland Gathering
Man throwing shot at Crieff Highland Gathering

Tug Of War

Remember lining up in gym class for tug of war? Teams of eight, battle it out on the field by pulling the flag in the center of the rope past their line. 

Man pulling rope in Tug of War at Crieff Highland Gathering in Scotland

Other Events At The Crieff Highland Games

Highland Dancing

Dancers of various age groups, from little tots to older teens, show their colors and dancing skills in traditional attire. Jumping and swinging to the sounds of the bagpipe, it’s fun to watch and a popular event.

Dancers wearing traditional attire perform highland dancing

Track & Field

Whirling around the outer field, cycling races and various sprints and relays keep onlookers entertained through the day.  

Cyclists race at the Crieff Highland Gathering

Chieftains Parade & The Marching Bands

“Chieftain” is an honorary title given to a worthy person each year, typically a Scottish celebrity or sports person. Historically, the Chieftain was a leader of a clan, and the Highland Games were a way for the Chieftan to test the strengths of his clan.   

Around 11 am the Chieftan’s Parade starts in the city and proudly marches it’s way into the arena. You’ll hear them coming. It’s a fantastic display of color, sound and heritage.  

Band marching and playing bag pipes at Crieff Highland Gathering
Band playing bag pipes at Crieff Highland Gathering
You band plays at the Crieff Highland Gathering in Scotland

What to bring to the Crieff Highland Gathering?

Scotland’s weather is very changeable,  so we recommend layering your clothes. Mornings and evenings, even in summer, can be quite cool. You may get lucky with a warm afternoon, but more likely you’ll run into a little rain. Bring a brolly or at least a rain jacket

With no stands or seating in the general admission areas, most visitors bring a blanket or beach chairs to sit on. You may want to consider a cheap waterproof tarp to put under it.

Food and drinks are available in the event.

No kilts required, but if you participate in the Tartan Dash kilt race, you’ll want to at least wear a tartan skirt.

We hope you enjoy the Scottish Highland Games as much as us. What else would you recommend including on a checklist of Everything You Must Do While In Scotland?

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