Cowal Highland Gathering, Dunoon
The summer circuit of the Highland Games is under way. They are said to have originated among mourners gathered at protracted Highland funerals, indulging in sports such as wrestling and stone putting, and, having imbibed too much uisge-bheatha, brawling, sometimes with swords, a fresh corpse created.
My father, a champion Highland Games athlete, trained his four sons nightly in the summer in a field at Dunstaffnage House, Connel. Angus was a distinguished jumper, as was Eric; I was the pole vaulter; and the late Kenny the British professional record holder for the hop, step and leap, challenging and sometimes beating our father's long-standing records. I can still smell the reek of Wintergreen rubbed on sluggish thighs and calves in stifling competitors' tents at Tobermory, Oban and further afield.
Highland Games are an integral part of Scottish culture and need to be supported before some of them lapse through lack of numbers. One of the biggest, the two-day Cowal Highland Gathering
at Dunoon, has attracted over 23,000 spectators and resonated with 1,000 pipers. Unfortunately, the paddle steamer Waverley, traditionally crowded with spectators for the Gathering, is not sailing this summer due to a major boiler problem. But you can still get to Dunoon, by road, vehicular and passenger ferries. The Cowal Highland Gathering (29-31 August this year), is a memorable day out for the family. You can watch dancers defying gravity in the World Highland Dancing Championships, and see men with the shoulders of bulls staggering with the caber. At some games there are adult and children's races open to spectators. You don't need spiked shoes as we had as boys; a dash in trainers may earn you enough money for ice creams.
For Highland Games this summer and autumn, see the website
Oldmeldrum Highland Games
A summer visit to the annual Oldmeldrum Sports and Highland Games is one of my highlights and is to be strongly recommended. Locally it is called the 'Sunshine Sports' and takes place in the centre of the town at the appropriately named Pleasure Park. The idyllic town showfield houses the event which contains all the traditional Highland Games activities. A few years ago, when I was asked to open the event, the incomparable Robbie Shepherd was on the microphone as master of ceremonies. His words were extremely kind to me and each subsequent item was introduced to perfection.
The marching pipe bands from Ellon & District RBL, Oldmeldrum RBL, Inverurie, Lonach, Kintore & Huntly, produced a stirring beginning to an afternoon of variety. Around the perimeter of the main field were dozens of stalls providing masterly home-baking and knick-knacks of every description. Hardly anywhere would there be better country dancing, caber-tossing with world renowned contestants and the most competitive tug of war imaginable. All the while the runners in the 10k race would make intermittent appearances as their route not only started and finished at the field but found it part of their pathway. Arguably the most intriguing aspect of my visit took place in the couthy tearoom where I was invited to have a drink and sample some of the locals' home-baking.
When I was directed to study the photographs on the wall of my predecessors who had opened the event, I was honoured to be in the company of such as the Alexander Brothers, Andy Cameron, the Gothenburg Greats, The Crankies, Rod Hull, Jimmy Cricket, Jim McColl and Carole Baxter, Jane Franchi, Selina Scott, Nicholas Parsons, Diana Dors, Bobby Charlton, David Dimbleby, Frankie Vaughan, Harry Corbett and Calum Kennedy. However, I was puzzled to see that one photograph was turned round to be facing the wall. When I thought that perhaps the cleaner had inadvertently re-positioned it wrongly, I was assured that the positioning indeed was deliberate. The discredited Jimmy Savile, rather than be removed altogether, had been placed ignominiously to reinforce the disdain in which he is held in that delightful Scottish village. Not even that disappointing aspect could detract from the appeal of this superb thing to do over the summer. Visit the Oldmeldrum Show!
Rugby at Murrayfield
For everything there was once a season. Now we get high-summer rugby as Scotland warm up at Murrayfield against France and Georgia (from the Black Sea, not the American south) for the more heated encounters of an autumn World Cup in Japan.
Against the Georgians we are even experimenting with a 7.30pm kick-off on what may or may not turn out to be a balmy evening, though Edinburgh's summer weather, as those who ever shivered at the Tattoo know all too well, is less predictable than at Nice and Tbilisi, where Scotland travel for earlier fixtures. It all seems against nature, but it might be enjoyable (the France and Georgia games will be played at Murrayfield on 24 August and 6 September).
R D Kernohan
A small locally organised Highland Games provides a Scottish spectacle for visitors, especially those from abroad, but it is also an annual reunion of locals and exiles. The sport, the Highland dancing, the cycling and the pipe band are often just incidental; the social side is probably more important. For years we held a BBQ after the Dornoch Games, mainly for the younger generation on their way from the beer tent to the pub.
for festivals and country houses
for museums and exhibitions
for food, drink and music