Scottish Games and Athletics


The Games have a long and legendary history in Scotland. There are claims that the events go back as far as the time of the Druids. Unfortunately, there is no historic evidence to support this; however, the Games do seem to be based on documented Druid celebrations: fertiltiy rites, religious festivals, and harvest thanksgivings. Legend also has it that during the time of the Roman invasions into Britain during the 2nd & 3rd centuries, Scottish warriors displayed their bravery and strength by performing feats of skill and power in front of the opposing army. Reports can also be found of competitions between neighboring Clans and with retinues of visiting officials from England. One of these gatherings involved Lord William Harwood's visit to Scotland as King Henry VIII of England's envoy. Lord William brought handpicked men who specialized in wrestling, leaping ,shooting, and shot putting. Competitions were arranged between these men and the best the Scots had to offer in the local vicinity. (The Scots won). It is also documented that Bonnie Prince Charlie (pictured at right) watched the men compete in athletics while passing time between battles during the 1745 uprising.

The 1745 uprising ended with the Battle of Culloden. The Act of Proscription (1746-1782) was passed in response to the uprising and a ban was placed on all weaponry, the wearing of the kilt or tartan, the playing of the bagpipes, and public gatherings. Those who were caught offending this law faced imprisonment and/or deportation to the colonies. These policies were an attempt to exterminate the Highland way of life. Fortunately, they were unsuccessful in doing so, but it did put an end to the uprisings. The Highland Games got a major boost thanks to Sir Walter Scott, who orchestrated King George IV's visit to Edinburgh in 1822. The King of England appeared in Highland dress, thereby placing his stamp of approval on reviving Scottish culture.

To further explore the Highland Games beginnings it is necessary to look at the origins of two of the most famous Games in Scotland:


The Braemar Gathering

During the 11th Century, King Malcolm Canmore (Malcolm III) of Scotland is crediting with starting these games. Legend has it that the Clan Chiefs would hold competitions to pick the strongest men to be their bodyguards and the fastest men to act as m [Picture of the Braemar Gathering field] essengers.

King Malcolm needed a gille-ruith (running footman or messenger) to relay his orders, so he organized a hill race to the top of Craig Choinnich overlooking Braemar. King Malcolm has put his mark on several other parts of the modern Scottish Games. The "Sword Dance" in the dancing competitions is said to have originated in Dunsinane in 1054 when Malcolm slew one of MacBeth's chieftains. Legend has it that Malcolm crossed his own sword over the sword of his vanquished opponent and danced over them. Also, the pipe tune for this dance, the "Gillie Chalium" was composed to mock his tax gatherers. The Braemer Gathering received greater fame because of Queen Victoria's love of the Dee Valley where she built Balmoral Castle. The Queen took great interest in everything that took place within the district (including the Games). The Queen regularly attended the Games with huge parties of friends and encouraged her men to enter the competitions. She also donated prizes for the competitions and bestowed the prefix "Royal" on the Braemar Highland Society by invitation of the Queen. This was the beginning of a personal link with the British monarchy that has lasted throughout every reign since.


The Ceres Games

The Ceres Games in Fife, Scotland, claim to be the oldest continuous Games. These date from 1314 to present except during the Act of Proscription (1746-1782) and during World War I and II. The Games were first held in 1314 to celebrate the safe return of 600 of the district's bowmen from the Battle of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce won Scotland's independence by defeating King Edward II of England's army. [Image of the Olypmic Games Rings]


Scottish Highland Games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin (founder of the Modern Olympic Games). Pierre attended a Highland Games display at the Paris Exhibition of 1889 (World's Fair). The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was founded in 1894, with the first games being held in Athens in 1896. The first Olympic Games held in the United States were in St. Louis in 1904.

The Association of Scottish Games & Festivals

Check here for a schedule of all of the Scottish Games & Festivals throughout the United States.

Scottish American Athletic Association

Our mission is to educate the general public of his or her own history and culture. We are hired by Celtic festivals to run, sanction, and promote Scottish Highland Games. We also start our own events and to build new festivals around our new athletic venues. We are currently expanding out of California north to Homer Alaska and now partnered with Pacific Northwest Scottish Association (PNSA) to encompass British Columbia Canada, and now as far east as Texas where we have a satellite organizations set up. We are the bench mark for all others to follow. The SAAA now provides kids events as well as educational programs for children of all ages. We are not trying to overtake any existing organization, but to standardize the games for all.



Origins: The tossing of the caber (a felled tree) is probably the most famous of the Scottish events. It dates back to the 16th century, where it may have it origins as a military tactic uses to breach barriers or ford streams. It is also possible that the event gets it origins by woodsmen placing bets on who could throw the felled tree the farthest (rather than end over end). King Henry VIII was also known to have practiced this event.

Object: In the caber toss, the athlete attempts to flip a caber (averaging 18 ft and weighing 80-120 lbs) end over end by holding it upright against the shoulder, running a short distance, and then thrusting it up and over. The goal is to make the narrow end (the end the athlete holds) flip over to the wider end (the caber is tapered). The judge stands behind the athlete and deducts points based off of how many degrees the lay of the caber varies from a perfect 12 o'clock position (from where the athlete released the caber). Anything below 9 o'clock or 3 o'clock does not count. Athletes are allowed 3 tosses and all successful attempts are scored to determine the winner.

It is the length of the caber rather than the weight that makes this event difficult. Caber tossing requires strength, power, speed, and stamina. Keeping the caber in balance during the lift is very difficult and throwers often have to take a step or two backwards to maintain control. As the athlete runs, they allow the caber to rest firmly against their shoulder and after reaching full speed, stop suddenly, dip, and heave with all of their might.


Origins: Historical records suggest that this skill came in handy for men under siege. The stone putter would be posted along the battlements of a fortress where he could hurl small boulders down onto his attackers. The stone throw is believed to be related to the "stone of strength" or clachneart that was often found at the gates of Highland chieftains homes. Visitors were encouraged to test their strength by throwing the stone.

Object: This event is similar to the Olympic shot putt. Athletes run up a 7'6" approach path, and using only one hand, throw a 16 pound (8 lbs for women) river stone from behind a trig (a wooden toe bar measuring 4'6" long, 6" high, & 6" wide). The winner is the athlete who throws the stone for the longest distance.


Origins: Historical records suggest that this skill came in handy for men under siege. The stone putter would be posted along the battlements of a fortress where he could hurl small boulders down onto his attackers. The stone throw is believed to be related to the "stone of strength" or clachneart that was often found at the gates of Highland chieftains homes. Visitors were encouraged to test their strength by throwing the stone.

Object: Same as the Open Stone; however, the event is performed standing still (no run up approach is allowed).


Origins: Unknown

Object: The Scottish hammer is not like the Olympic hammer, it is derived from the village blacksmith's hammer. Today's Scottish hammer features an iron ball fitted on a long, flexible shaft. The hammer has an overall length of 50 inches and comes in two weights: Light at 16 lbs (12 lbs for women) and Heavy at 22 lbs (16 lbs for women). For the throw, the shaft is gripped by the athlete and swung around in several complete turns over his or her head, then hurled through the air. The athletes cannot move their feet while throwing. The athlete gets three throws, with the longest throw of the three scored.


Origins: Unknown

Object: The 28 lb (14 lb for women) and 56 lb (28 lb for women) weights used for distance throwing are common box weights attached to a ring handle by an 18" chain. Athletes are allowed a 9 ft run up and must use only one hand to throw, which must be done behind the trig (toe bar) during and after the throw. The athlete spins before releasing the weight (similar to a discus thrower) and is scored on the distance it flies. Each athlete is given three tries and is scored on the best throw out of the three.


Origins: The event is believed to have been a training method for tossing grappling hooks used for scaling tall fortifications.

Object: The object is to toss a 56 lb (28 lbs for women) weight up and over a high crossbar using only one hand. The athlete is not required to compete until the bar is at a height where the athlete wishes to enter the competition. Once the athlete starts, the athlete must successfully throw at each height, each time the bar is raised. Each competitor gets three tosses at each height.


Origins: The sheaf toss has its roots in farming. Using pitch forks, young men would attempt to pitch wheat to the storage loft on the barn's second floor.

Object: A sheaf (burlap bag filled with hay) weighing 20 lbs (10 lbs for women) is thrown over a crossbar with a pitchfork. Contestants are allowed three attempts to clear the bar at each height.

Sources: "Scottish Highland Games" by David Webster, "The Scottish Highland Games in America" by Emily Ann Donaldson, 2005 Athletics Program Intro from the St. Louis Scottish Games, & Wikipedia. To learn more about this subject, both books may be purchased through

Special thanks: To all of the athletes who agreed to be filmed for the videos, Dan Flynn for narrating many of the video introductions, and Richard Bruce & Chuck Shaffer for taking video of the events.--Dave Hill (producer & editor)

This project was done is partnership between the Scottish St. Andrew Society of Greater St. Louis, the Seven Rivers Highland Society, and the Gateway Cabermen.

Video was filmed during the 2010 Tartan Day Festivities in St. Charles, MO and at the 2010 Festival of Nations in St. Louis, MO.

Usage & Rights: These videos are for educational purposes and for the promotion of the Highland Games and anyone is welcome to use their content for this purpose (including the embedding of video in websites for the purpose of promoting Highland Games and for educational purposes). Permission is not necessary to do so, but we would love to hear from you if you do. Contact us at: