Scottish Highland Games: A Guide to the Traditional Gatherings in Argyll & the Isles
Visiting a traditional Scottish Highland Games event in Scotland needs to be on everyone’s bucket list - and there are plenty to choose from in bonnie Argyll! Here’s all you need to know (and what to expect) when visiting some of the top Scottish Highland Games in Argyll & the Isles.
Here are the top 6 Scottish Highland Games in Argyll & the Isles:
- Cowal Highland Gathering
- The Argyllshire Gathering's Oban Games
- Bute Highland Games
- Inveraray Highland Games
- Luss Highland Games
- Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games
Before we describe each traditional Highland Games gathering, let’s take a look at what you can expect when visiting them.
Image: Inverarary Highland Games.
What are Highland Games?
Highland Games are one of the most iconic parts of Scottish Culture; the traditional games date back to as far as 2000 BC. Much like the Olympics in Ancient Greece, the Highland Games are an opportunity to demonstrate your skill and strength in competitive athletics. The Games take place against one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world and offer an exciting time for all involved.
What kind of events make up the Highland Games?
The main entertainments at a Highland Games gathering are known as heavy athletics, originally invented by warriors who, when not in battle, needed a way of training, staying fit, and boosting morale. They would compete between themselves using everyday objects and implements to keep themselves strong.
Amongst the most iconic competitions is the Cable Toss, which historically started as a strength competition amongst woodmen to see who could turn over the biggest tree. Today the Caber Toss is a highly competitive event at the Highland Games and the main objective is to toss the Caber in the straightest - not furthest - possible line away from the thrower. The Cabers can be up to 20 feet in length and weigh 120-175 lb (54-79 kg)!
Other competitions include stone tossing, hammer throwing, and sheaf tossing.
Image: Tossing caber at the Cowal Highland Gathering
Music, food & culture
Traditional bagpipe music plays another major role at every Highland Games gathering; this is Scotland after all! The 'massing of the pipe bands' is usually held at the opening and closing ceremonies of the games where 20-plus pipe bands will play and march together. It’s a spectacle you won’t be able to forget any time soon!
As well as the massing of the pipe bands, there are also other amazing piping and drumming as well as traditional Scottish dancing competitions to watch. The Cowal Highland Games Gathering hosts the annual World Highland Dance Championship and attracts the best competitive dancers from around the world.
And don’t worry, you won’t be going hungry during a Highland Games gathering! There is a wide variety of Scottish-related goods and produce to be found at each gathering with numerous clans selling their unique products with their specific tartan pattern.
The Top Scottish Highland Games in Argyll & the Isles
Now that you know what to expect when visiting a Scottish Highland Games gathering, let’s look at some of the top events in Argyll & the Isles. Each one of these gatherings should be on your bucket list!
Cowal Highland Gathering
Every year around 23,000 people flock to Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Argyll to soak up the unique atmosphere and enjoy the spectacle. Amid the emotive sound of the pipes and the flash of clan colours on kilts, athletes and dancers compete for coveted trophies at this world-famous event. Cowal Highland Gathering is known as the most spectacular Highland Games in the world.
The 2023 Cowal Highland Gathering will take place on the 24th, 25th, and 26th of August. Come and be part of one of the biggest, most spectacular Highland games in the world! Find out more and buy your tickets online.
The Argyllshire Gathering's Oban Games
Head to Scotland’s Seafood Capital for a day of Highland dancing, athletics, heavy field events, and solo piping competitions. The Argyllshire Gathering's Oban Games is a highlight of the summer for the people of Oban and visitors from around the world
Travelling from Glasgow? Jump on the West Highland Line from Queen St Station to travel to Oban via train. The stunning journey takes you through picturesque glens and past scenic lochs straight into Oban town. Book our central accommodation directly for the best rates!
The 2023 Oban Games will take place on the 24th of August. Find out more and buy your tickets online.
Bute Highland Games
The beautiful island of Bute makes for the perfect day trip from Glasgow for the whole family. The Highland Games’ showground is located in the Victorian town of Rothesay, within walking distance from the ferry terminal. You can expect the wonderful and haunting music of pipe bands; the supreme expertise and skill of highland dancers; the prowess and strength of heavy event athletes and wrestlers and an opportunity to see just what shinty is all about!
The 2023 Bute Highland Games will take place on the 12th of August. Find out more and buy your tickets online.
Inveraray Highland Games
Established in 1745 by the 3rd Duke of Argyll, head of the Clan Campbell, Inveraray is the traditional county town of Argyll with stunning Georgian architecture which overlooks the water of Loch Fyne. The Highland Games celebrate this rich culture and heritage with field and track events, piping, highland dancing competitions, and heavyweight events including the world championships for tossing the caber.
The 2023 Inveraray Highland Games took place on the 18th of July 2023, on the grounds of Inveraray Castle.
Luss Highland Games
Luss is a popular stopping-off point for visitors exploring the Loch Lomond area. The first Luss Highland Gathering was held in 1875 and has become a symbol of local sporting endeavour and community spirit. It has also become the focus of the annual gathering of the Clan Colquhoun, bringing with it an influx of visitors from distant lands seeking their heritage.
The 2023 Luss Highland Games took place on the 1st July 2023.
Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games
The Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games are another fantastic day trip from Glasgow. Helensburgh is a great place to explore, with a fantastic range of unique independent shops and galleries, Victorian architecture, and award-winning restaurants.
This heritage is reflected in the Highland Games. Events include traditional heavy weights, solo piping, and Highland Dance as well as a wide variety of local produce and art exhibitors for you to discover.
The 2023 Helensburgh & Lomond Highland Games took place on the 3rd of June 2023.