A Bonnie Day at Ballater Highland Games

This past week I’ve been enjoying a whirlwind of activities and haven’t had a moments’ rest to blog, but I’m not complaining! I’ve been having way too much fun attending one of Scotlands’ best events – Highland Games!

If you’ve never attended one, it’s a must-see one-of-a-kind Scottish tradition. A trip to Scotland is just not the same without having attended one of these unique events as a way of celebrating Scottish and Celtic culture, especially that of the Scottish Highlands! Each area schedules at least one during the spring and summer months so no matter where you go, you’re bound to find one to fit into your travel itinerary.  You can find one by visiting this site online: Scottish Highland Games Association

Men in kilts put forth their best strength, skill and endurance in various Heavy competitions including caber tossing, Scottish heavy hammer throwing, weight toss, tug of war and stone put, to name a few. Each throw, toss and swing is recorded by judges and trophies awarded to the best of the best.


Another category is running races and many games include the Hill Run, where runners circle the track a couple of times, then exit the games and run up a nearby (very) high hill and back down again to the finish line a good hour or so later!

Highland games are a family event for young and old alike, and that includes bringing the family dog! Fun is had by one and all.  IMG_2665


The whole time various competitions are in play, the sound of the pipes is ever present. Many pipers come to specifically compete themselves on stage but are also often in a field nearby practising, or playing for the Highland dancers while they compete in competition dances. Judges look for precision and timing of the dancers’ steps in conjunction with the required arm and leg movements. Dancers aim to appear relaxed and in control of all movements.

Course the best part for me is all the men in kilts!

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There are lots of vendors, yummy things to eat, arts, crafts and fine woodwork for sale.

The most memorable of all the events at the games for me, however, is the massing of the pipe bands when they enter the games on parade. It is, in fact, the music of the bagpipe which symbolizes music at the Games and, indeed, Scotland itself.


It was absolutely delightful to attend the Ballater Highland Games. There were so many interesting people to watch compete in the events, but the other attendees were equally interesting.  For instance, I had the honor to meet this man, David Norris, who was seated next to me. I often find, no matter where I am, that if I just take the time to talk to people nearby that there are extremely fascinating people with fascinating stories within arms reach.  This man was no exception.

IMG_2786During our conversation, he proudly told me he is 98 years old and was a Greaser in the Merchant Navy during WWII. He continued to tell me that he was on board the King George V, helping rescue thousands of British soldiers from Dunkirk in 1940. (He was awarded the Dunkirk Medal.) He was also involved in the D-Day landings of 1944. He served as a Greaser in the engine room of supply vessel Jesse G Cotting, making four trips to Utah and Omaha beaches carrying vital supplies.

Not only did he help rescue the army from Dunkirk, but he also carried vital supplies across the Channel on D-Day to troops on the Normandy beaches. He was awarded the French Legion D’Honneur for his part in that courageous endeavour. It was a huge privilege to meet Mr. Norris.

It was a fine, Bonnie day at Ballater for the Highland Games, full of lots of fun, interesting people, and oh so many men in kilts!


Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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