The “Friendly” Abernethy Highland Games & the Majestic Strathspey Railway Caledonia Engine

Lindsay and I debarked from the Strathspey Railway at Broomhill station and boarded a shuttle bus bound for The Abernethy Highland Games – known as the “Friendly Games.” They are held in the center of Nethy Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland on the second Saturday of August. We were excited to attend this event and enjoy its activities the whole day. We duly noted the times to return via the shuttle to the train for the return trip back to Aviemore and eagerly waited in line to enter the games.

The first thing we saw was this delightful display of young lads and lassie’s competing in Highland dancing…

…followed by the beginning of the children’s games, starting with a wheelbarrow race!

Next were the boys’ three-legged races…

…next up – the girls!

We walked along the booths lining the field when we came upon none other than Richard Eccles and his lovely wife at the Castle Roy Trust booth. It was great to see him again. We met him last year while visiting nearby Castle Roy when I bought a square yard of the Castle in support of their efforts to restore the ancient site.

Richard offered us a ‘wee dram’ for a perfect preamble for watching men’s Heavy weight competitions which began with the Stone putt.

While the men prepared for the next heavy-weight event, we strolled a bit further around the track getting the flavour of the games as we walked.

The next event was throwing a steel weight for distance… weights are made of metal with a handle attached either directly or with a chain.

IMG_3003The men warmed up for the event in the open, but when the actual competition began they had to enter a caged area for safety reasons in case the weight slipped out of their hand as they turned and turned before releasing it out into the field.

IMG_3019We walked around a bit more checking out more of the booths and watching some highland dancing competitions while waiting for the next heavy-weight event, Scottish Hammer throw, to begin. IMG_3025

IMG_3030Loved watching these two little girls next to us practice their dancing…

The next heavy-weight event was the Scottish Hammer throw…

While we were waiting along came that cute little boy who we saw competing earlier…

IMG_3059Next came the Caber Toss!

Now for the Weight Thrown Over the Bar event!  I don’t think I could even lift that heavy thing off the ground let alone toss it up in the air and over the bar! They started by throwing it up a distance of about 11 feet, each taking their turn. When each had thrown it successfully over the bar, the bar would be raised further up another 6 inches until it reached the final height of 13 1/2 feet! Geez!

Just after Harry Hancock won the Weight Toss, the Pipe bands and Clan members came into the arena! Yeah! This is my favourite part!

Before opening ceremonies took place, Harry Hancock (who had won the weight toss event) had the bar moved one last time and made a final attempt to clear 14 feet! Wow!

IMG_3103The official opening ceremonies took place by the dignitaries of the Clans and then the parade of the Pipers, drummers, Clans and standard bearers departed from the field for the events to continue.

After all that work of watching the men toss heavy things about and the parade of the Pipe Bands, I had worked up an appetite! It was lunchtime so one and all qued up for various meals. Lindsay and I lined up with the Piper and Drummers for some fish & chips and fried haggis!


IMG_3119While we ate our lunch at a picnic table we were delighted by the sights of all the wonderful views around us… like the majestic Pipe Major and people just having a grand time visiting with one another, enjoying themselves.

We also got to watch the competition of the Pipers and the Pipe Major practising his baton twirling and tossing.

After that scrumptious and entertaining lunch and before the 10-mile running race began, there were some impromptu races taking place before us by the youngsters with their festively painted faces. So darned cute!

The gunshot sounded and off they went running around the track three times before exiting out the field to return after their 10-mile run…one guy was even running barefoot; he’s in the bottom right picture in the group of pictures below. He’s really brave and hopefully has leather-like soles on his feet!

Soon after the runners left the field, however, a great downpour of rain occurred scurrying most of the spectators from the games field. Lindsay and I shared his umbrella and I offered mine to a group of teenagers sitting nearby.

Unfortunately, these two photos were the last of the day because my camera was full and dead as a doornail! When the rain ceased we realized it was time for us to make our way back to the shuttle bus to catch the train back to Aviemore at Broomhill and call it a day. What a day it was!

Bright and early on Sunday morning we eagerly headed back to the train station at Aviemore because the stunningly beautiful Caledonia Steam Engine in its majestic royal blue colour was proudly preparing for its journey down the tracks with its load of excited passengers.

Lindsay climbed into the Engine this time to purvey her beauty and power…


IMG_3173Soon her whistle would blow and she would head off down the rail without us.

IMG_3183We weren’t riding that day, but rather going by car, chasing the train through the rolling and scenic countryside alongside to her turn-around destination, Broomhill.

We arrived just in time to catch her on her return trip.

Waiting at the top of the tunnel she would have to pass through, we poised ourselves for some great pictures.

Here she comes!

Oh, that was fun, wasn’t it?

After the thrill of chasing the train, we crossed the old bridge over the River Spey to make our way back to Nethybridge once again.

Our next destination? The old Abernethy Church & Castle Roy.


After visiting the castle and church we ate lunch at a lovely sunny sidewalk table at Chaplin’s in nearby downtown Granton-on-Spey.


For dessert, we visited another relic, the old Spey Bridge on the edge of town.



We returned to Abernethy Church later in the afternoon to attend a very special service; the 250th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service of the church!



Lindsay has ancestors buried in this church yard. We had visited it last year and had read in the newsletter earlier this spring of the celebration so we definitely didn’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate with them!IMG_3271

They have an old hand bell on display in the church that was used years ago (before they had a bell and bell tower) to call the parishioners to church on Sundays. After the arrival of the bell and subsequent bell tower, the hand bell had disappeared for about 75 years. One of Lindsay’s ancestors located the hand bell, which had been in the possession of one of the residents’ in the valley, and determined to return the hand bell to the old Kirk for safe keeping.

Lindsay was honoured before the celebration service began by being asked if he would be willing to ring the hand bell outside the church entry doors to once again call the people to the Thanksgiving Service like it had done so many years ago.

It was a wonderful service in the old Kirk, complete with a wonderful harpist, Marie Louise Napier, playing a clarsach (knee harp) and singing a beautiful Gaelic tune. (I was oh-so-tempted to record her playing but knew it wasn’t appropriate to do so during a church service!) After the service, we visited with other attendees while we all also enjoyed some tea and cake.

IMG_3298Our next destination for the day was Dingwall to visit our good friends Pat & Ian MacLeod.

En route we passed through the small village Carrbridge and were pleasantly surprised to arrive just in time to see a Rubber Duckie Race in process as we rounded the corner!IMG_3301

What an opportunistic surprise we stumbled upon!

Back in the car once again we travelled the rest of the way to Dingwall uneventfully.  We met up with Pat & Ian and enjoyed a delicious meal together at the National Hotel.

I especially savoured my salmon fillet with dill cream sauce, Ian his haggis stuffed chicken, Lindsay ordered Scampi and Pat delighted in her Mac ‘n Cheese!

It was a wonderful meal with close friends and family in our ancestral home and the perfect ending to yet another perfect day. Cheers!







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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