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Highland Games Onward, SC

May 28th, 2022

Due to a snafu last week, this post did not get published correctly, so here it is again and one other post as well in an effort to catch up.  There’ll be two next week as well then back to one a week.  

Saturday morning we drove the remaining 80 miles to Pitlochry stopping enroute at Blair Atholl Castle to get the scoop on tomorrow’s highland games.

The modern Highland games are largely a 19th century development, from the period following the Jacobite rebellions and subsequent ban on Highland Dress. Attempts have been made to discover earlier traditions of games, although the evidence is thin. The primary sources are from the bardic traditions of both contests between clans and of tests to select retainers for clan chiefs. An example of a possible early games venue was in the south of the Scotland Highlands.  Some modern sources suggest more of  these games would originate from the deer hunts that the inhabitants of the Highlands engaged in.

 The first historical reference to the type of events held at Highland Games in Scotland was made during the time of King Malcolm III c. 1031 – 1093) when he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich overlooking Braemar with the aim of finding the fastest runner in Scotland to be his royal messenger. There are also thought to have been events where the strongest and bravest soldiers in Scotland would be tested. Musicians and dancers were encouraged to reveal their skill and talents and so be a great credit to the clan that they represented. There is a document from 1703 summoning the clan of the Laird of Grant, Clan Grant. They were to arrive wearing Highland coats and “also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk”. From this letter, it is surmised that the competitions would have included feats of arms.

 In their original form many centuries ago, Highland Games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics to be what the games are all about—in short, that the athletics are the Games, and all the other activities are just entertainment. Regardless, it remains true today that the athletic competitions are at least an integral part of the events and one—the caber toss—has come to almost symbolize the Highland Games.

Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.

  • Caber toss: A long log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands. Then the competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with the upper (larger) end striking the ground first. The smaller end that was originally held by the athlete then hits the ground in the 12 o’clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the athlete is said to have turned the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length, weight, taper, and balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o’clock toss on an imaginary clock.
  • Stone put or “putting the heavy stone”: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. In the “Open Stone” using a 16–22 lb (7–10 kg) stone for men (8–12 lb or 3.5–5.5 kg for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either the “glide” or the “spin” techniques.
  • Scottish hammer throw: This event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball weighing 16 or 22 lb (7.25 or 10 kg) for men, or 12 or 16 lb (5.5 or 7.25 kg) for women, is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet (1.2 metres) in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.
  • Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.
  • Weight over the bar, also known as weight for height. The athletes attempt to toss a 56-pound weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.

 The games are claimed to have influenced Baron Pierre de Coubertin when he was planning the revival of the Olympic Games. De Coubertin saw a display of Highland games at the Paris Exhibition of 1889.

We found out there was free parking and lots of it and that we could visit the actual castle at a discounted rate if we wanted while there tomorrow.  We have booked a nearby campsite (well closest we could get which is about 6 miles away) and headed there next.  We took hot showers, Fran did a load of laundry and we booked a pool/hot tub/sauna/steam room time of 5 o’clock.  This campground is quite huge and is also what they call a “holiday” park here in the UK.  This means that there are small mobile homes to own or rent and the park is maybe 60% these types of units with the rest being caravan (Trailer) and motorhome sites.  The place has everything you need and is well maintained.   The sun peeked out more than usual today although we had the “compulsory Scottish rain” in the morning.

For our hit tub soak,  we brought canned beer and were almost through it before we got told “no alcohol”.  Oh well

Sunday morning we had the same sort of weather as yesterday but with less sun and no morning rain – that showed up in the middle of the afternoon.  We were among the second row of parking set up and they nicely set us up at the end of a row close to the exit.

the castle grounds gates

By the time the day was well under way there were a good 7 double rows of vehicles and we’d guess hundreds (but not thousands) of spectators.  A decent crowd but  not so many as to feel claustrophobic.

Around the Arena there were lots of sweets, hot food and some sales tents set up; a few kiddie rides like a merry go round, giant inflatable things and a beer garden.

We first made our way to Blair Castle before the Highland games to have a look around and checked out some of the gardens but did not pay the extra to go inside.

In the Arena there were three “stations” where pipers played and were being judged; a stage for highland dancing and a section for the main heavyweight competition.  Around mid morning a “corner” was set up for wrestling, tug of wars and running races.

The bagpipes and highland dancing competitions had just begun as we returned.

Around 11 the local heavyweight competition began and we watch the 28lb weight throw for distance:

The 16lb hammer throw

The Shot put

The caber toss

At the mid way point they had some children involved in 100 yard etc. dashes

After their march in, the Highlanders did a relay race:

Then Open Competition started where there were a few Czechs participating and Scots from other counties.

Around 1:15 they had the Highlanders parade of the Atholl highlanders of which there are about 100 – in order to belong to this group, you must be invited by the Duke of Atholl no less.

We got lucky where we were standing as the parade went right by us!

The open young men’s wrestling competition began right where we were sanding at that time and we could also watch the races across the way:

At this point it had begun to rain and people began leaving.

So we moved to the other side of the arena to watch the Farmer’s walk

More highland dancing

And 56lb weight over the bar throw

After this event it was raining hard and there wasn’t much left to watch so we called it quits and went back to the campground.

Today was the day of the gold medal game at the world cup hockey and our son Josh found us a website to watch it on so we made popcorn and settled in to cheer.  It was the home team Finland against Canada.

While Canada go the first goal (in a power play against the one team in the tournament where so far Finland had not been scored on in a power play),

after a bad reffing call in the second period, the Fins managed two power play goals followed a regular time one.  In the final few minutes of the third and final period, Canada tied up the game and it went into overtime.  Overtime in international hockey is 3 on 3 (with goalies) in the standard twenty minute periods until one team scores.  Sadly for us, that was not Canada.

Monday morning it was cloudy once again and we left around 10:30 after making breakfast.  Today’s destination was touring the  “Kingdom of Fife”.  This county is so called because its existence can be traced back to pre roman times when the ancient peoples called Picts lived here.

First stop was St. Andrews where although we are not golfers, we wanted to get a glimpse at the famous St. Andrews golf course.  Turns out the parking area we’d pick to stay in was between it and the beach called the West Sands (the beach used in “Chariots of Fire”).  Fist off it’s a beautiful beach

The St. Andrews golf course is actually six courses with another just out of town.  They were setting up stands etc for the upcoming tournaments including the British Open.

We took a lovely stroll around the city seeing:

The ruins of a cathedral

And then a stroll down a lovely touristy cobbled street where we stopped in at Taste of Scotland for our country Christmas ornament souvenir – we bought a replica of a hairy coo with a tartan cap on and then at a bottle store also called Taste of Scotland where Fran bought a mini bottle of scotch whiskey:

And then a bakery for some treats.

We walked back to Minou and continued our drive on the Fife Coastal Route through some small towns until arriving at Elie and Earlsferry where we parked in one fo the designated motorhome bays at Ruby Beach.  There are seven of these and only those in these spots can overnight for free.  There are no services other than a bathroom block that is only open during the day and several rubbish bins near some park benches.  We chose a bay where we could park horizontal to the sea and spent a lovely afternoon and night here.  Today it also sprinkled a few times although the afternoon was super sunny.

We had a bit of a similar length drive on Tuesday.  We left Elie Earlsferry and continued to drive west along the Forth inlet and crossed the inlet at Kincardine Bridge.

Then we began heading towards Edinburgh but stopped at the Helix Park to take a stroll and view the Kelpies.

WE learned it was called Helix park as the trails interwine so much, it looks like a helix….okay.   The Kelpes are huge sculptures of horses heads.

What is a kelpie you ask?  It’s a shape-shifting spirt that inhabits the lochs and canals in Scottish folklore.  It is usually described as a black horse-like creature that is able to adopt human form. They are often considered to be evil spirits but not always.   They are said to appear to their human victims as a horse, entice them to ride on their back and then they are carried off to a watery grave.  

The park also includes a lagoon and fun looking playground:

The weather was mostly sunny now and it was getting a bit warmer – we might hit 14 today if we’re lucky but the forecast predicts, you guessed it, rain this afternoon!

From here we drove less than 8 miles to Linlithgow to a parking lot near the town’s castle there allows overnight parking.  We took strolls along the loch to see the castle and by 2 it was cloudy over and raining so we were back inside nice and dry.

For a  parking lot, we had a quiet night (except for seagulls landing on our roof!) and it sprinkled a few times overnight.  We left Linlithgow around 8 and headed towards Edinburgh.  Enroute we stopped to see Blackness Castle

Google shot from above

Blackness Castle was built probably on the site of an earlier fort in the 1440s. At this time, Blackness was the main port serving the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, one of the main residences of the Scottish monarch. The castle, together with the Crichton lands, passed to King James II in 1453, and the castle has been crown property ever since. It served as a state prison. 

Strengthened  in the mid-16th century, the castle became one of the most advanced artillery fortifications of its time in Scotland. A century later, these defenses were not enough to prevent Blackness falling to Cromwell’s army in 1650. Some years after the siege, the castle was repaired, and again served as a prison and a minor garrison. In 1693, the spur protecting the gate was heightened, and the Stern Tower shortened as a base for three heavy guns. 

Because of its site, jutting into the Forth, and its long, narrow shape, the castle has been characterized as “the ship that never sailed”. The north and south towers are often named “stem” and “stern”, with the central tower called the “main mast”.

The gate was closed and locked so Doug got us parked and we walked into the grounds.  This castle is shaped like a ship but form our angle, we couldn’t quite see that although we could see the “point”.

We continued east to Edinburgh, stopped for diesel and groceries at Tesco and then after a bit of a struggle we got a street parking spot.  Parking in this city is hard, few large lots and even fewer spots for motorhomes so after a bit of time, we found a street spot and after several backs and forth’s we more or less got into a spot.  But get this, it cost £4.90 an hour!  In reality, we’ve had lots of free parking spaces so we can’t really complain but it did hurt.  We were able to pay by the Ring Go app and paid for three hours, hoping that was enough as the max is four hours.

We walked around this city as the sun began to show its face, observing the amazing looking stone buildings along the Royal Mile,

the Princess Gardens

Diagon Alley (Victoria Street)

St. Giles Cathedral

Grassmarket shopping area and of course, Edinburgh Castle.

We finished the day back at Grassmarket to enjoy a pint after extending our parking time on the App – how convenient, not to have to go back to the vehicle to do this!

A memorial to Sir Walter Scott, a Scottish writer – which you can see from all over the city.

Following Scott’s death in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument to him. An unlikely entrant went under the pseudonym “John Morvo”, the medieval architect of Melrose Abbey. Morvo was in fact George MeikleKemp, 45 year-old joiner, draftsman, and self-taught architect. He had feared that his lack of architectural qualifications and reputation would disqualify him, but his design was popular with the competition’s judges, and they awarded him the contract to construct the monument in 1838.

John Steell was commissioned to design a monumental statue of Scott to rest in the centre space within the tower’s four columns. It is made from white Carrara marble and shows Scott seated, resting from writing one of his works with a quill pen, his dog, Maida, by his side. The monument carries 64 figures of characters from Scott’s novels, sculpted by Scots sculptors. 

There is also a statue of David Livingstone immediately east of this monument.

Then we just had to try a Scottish treat – a deep friend Mars bar!  It was okay but not something we’d do again any time soon.

We ended the day with full sunshine at a private house that offers a large green space for 8-10 motorhomes.  Stuart greeted us with a smile and showed us where to park and explained the amenities offered. They have water, power, a composting toilet and a dump site.  We think we’ll hang for two or three days to get some down time as we are almost finished with Scotland and figure on catching the ferry around June 16th to return to the Schengen and after a stop in Germany to visit with Frank  Antje that we met back in Uganda (fellow big supporters of Kitojo) we will head to Scandinavia for the summer.

FYI Today was our FIRST day in Scotland without a drop of rain!  Finally!

Thursday the 2nd of June began with sunny skies and since we are here for a couple of nights Doug decided to take one of his long walks and set out early to try and do same.  He’s hoping his hip and elbow can make it through.  He’s been resting them more and more lately and taking some NSAID’s.  His tooth seems to have fixed itself so that’s one good thing.

We couldn’t seem to get a second day of no rain as this afternoon it sprinkled for about a half hour after we both returned for our walks (Fran’s was much shorter!) and after showering we relaxed inside today.

We have one last thing we want to visit in Scotland before crossing over the border back into England:  The Rosslyn Chapel used in DA Vinci Code.  Fran got us some tickets online for the next day.

Rosslyn Chapel, formerly known as the Collegiate Chapel of St Matthew, is a 15th-century chapel located south of Edinburgh.

Rosslyn Chapel was founded on a small hill above Roslin Glen as a Catholic collegiate church (with between four and six ordained canons and two boy choristers) in the mid-15th century. The chapel was founded by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness. Rosslyn Chapel is the third Sinclair place of worship at Roslin, the first being in Roslin Castle and the second (whose crumbling buttresses can still be seen today) in what is now Roslin Cemetery.

After the Scottish Reformation (1560), Catholic worship in the chapel was brought to an end. The Sinclair family continued to be Catholics until the early 18th century. From that time, the chapel was closed to public worship until 1861. It was reopened as a place of worship according to the rites of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a member church of the Anglican Communion.

The chapel was the target of a terrorist bombing in 1914, when a suffragette bomb exploded inside the building during the suffragette bombing and arson campaign.

Since the late 1980s, the chapel has been the subject of speculative theories concerning a connection with the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail, and Freemasonry. It was prominently featured in this role in Dan Brown’s bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) and its 2006 film adaptation. Medieval historians say these accounts have no basis in fact.

Rosslyn Chapel remains privately owned. The current owner is the 7th Earl of Rosslyn.

Sadly we awoke to cloudy but dry skies and cooler weather; Fran had to go back to sneakers; yuck!

We had a 10:40 visit scheduled for the chapel but as we left early, we hoped we could get into the 9am slot and we did.

This is a beautiful building inside and out with stone carvings and engravings everywhere; for a Catholic chapel it was a nice surprise to see no gold anywhere and it was beautiful!  Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside so here’s a few photos we took from the brochure and form online:

This is our entire route through Scotland.