Recently I attended the Highland Games near a small village about ten or fifteen miles outside of Inverness. There were so many families and children there. It was a true community event. This veg and fish eater happily ate a venison burger with sautéed onions straight off the barbeque.
Little did I know that I would be IN the games. And in the Heavy events as well as the hill run relay. Having been to the Braemar games last year I had seen the heavy events (in one of those odd twists in my adventures I ended up sitting near Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles). Watching someone else throw the Scots Hammer or toss a caber is nothing like trying to do it yourself. The Hammer was incredibly difficult to master in my five-second instruction. Never mind the darn thing was heavy! You’re supposed to keep your arms straight and swing it round your head and then twist your body and throw it. It’s too heavy to keep your arms straight when you’re new at it and when you get it going it throws you completely off balance. The momentum threw some women competitors to the ground. I managed to stay on my feet but didn’t place in the top 3 out of the field of about 8-10 women. When I went to the Highland Games here in my own town this past weekend I noted that the Heavies (those competing in the Heavy events) all wore these metal things on their boots that they dug into the ground to keep them from being thrown on the ground or over the line and being disqualified. Those boot-thingys would have been nice to have.
The Stone Put, which is like shot put but with a large stone, was pretty straightforward. The organizer didn’t have any of us, men or women, spin around to do the Stone Put. We simple had to pick it up, position and launch it. I took second.
It was girls against guys for the Tug-of-War. The girls won both times.
And then there was the Caber Toss. This is one of my favorite Highland game events. I was excited and nervous. I couldn’t believe that I was expected to actually pick it up, balance it, run with it and toss it over… on a first go. This was a definite challenge. The hardest part is to get the thing off the ground and balanced on your two hands, which you have to get underneath the caber. Then you have to hoist it and balance it; its weight makes you sway and swerve. You need to get running with it balanced, lift it forward and toss it so that it flips completely over and hits as close to 12 noon on a clock dial as you can. The caber toss closest to noon wins. I was ecstatic that I successfully balanced and flipped it but it landed at about 10. I didn’t end up placing in the top 3. But not too bad a showing for my first Highland Games.
There were many teams in the Hill Run Relay. I’m not a runner and was dismayed to discover that the 2 people in front of me weren’t there at each handoff, so I had to keep running. Some confusion had ensued at one point and some people who were not participating had been assigned a leg and so they weren’t at their handoff point. One of the legs included running across a very narrow log several feet off the ground. I couldn’t even hoist myself up on the log by myself after running full tilt but once up I managed to balance and run across without falling (and having to start over), pushing hard through the final legs to the end to help our team to second.
This was an incredibly cool event for several reasons. My assigned leg was #8 and was high on a hill as the sun was setting. Since I had so many runners before me I had time to soak in the crazy amazing view. Loch Ness shimmered and stretched out below me to my right as it met the gorgeous Scotland summer evening sky; the diffused light made the distant hills seem to glow. Dotting the hill across from mine were white puffs of sheep and I could hear people laughing and encouraging each other on at different parts of the forest in their charming Scottish Highland accent. As I began to run I heard them calling my name and cheering me on, which gave me what I needed to finish strong.
It was a beautiful night running down the soft green hill, through the trees and across the clear, grassy meadow. One man turned to me and said, ‘I’ve lived in Scotland near all my life and this is the first time I’ve participated in the games, and here you have already. Well done.’ And I thought, ‘Well done Scotland for having a community event like this. What fun! And what an unforgettable night.’
To cap it off a woman approached me and asked me if I was at the gym in Inverness earlier that week. It turns out she was in my class and we ended up partnering up the next time we were at class. It’s a nice feeling when you’re new to an area and you start to run into people here and there. I can’t always remember because everyone’s new all the time so it’s nice when they remember you and start a conversation. It was really a wonderful thing that night as I was away from my own town and I was actually hesitant to go to these games as I wasn’t sure if I was up to being around strangers that night. It was so great when someone there ‘knew’ me. And people turned out not to be strangers at all. So welcoming and friendly. I hope that I am back in Scotland again to go to these games.
Clip of amateur heavies and the real heavies