Gordon Highland Games

It was yet another sunny and beautiful Sunday in Scotland when Lindsay and I set out for a 4-day adventure across the Scottish Highlands to the west coast from Aberdeen. The general route we followed (as shown below) included some interesting and extremely scenic sights along the way including the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cows), our ancestral town of Dingwall, the lovely little seaside village of Applecross, to and through Poolewe, Inverness to visit the gravesite of our 4th great grandma and a very interesting tour of a “Cooperage” in Aberlour where “Coopers” make whisky barrels for local distilleries.

trip map

I will be sharing these adventures with you over the next 3-4 blog posts and I’m hoping you’ll enjoy reading about them. Our first stop on May 20th was in a village called Fochabers (Point B on the map above), where we attended one of my favorite Scottish Events – Highland Games, this time hosted by Clan Gordon at Gordon Castle!

Through the gates with a throng of other attendees, we approached the imposing tower of Gordon Castle sitting center stage. I didn’t have to wait long before I was seeing one of my favorite sights – men in kilts!

Just to the left of the main entrance was a fantastic display of various birds of prey. Over the course of the day, the Falconer put on exhibitions of these marvelous and well-trained specimens of nature.  Aren’t they exquisite examples?

Highland Games always have a wide selection of traditional Scottish culinary specialties to tease your taste buds with. I noticed this vendor with his unique offering of smoked fish all stacked and cooking over the smoking barrel! Yum!

IMG_3507This fella looked mighty pleased with his purchase and delighted to be diving in for his first bite!

I’ve been to several Highland Games at various locations. They have all been similar in regards to their set up and content but Clan Gordon seemed to take a little bit different approach.

Usually, there is just one event field or arena, and all the various kinds of competitions take place in that field in sectioned off areas. The crowds watch from the perimeter of the field and roam around its periphery to watch certain events which interest them.

Gordon Castle was the centerpiece in this case and various areas around the castle were set up for particular events. For example, in the gardens in front of the castle, the Highland Dancing Competitions were held by themselves; separate from the main field events such as the heavyweight competitions.  At other games I’ve attended, the young lassies competed in a portion of the same field that the heavyweight events (such as Shot Put or Heavy Hammer Toss) were also taking place.

In addition, they actually had two main fields; one in front of the castle with various activities and demonstrations being conducted and the other, behind the castle in its backyard, if you will, where all of the heavyweight competitions took place.

Since we were still in the front area of the castle, we enjoyed watching the young girls all dressed up in their Highland Dance garb competing up on stage dancing their little hearts out to the sounds of the Piper. Aren’t they just adorable?

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Across the way from the dances,  in the front main field, there were other various demonstrations going on like this one that really appealed to the young teens in the crowd – the Savage Skills of mountain bike mastery!

IMG_3482We noticed a lot of people heading down a pathway toward the back of the castle.


We joined up with them to discover that the heavyweight competitions were being staged back there in another large arena and we arrived just in time to watch the Caber Toss.



Up close, one can see how muscular and strong the heavyweight competitors are! A lot of these guys travel all over the countryside competing against one another as they make their way around the circuit of highland games throughout the summer, vying for overall championship awards.  Other competitors might just be some local lads competing alongside them.

I could hear a pipe band playing in the background as I shot the video above so we decided we would go find where the music was coming from and also find some lunch while we were at it.

Along the way, we passed booth after booth of fine handcrafted items for sale and we also enjoyed the people watching.

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The couple below enjoys dressing up in period costumes from days past and it was fun to talk to them. I had seen them before at Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon a couple of years ago and it was good to see them again.



Eventually, we found the fish & chips vendor near this humungous Rhododendron bush! It must be hundreds of years old!

IMG_3569We sat in its shade enjoying our fish supper.

Afterward, another pipe band had started to play so we continued our search, following the sounds of pipes and drums until we found them playing near the back door of the castle.

I love listening to a pipe band and hearing the traditional tunes they play! It stirs my Scottish blood.

After that treat, we heard the announcement that the Heavy Hammer Toss competition was beginning in the main arena nearby.  Let’s head over there and check it out!

Oh, look! We are also just in time for the Tug-of-War too!

That was fun!IMG_3596

Now the lads are warming up for the Shot Put…



One aspect of Highland Games that I particularly enjoy is the inclusion of dogs – all kinds of dogs! Some are ‘working’ dogs and go everywhere they’re Masters venture, but others are just adorable pets.  They are all welcome at the games, and there is always a nice variety of breeds to enjoy.  And of course, some of them are just so darned cute!

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I really enjoyed the Gordon Highland games, but I have to admit that one aspect I didn’t like was that they had two large event fields with a lot of various activities happening in each.

It’s important to get a copy of the Schedule of Events when you first arrive at a game so you don’t miss your particular favorites and also position yourself around the field to get a good view of the event you want to watch, but at least it is all happening in just one field. At the Gordon Games, Lindsay and I found we had to go back and forth between each field as events we wanted to watch unfolded. That involved a lot of walking in the crowded pathways back and forth between them and that was tiring and taxing.

After watching the heavyweight competitions in the backfield, we had to walk back to the front field to watch the parade of the Pipe Bands.  This is the absolute best part of any highland game as far as I’m concerned! Lots of lads and lassies in kilts and they are playing drums and playing pipes!

Near the end of the afternoon, we spent our time walking around just enjoying the sights. This little darling had a perfect seat high above us on her “da’s” shoulders and other children of all ages were enjoying the ice cream in the warm afternoon sunshine.

We ventured into the big pavilion tent which had kinds of wonderful goodies you could taste test and yummy things for sale!

I bought a jar of Fresh Raspberry Jam from this sweet young lady but I really wanted a jar of each flavor! It was soooo good!

I definitely needed to sample this new variety of Scottish Whisky the Glenfiddich Distillery was offering up! IMG_3600

There were also a lot more handcrafted items for sale as well which featured some quite imaginative items amongst them.

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Just before we decided to call it a day, we noticed a “mum ‘n dad” race just about to begin in the nearby field where the kids’ races had been taking place earlier. That was fun to watch…IMG_3625

On the way out we finally found where they were holding the individual Piper’s Competitions – on the tennis courts back in a grove of trees – of course! It’s no wonder I kept hearing ‘distant’ pipes playing all day long and couldn’t ascertain where the sounds were coming from.  They were hiding!

Lindsay and I were having such a super day at the Gordon Highland Games, but we were getting a bit tuckered out from all the fun. Our lodging for the night was just a little further up the road on the coast at Lossiemouth. We were returning to Skerry Brae because we had enjoyed it so much a few weeks earlier and luckily they still had a room left just for us!IMG_1792

We got checked in and were promptly greeted by their friendly Bartender and “hostess with the mostess” in their bar and restaurant. She got us set up with fresh beverages to sip while they prepared our “dinner” (or as the Scottish would say – “tea”).

We enjoyed a really nice meal of surf & turf while we sat and watched a beautiful cloud formation drift by over the lighthouse in the distance and we reflected upon all that we had seen and done that first day of our adventure.

We soon thereafter settled off into a wonderful sound sleep for the rest of the night. What a perfect day it was!  In the morning we would be heading further west to the seaside village of Applecross! But that, my dear readers, is another story for yet another day…

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am so glad the tradition of Highland Games has been upheld and kept active over the centuries! What a fun event to attend.  The Scottish are very proud of their heritage and culture and I am grateful and honored by being counted among them.

Author: Claudia Frew

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

7 thoughts on “Gordon Highland Games”

  1. I am enjoying your blogs. I am going to Garmouth in late August. Seems my 6th, 7th and 8th grandparents are from that area. The name was Collie and is now Cooley. My 6th was the first to immigrate to “The Colonies”. I will use your latest blog as I spend time in that area.


    Andy Cooley Bessemer, Alabama USA

    Sent from my iPad



    1. That’s so cool Andy! I’m glad my blog is proving helpful to someone! How long are you going to be in Scotland and what do you plan on visiting while you’re there? So much to choose from! You will have a fantastic time! Would love to hear all about it if you care to share! ~ Claudia


  2. So glad you clued us in on clicking on the title of the blog because it makes a huge difference!!! Can never get enough of pipers and men in kilts and of course the caber toss and that tug of war was pretty gritty, I was holding my breath the whole time. And the dogs, they do include their dogs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Am pleased to hear my suggestion to click on the title to take you directly to WordPress was helpful Suzie. Glad to hear it made your viewing experience so much better! Yes! Wasn’t the tug-of-war good? It was a close contest!


  3. Just for info. Your video clip (Image 3535) about half way through the post, showing the Portsoy Pipers and drummers – the tune being played is ‘Highland Cathedral’ a popular bagpipe tune written by German musicians Ulrich Roever (R.I.P.) and Michael Korb.

    Liked by 1 person

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