The Royal Highland Gathering takes place on the first weekend of September each year, being Saturday the 2nd in 2023. Also known as the Braemar Gathering after the small Scottish town that hosts it on the southern border of the Cairngorms National Park, it has been a significant feature of the Scottish sporting calendar for hundreds of years. Today this festival draws participants and spectators from across the globe.
It is thought that the gathering began in the 11th century when King Malcolm Canmore visited Braemar and called upon the clans of the area to present their men to compete against each other to find the strongest, fastest and most skilled warriors. The competitions of the day were brutal, often resulting in the death of weaker contestants, but this was followed by much feasting and entertainment from storytellers, dancers and musicians during the evening. Despite a turbulent history, the Gathering had become well established by 1800 and has been run in its present form since 1832. It is one of the few Scottish events which is regularly attended by the royal family, securing royal patronage after Queen Victoria first attended the games in 1848. Since then, the royal family has visited the games every year, with the late Queen Elizabeth II having attended the event since she was 7 years old. For spectators, the gathering presents an opportunity to eat, drink, and socialise, whilst participants present their skills at a variety of sporting events.
The Heavies: For centuries the traditional caber toss, hammer throw, and stone put (like the Olympic shot put but with a stone or rock rather than a steel ball) have featured at the Royal Highland Gathering, with athletes from all over the world competing to showcase their strength at today’s games.
Pipe Bands and Solo Piping: A highland gathering wouldn’t be complete without music. The epitome of Scottish culture, bagpipe bands are an iconic part of the Braemar Gathering. For solo musicians, there are several categories of competition, with junior and senior musicians taking part, and a special category for pipers from the local area who help to keep this tradition alive in Scotland.
Dancing: Highland Dancing is one of the oldest forms of dance and dancing competitions have developed in the Scottish Highlands over centuries. Accompanied by bagpipe music, these competitions were, for many years, dominated by male participants but, since the introduction of the Aboyne dress, which dates to c.1867, female dancers were encouraged to take part and the sport is now dominated by women and girls.
Track Events: Like the track and field events you might at the modern Olympics, the Gathering hosts running races and jumping events such as long, high, and triple jump. These events present some of the oldest competitions held in Braemar as they would have taken place during the time of King Malcolm as he sought the fastest and most agile warriors from the local clans.
Hill Race: One of the most popular events, the hill race sees participants from across the UK, including members of the armed forces and a significant showing from running clubs from the Lake District, running approximately 3 miles, and climbing 1200 feet before completing a finishing lap in front of the Royal Pavilion.
Whilst steeped in tradition and history, the Royal Highland Gathering has also grown with the times and developed into a modern spectacle of Scottish culture. For more information about visiting or participating in the gathering visit www.braemargathering.org.