The Highland Games of Perthshire
Summer brings with it the return of one of the great Scottish traditions – the Highland Games. With origins that predate recorded history, Highland Games celebrations can be found mentioned in programs as early as the 11th century, wherein King Malcolm III of Scotland summoned locals to compete in a foot race in order to find a new royal messenger. What we think of as the modern template for the games comes from Victorian times, and Queen Victoria herself was known to be a fan (and royals to this day make attending the Braemar games an annual tradition).
The combination of sporting events, music, food, dance and good old fashioned banter has lured visitors to Scotland from far and wide, both as spectators and competitors. Such events remain great traditions in their respective locations and Perthshire is no exception. We’ve put together a quick list of some of the most notable examples of Perthshire based Highland Games, including Perth City’s own festivities. Everywhere is within convenient driving distance of Perth. If you’d like to know more about Highland Games, check out the website of the Scottish Highland Games Association.
1) Balquhidder, Lochearnhead & Strathyre
Description: Situated on the banks of the scenic Loch Earn, about an hour’s drive from Perth city centre, the Balquhidder, Lochearnhead & Strathyre Highland Games hope to take advantage of the glorious, if occasionally spotty, Scottish Summer and provide the perfect July day out.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 36 miles
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These games are the host to the British heavyweight championships and continue to present the Ewen Cameron Cup to best competitor in the ball, hammer and caber events respectively. The Druim a’ Charraigh Quaich is presented annually to the winner of the Piobaireachd Competition for best piping.
While the final schedule of events has yet to be confirmed, expect an assortment of classic Highland Games favourites, from running to piping, dancing to heavyweight and more.
Description: A rare midweek Highland Games – perfect for the school holidays this August – Killin, located at the Western head of Loch Tay, may be a small town but its games are a mighty celebration of what’s best about the tradition.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 44 miles
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Following on from the ancient practice of clan chiefs hosting foot races in order to find the fastest messenger, Killin games host their own race through the glorious surroundings of the town and neighbouring hills of the Perthshire Highlands.
It’s a long, steep and often slippery trek but glory awaits the winners. Enjoy a (hopefully) hot Summer’s day as the athletes get to work across various disciplines, with dancing, music, sports and more for you to see, all to the best backdrop possible.
3)Atholl and Breadalbane
Description: Wade’s Park comes alive every August for the annual Atholl & Breadalbane Agricultural Show and Highland Gathering. The picturesque setting provides the perfect backdrop to a Summer’s day of traditional fun and games.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 31 miles
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Held over two days, you can enjoy horse and pony classes for all ages, local Highland dancers and heavyweight athletes, vintage tractors, a variety of pipe bands and traditional music, the adorable terrier race, craft stalls, merchants, and much more. A full events timetable, along with further information, is available on their website.
Description: Last year’s Perth Highland Games saw a record 6500 visitors enjoy a host of festivities of the North Inch, and this year’s event looks set to be even bigger.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 2 miles
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All of the games favourites will be there, from Highland dancing to pipe bands, track events to classics like tossing the caber and hammer throw, along with an assortment of stalls and food trucks and fairground attractions for kids. There’s no need to pre-book your tickets: Just turn up on the day. Check out their website for more information.
Description: The Crieff Highland Games have run almost every year since 1870 and welcome people far and wide to Market Park for the festivities.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 18 miles
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Every year the chieftain of the games is a special guest of honour and past chieftains have included actor and former Crieff resident Ewan Mcgregor, comedian Elaine C Smith and rugby player Kenny Logan. This year, the games welcome David Murchie, Golf Professional at Crieff and Chairmain of the PGA, to lead the celebrations.
The first three pipe bands of the games have already been announced, but make sure you keep an eye on their Facebook page for more updates in the lead-up to the big day.
Description: Much like the small and beautiful town they are located in, the Birnam Highland Games are notable due to their compact and intimate size.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 14 miles
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The local focused event prides itself on its warm, community feeling, free of major commercialisations. Taking place every year on the last Saturday of August, Birnam’s games include all the expected sights and activities, plus a world haggis eating championship for those brave enough to test their stomachs.
The day begins with the clan chieftain leading the procession, accompanied by the Blairgowrie and Rattray Pipe Band and Atholl Highlanders, from the Square in Dunkeld to the official location, and then the traditional Atholl Highlanders cannon is set off to announce the beginning of the celebrations.
Description: Surrounded by the incredible scenery of Highland Perthshire, the Strathardle Highland Gathering and Games is organised by a small but dedicated team of local volunteers who pride themselves on bringing the best of local talent, produce, agriculture and traditions to one place.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 29 miles
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These unique games focus particularly on home industries and agriculture in their games, with special prizes awarded for cooking, baking, handcrafts and garden produce. The agriculture show is also home to a selection of local livestock and series of competitions, open to all. Two tug o’ war competitions will take place: One for the two neighbouring teams of Glens of Strathardle and Blackwater, and one with open registration, if you fancy getting stuck in amongst the heavyweights.
If you’d prefer to just watch, no worries, because there’s plenty for spectators to take in; from the old favourite shot putt and hammer throws to an array of Highland dancers and pipe bands performing all day. A full list of events, further information and more can be found on their website.
Description: Located just on the outskirts of town, the Blairgowrie Highland Games takes place on the Sunday following Braemar Night, the town’s annual celebration dating back to the 1960s. That makes for a jam packed weekend of a mixture of traditional events and modern fun
Distance from Perth City Centre: 16 miles
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The Highland Games are particularly notable for their mass tug o’ war, where as many contestants as possible from both Blairgowrie and Rattray compete against one another for supreme victory. This is now open to everyone so even if you’re not a local, you can throw down the challenge, pick a side and compete in a real Highland Games.
Along with the usual fun, Blair games also host a charity dog show to support Staffie Smiles Rescue. Come along and enjoy the cute sights or enter your own pooch for a prize. On top of all that, there’s a delectable host of local delicacies and food trucks available to sample. You can check out the full schedule of events for this year’s games on their website.
Description: Pitlochry have been hosting visitors and competitors in the great Highland Games spirit since 1852, and their celebrations remain one of the most popular and iconic in the country.
Distance from Perth City Centre: 27 miles
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With crowds of up to 5000 people lining the Recreation Ground, athletes from far and wide can expect a warm welcome and enthusiastic support in events as varied as tug o’ war, cycling, long jump, running, heavyweight league and more.
While the expected events are all at Pitlochry games, their approach is unique in that they promise to double any prize money on offer if the competitor breaks any record, adding to the enthusiasm of events such as tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and throwing a 56lb weight over the bar (the current world record for that one is 15 foot 9 inches – about the same as throwing a seven year old child over a double decker bus! We don’t recommend that).
As one of the final games on the calendar, Pitlochry offer a beautiful and inclusive day out for all, steeped in great tradition. You can find out more on their website.
Find The Highland Games of Perthshire!
Now you know where The Highland Games of Perthshire are, it’s time to get out and explore! In case you aren’t familiar with Perthshire, here’s a map to help you find all the Highland Games mentioned above.