Hot times at the Luss Highland Games
Near the top of our list of things to do in Scotland was to take in a Highland Games. These events are held in various towns across the Highlands all summer long. We chose to stop by the Luss games, near the shores of Loch Lomond, since it was conveniently on our route between Oban and Edinburgh.
Feats of Strength & Endurance
One of the highlights of the games is the “Heavy” events where strong men in kilts compete in traditional feats of strength including picking up and flipping a ‘caber’ (a.k.a. huge log) end over end, hurling huge rocks, and using a pitchfork to throw a bundle of branches high in the air.
In addition to the heavy events there is a full slate of track and field events along with bike races around the turf track.
Feats of Silliness
Many of the events at the Highland Games are open to local or ‘serious’ registered competitors only, but other events are open to anyone. Some of these open events included crowd-pleasers like pillow-fighting on a raised log and obstacle races.
In one game called ‘tip the bucket’ one person pushed a teammate in a wheelbarrow, who in turn tried to toss a spear through a small hole in a board attached to a bucket. The penalty for missing was a bucket of ice-cold water on their heads.
The kilted dash was very popular. As you might guess, it was a sprint open to anyone wearing a kilt.
Our Turn to Compete
We were excited to find out that we could actually compete in the games in addition to watching them! The boys signed up to compete in the visitors sprint, and I (Wes) signed up for a 200m race and the hill race. We expected to pay an entry fee for the privilege, but we actually got paid 2GBP each for signing up to compete!
The boys sprint was handicapped, with the younger kids getting a head start over the older ones. It was a close race and both boys finished near the front but out of the top three.
I’m stronger in long distance events rather than sprints; unfortunately the 5km race was only open to ‘serious’ athletes. Instead I signed up for the 200m visitors race and the hill race.
When signing up for the hill race the person taking registrations gave me a sideways glance and asked “Are you sure you want to do that?”. I knew then that I had to take part 🙂
The 200m visitors race was first and a large field of visitors of varying fitness levels lined up to race. I finished in the middle of the pack, but it was a good warm-up for what was to come.
The field of competitors for the hill race was much smaller, about 10 people, half of which seemed to be a group of friends from The Netherlands. There was supposed to be a locals and a visitors hill race, but no locals signed up (clearly they knew something we didn’t).
We lined up and the starting gun went off. We ran one lap around the track before leaving the arena to head up the nearby hill (or was it a mountain?!). At the top was a yellow flag that we had to reach. The first one up and back down would be the winner.
The race to the top was partly along trails, then sheep trails, then open grassland, then through weeds up to shoulder high. A few of the racers looked like they had actually done this kind of thing before and I tried to keep up with them as they made their way to the summit.
Going Up is the Easy Part
I reached the flag in the top half of the field and was feeling good. The view of Loch Lomond from the top was spectacular. I wished I had brought my phone with me to take a photo, but I had decided not bring it in case I fell (I didn’t want to break it). That proved to be a mistake not because of the lack of a camera, but because of the lack of GPS.
After I reached the summit and began my way back down I soon found out that my road running shoes which had been OK on the way up were extremely poorly-suited for a quick descent. The footing was very uneven, and each step risked a twisted ankle. Soon I lost sight of the leaders and had to find my own route down the hill.
It was not long before I was well off course. I reached the face of a rock cliff that I hadn’t remembered seeing on the way up. One of the Dutch racers had made the unfortunate decision to follow me. As I lowered myself down the rock face he said “I don’t think we’re supposed to go down this cliff!” I was already halfway down so I kept going. Not having learned his lesson, he kept following me into additional obstacles.
Next I found more chest-high weeds, then a couple of barbed-wire fences that I had to scale, then a wooded boggy area that soaked my shoes in muck and left me with muddy legs. I kept heading downhill (still trailed by the Dutchman) until I finally got back to a part of the trail that I recognized from the climb up.
I made it back to the arena where I ran one more lap before crossing the finish line. My misadventure down the hill had cost me several places but I avoided being last and I was officially a Highland Games competitor 🙂
Summing Up Our Highland Games Experience
We had a great time watching and competing in the Highland Games. We made a full day of it and did not get back on the road to Edinburgh until late in the afternoon. Fortunately there was plenty of food and drink on offer so that we didn’t go hungry or thirsty. The only thing we wished we had brought was some shade – it was a very sunny day and it got quite hot in the afternoon.
The Highland Games is a unique Scottish experience that is not to be missed!