Highland Games 2011


Angela’s friends Kim and Joyce host a Highland Games event in their backyard every October. We’ve been meaning to attend for the last couple years, and finally we were able to make it! The day consisted of several feats of skill and strength, including archery, a caber toss, and more. The final event was a full scale tug o’ war. Men were required to wear a kilt to participate, and the womenfolk busied themselves gossiping, enjoying the plentiful food and drink, or cheering on their man.

Never having done any archery before, I failed this task pretty spectacularly. Despite my poor showing, I really enjoyed the event, and would like to take another stab at archery some time. Next was the caber toss, another thing I’d never done before. The actual tossing of the caber was not particularly hard, in and of itself. To account for this, there were several rounds of qualifying challenges to determine who would be the victor of this particular event. First was to merely toss the caber and ensure it landed in as close to a straight line as possible. Everyone passed this test. Next was to toss the caber and ensure that it straddled a rope placed in the yard: some portion of the caber had to be covering the rope while still trying to keep it in a “12 o’clock” position with respect to the starting position. I think all but one man passed this test. The final stage was to have the caber land on two segments of rope, about four or five feet apart from one another. This was to represent a stream or creek across which an historical caber might be tossed in order to cross that water. Again, the straightness of the caber was an element of the competition. Most men were quickly eliminated during this round, including myself.

A typical caber is almost twenty feet long, and weighs about 175 pounds. The one we used was probably half the size and weight of a “real” caber, but it was still a challenge to heft it and control its direction during the throw. This activity was surprisingly exhilarating, despite (or perhaps because of!) its comparative simplicity. It required the use of multiple muscle groups, and sheer strength wasn’t a contributing factor to success. There was a level of finesse involved, especially on the last round, and it was simply a lot of fun to do!

After the caber toss we did a sheaf toss and a modified version of a hammer throw. Instead of a hammer, we used fifteen pounds of concrete with a metal handle protruding. We were pretty lax with the rules, allowing any throwing technique desired provided that the thrower’s toes didn’t cross the trig. Finally we did a sheaf throw, where we gripped the sheaf with our hands and hurled it over our shoulders. I got third place in both the sheaf toss and sheaf throw, and I won first place in the hammer throw by a pretty substantial margin.

The final event, a tug o’ war, promised to be a very fun exercise, and my team was extremely confident. As we drew the rope taut, Kim called out the countdown. At “three!” we heaved as hard as we could, only to hear the rope loudly snap in two, depositing most contestants from both teams unceremoniously on their bottoms. I think only me and one or two other guys managed to stay standing!

With the tug o’ war cancelled, the individual player scores were tabulated and much to my surprise I was tied for second place! In order to determine who would earn second and third place, the other fellow and I had a pure test of strength: to see who could hold aloft a large battle axe – single handed, with arm fully extended – the longest. The other guy went first, and held the axe up for a grueling minute and twenty nine seconds. I was pretty confident that I could hold it for a minute and half – the extra second beyond his time being all I needed to secure victory – but alas, my muscles were burning a hot flame in my arm by one minute and fifteen seconds, and I ruefully conceded defeat. I can’t complain too much: I scored third place overall on my very first effort at the Games!

All in all, the Highland Games was a spectacular amount of fun! Everyone was friendly and welcoming. The activities were spirited and satisfying. The food was delicious and the drink was plentiful. We’re definitely putting this on our calendar for next year.

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