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My parents time in Scotland has come to a close.  Today’s post is a review of the Scottish Stirling Highland Games that they attended while they were there.  For other reports from their time in the United Kingdom, see

Stirling Highland Games – authentic Scottish Games

What first sparked my interest in Scottish history and culture was attending a Scottish Highland Games event in Radford, Virginia in 2001. This was followed by 9 years of attending the annual Ohio Scottish Games with my sons. So when we planned our trip to Scotland, we made sure to include a day at “real” Scottish games.

Highland games are held annually in many Highland towns, from May through September. Checking the Highland Games website we had lots of choices for the 2 Saturdays we would be in Scotland. The one that best fit our schedule was the Stirling Highland Games on Saturday, August 19th. The Stirling Games have been held since 1870, so they have a long tradition. We were staying in Edinburgh, and had been in Stirling the previous Saturday to tour the castle, so the 45-minute drive up was over semi-familiar ground.
I had hoped this event would be an interesting comparison to what I have seen in America. And it was a very different event. To be honest, it was a disappointment for me.

Events at the Stirling Highland Games

We arrived at the games expecting to pay the 16-pound admission fee for the two of us with a credit card. But they were only taking cash, and there were no ATM’s nearby. We had 12 pounds 20 pence in our pockets. Christy explained that we were there on holiday from the states, had just driven up from Edinburgh, and didn’t have that much cash on hand. The lady selling tickets let us in for 10 pounds – a touch of Scottish kindness

a man and woman holding swords

It was largely a track-and-field event, with competitors of all ages and genders, from neighboring towns, competing in running and cycling events of various distances, on a soggy grass track. It rained off and on all day, and there were no bleachers for the spectators. So we walked and stood in the mud. Being a road cyclist myself, I was most interested in seeing the bike races. The cycling was done on fixed gear bikes with no brakes (similar to bikes raced on velodromes). The lightweight bikes with thin tires seemed ill suited to the boggy track.

a man riding a bicycle on grass

This type of bicycle racing was new to me, along with the handicapping system. Kind of like average scores in golf or bowling. Faster runners or cyclists were positioned a calculated distance behind the slower ones. They all start with the same pistol shot, and theoretically, if everyone ran at their average, they would all converge on the finish at the same time. Between the heats I had some time to chat with a few of the cyclists, and get some questions answered.

Band at the Stirling Scottish Highland Games

In addition to the track events, they did have a small pipe band, highland dancing competition, and a few heavy weight athletes throwing stones. And the only ones wearing kilts were pipe band members, the Highland dancers, the heavy weight athletes, and the announcers. I did not see any spectators wearing kilts as they do in America.

a group of men in kilts playing bagpipes

I really missed the other features of American games: the music (folk singers, harpists and fiddlers), the Royal Scottish Country Dancing, historical re-enactors (McFarlane’s Company), the clan village, the parade of the clans, and the massed pipe bands.

a woman in a dress jumping on a stage

After barely two hours in Stirling, we headed for “home”, to our apartment in Edinburgh.

If you travel to Scotland to visit the Scottish Highland Games in Stirling, here are 3 activities you don't want to miss

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