The Friendly Highland Games

Our very lucky friend and happy dog live with a most spectacular view of the Cairngorm mountain range across the Spey valley, where Nethybridge village can just be seen peeking out from tall pine trees.

Cairngorm mountains view scottish highlands

One of our reasons for visiting specifically on the weekend of 8th August, was to go to the Abernethy Highand Games (also known as The Friendly Games), one of the longest established in Scotland, not the biggest but still bursting with community spirit and bag(pipe)s’ of atmosphere.

It’s wonderful how the honouring of tradition and strong family links ensure this event continues and is so well attended.  All generations and nationalities are involved, the Highland traditions on full display across a range of events, taken so seriously by young and old, locals and those who travel from across the world.

Abernethy massed pipe bands

The diversity was on show from the moment of the opening ceremony when massed pipe bands, made up of proud gentlemen (and a lady) band leaders, led an amazing variety of musicians into the arena marching in formation.

massed pipe band leaders highland games

All sizes and shapes contributed to the dominating bag pipe sounds whilst a gawky looking, ginger haired teenage boy marched with his tiny, shiny xylophone behind a very sassy looking dark haired teenage girl on the snare drum.

At the rear of the parade, members of clan Grant from all around the world, marched with their tartan worn in various ways.  Some in their full highland dress and others, quite comically and not particularly successfully as you can probably imagine, disguising baggy American chinos and colourful German sweaters with their swathes of tartan.

scottish bag pipes Abernethy

As the competitions got under way in the sports ground, young girls danced daintily on platforms not far from burley men howling with exertion as they tossed their cabers and hammers.

highland dancers abernethy games

We never did figure out why and quite how it worked but the end of the band’s competition was a tug of war between each of the different groups. One band (with a bias in their numbers towards burly men rather than spindly teenagers) was dominant from the start but it was heartwarming to see that when it was not their turn to compete they were coaching and encouraging all of the other teams.

The final battle was between the favourites and the youngest and smallest looking team who looked pale, weary and overwhelmed as they picked up the heavy rope facing their huge opposition.  They managed a rather unexpected victory though; as the shout came to start, the ‘professionals’ dug in and heaved hard but perfectly timed, the ‘underdogs’ all simultaneously let go of the rope resulting in the favourites collapsing backwards in an embarrassing heap, saluted by a great cheer from the crowd.  The favourites won overall of course and where laughing and applauding along with the crowd as everyone shook hands, it epitomised the atmosphere of the day and spirit by which the games are played.

Throughout the day the haunting noise of the pipes was ever-present, from the nervous individuals competition to the very serious, regional bands tournament, the whole event culminating in a massed band march round and out of the arena, it cannot fail to bring a lump to your throat.

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