Guzzle a good dose of Scottish mojo

In their original form many centuries ago, the Scottish Highland Games revolved around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always part of the festivities, many today still consider Highland athletics what the games are all about.

Spectators will get to witness the games when the 62nd annual Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games and Glan Gathering takes place July 26-27 at the King County Fairgrounds in Enumclaw.

The Pacific Northwest Scottish Highland Games are the sixth oldest in the United States and the largest in Washington state, with past attendance reaching 30,000.

Cost is $15 for one day or $22 for a two-day pass for adults. Children 5 to 17 are $10 a day, and seniors 60 and over cost $11 per day. Children under 5 are admitted free. Parking is $4 per day.

The Enumclaw gathering will also feature the U.S. West Drum Corps championships, the Northwest Regional Harp Finals, individual bagpiping and drumming, pipe bands and Highland and national dancing, among other things.

But the athletic competition is why a majority of the people attend. For nearly 1,000 years, clansmen, chiefs and competitors came from all over Scotland and banded together to compete against one another in what is often defined as one of the most rigorous competitions in the world.

According to tradition, one of the first Highland Games was held toward the end of the 11th century when King Malcolm Canmore became concerned about the way in which important news and documents were delivered to a high highland retreat. He needed strong, healthy runners that were full of stamina. To achieve this, he had them race against one another over rocky terrain to the top of Craeg Choinnich. The winner received a sword, a purse of gold and the title of the King’s Messenger. This became what is now known as the Scottish Highland Games.

The athletic events combine strength and technique and include a variety of throwing competitions. Events include several stone throws of various weights, similar to the shot put in track and field; stone throws with a handle, similar to the hammer toss; the caber toss, which requires a person to flip over a 150-pound trimmed-up tree; the sheaf toss, which has the athlete use a pitch fork and toss a stuffed burlap bag over a cross bar, and the 56-pound weight for height.

The events

Caber toss: A long tapered pine pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor, who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands. The competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with first the upper (larger) end striking the ground, then the smaller end, originally held by the athlete, following through and in turn striking the ground in the 12 o’clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the athlete is said to have turned the caber. Cabers vary in length, weight, taper and balance, all of which affect the degree of difficulty in making a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely throws approximate the ideal 12 o’clock toss on an imaginary clock.

Stone put: This event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. Instead of a steel shot, a large stone of variable weight is often used. There are also some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. There are two versions of the stone toss events, differing in allowable technique. The Braemar Stone uses a 20- to 26-pound stone for men (13- to 18-pound for women) and does not allow any run up to the toeboard or trig to deliver the stone, i.e., it is a standing put. In the Open Stone using a 16- to 22-pound stone for men (or 8- to 12-pound for women), the thrower is allowed to use any throwing style so long as the stone is put with one hand with the stone resting cradled in the neck until the moment of release. Most athletes in the open stone event use either the glide or the spin techniques.

Scottish hammer throw: This event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 pounds for men, or 12 or 16 pounds for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over the shoulder. Hammer throwers sometimes employ specially designed footwear with flat blades to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.

Weight throw: Also known as the weight for distance event. There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 pound for men and 14 pound for women) and the other a heavy (56 pound for men, 42 pound for masters men, and 28 pound for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle attached either directly or by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.

Weight over the bar: Also known as weight for height. The athletes attempt to toss a 56-pound (4 stone) weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand. Each athlete is allowed three attempts at each height. Successful clearance of the height allows the athlete to advance into the next round at a greater height. The competition is determined by the highest successful toss with fewest misses being used to break tie scores.

Sheaf toss: A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds for the men and 10 pounds for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting. The progression and scoring of this event is similar to the weight over the bar event. There is significant debate among athletes as to whether the sheaf toss is in fact an authentic Highland event. Some argue it is actually a country fair event, but all agree that it is a great crowd pleaser.

Information on these events courtesy of

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