The Cowal Highland Gathering is billed as one of the biggest and most spectacular Highland Games in the world. Staged in the west coast Scottish town of Dunoon, flanked by elevated green hillsides and the busy waters of the Firth of Clyde, the setting is certainly a picturesque one.
As I joined the meandering crowd heading to the stadium we were met with 'greeters' high fiving people with giant foam hands. This reminded me of my time at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games when I was welcomed by cheery volunteers at every venue and was certainly a first for any Highland Games I've attended. Once in the stadium I made my way around the various stands selling food, gifts and clothing although I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a wider choice of Scottish products available.
Being a Highland Games pro I whisked out my trusty picnic blanket and joined the many spectators on the hillside overlooking the main arena. Thankfully the weather was kind and this was a perfectly pleasant place to enjoy the action. Many people even more prepared than me (or maybe just more pessimistic than me!) had brought tents to keep sheltered from any rain which thankfully never materialised.
Highland dancers, pipe bands, heavy athletics and wrestling were the main activities taking place in the arena below. Personally heavy athletics is my favourite element of any Highland Games and there were some impressive competitors taking part.
For fans of Highland dancing the world championships with the best competitors from around the globe was a real highlight and the Cowal Hill Race is another draw with runners taking part in one of the toughest 5k races in the country.
If you had told me when I was a girl growing up in Glasgow that one day I would sail into my home city on the biggest flotilla ever seen on the river to the cheer of thousands of people it would have sounded like a fantastical story. In fact until a couple of months ago I would still never have believed it, yet this week it actually happened and I am still wondering if it was all just an amazing nautical dream.
The Commonwealth Flotilla was timed to coincide with another huge event happening in Glasgow, the Commonwealth Games. Although sailing isn't one of the sporting events in the Games it is one of the events that make up the Olympics and it was a good way of reminding people that sailing is another of the many sports that people can get involved in.
As Saturday morning arrived and my train pulled into Greenock I was almost bursting with excitement. I was soon shown to my transport for the day, the Clyde Clipper, one of two boats run by Clyde Cruises that were taking part.
I had very kindly been invited along by James Stuart, CEO of RYA Scotland to not only experience this once in a lifetime event but to learn more about the opportunities available for people in Scotland to get on the water. I was joined by other excited guests, many of them RYA Gold members and representatives from other agencies looking to promote water based activities available in the country.
With the sound of boat horns and the musical strains of a piper drifting from the quayside we started to move into position.
We were one of the leading boats with the new hybrid CalMac ferry, Lochinvar, guiding us up the Clyde.
The Commonwealth Flotilla was making history as this was the biggest flotilla ever to have sailed up the river with over 250 boats of all shapes and sizes taking part. As we left Greenock behind and boat after boat appeared on the horizon I started to get my first real visual understanding of the scale of the event.
The Scottish Highland Warrior is a romantic and legendary figure which conjures up images of William Wallace and fiercesome claymore wielding clansmen. Highland Games were the place for these clans to compete against each other and show off their strongest and bravest men.
Highland Games today may be less battle like but it is still a showground for not only the strongest men in Scotland to perform against each other but also against some tough international adversaries.
Highland Games season runs from May to September and I visited my first event of the year this weekend at Carmunock, a pretty conservation village on the edge of Glasgow. This is one of the smaller events but it does attract some big characters (in personality and build!!) in both international Strongman and traditional Highland Games competitors. This year Scotland's current strongest man Luke Stoltman was one of the main attractions along with some impressive international names.
The event was also being filmed by Australian TV as part of their coverage of the Commonwealth Games.
Carmunock Highland Games puts a big emphasis on both traditional events like caber toss and stone put and strongman favourites including Atlas stones and log lift. I must confess to being a big Strongman fan and getting up and close to some of my favourite events was a real highlight.
If there was one Scottish event I wasn't going to miss this year, it was the launch of The Kelpies. These two 30 metre, 300 tonne, stainless steel horse heads have captured my heart from the beginning.
I love that there is something mystical and ethereal about them as they shimmer in the light and give the impression that they could come to life at any moment.
The opening night saw a clear blue sky over Falkirk which slowly coloured to orange as the sun began to set. I stood in a snaking queue with excited anticipation at the much hyped fire, light and sound show which was about to take place.
While everyone stood waiting in the now chilly evening, we were entertained by poets, musicians and street performers, all setting the mood for the event ahead.
It’s Saturday lunchtime and the spring sun is shining over a small rugby stadium in the Scottish Borders. Local teams take to the field as vocal groups in fancy dress start to make their way through the turnstiles and join the growing crowd. Tweed jackets and country dress casual weave in between the occasional kilt and rugby top and the queues at the various alcohol tents start to grow.
Picnic blankets and baskets appear as everyone gets comfortable for the day ahead.
This is the Greenyards and the event is the Melrose 7s. A rugby tournament with the picturesque Eildon hills as a backdrop, set in the historic Scottish home of Rugby Sevens. Founded here in 1883 it is variant of rugby union, with much shorter matches featuring 7 players instead of 15. Now popular around the world, it currently features in the Commonwealth Games and will make it’s summer Olympic Games debut in 2016.
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