Sunday, 27 July 2008

Halkirk Highland Games

Halkirk is one of the most traditional of the Highland Games and with a total prize purse of £21,000 it attracts competitors from all over the world - entrants from as far away as Australia, Malawi and the USA took part.

You can't have a proper Games without one of these:

Kirkwall City pipe band (3)

And Halkirk had two, the local band from Thurso and a guest band (the ones in the picture) from Kirkwall in Orkney. The drummers do that wonderful thing where they twirl their sticks:

Kirkwall City pipe band

Every Games has a Chieftain and the one for Halkirk is Viscount Thurso:

John Thurso MP

He's also the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (which is HUGE territory to cover - basically everything north of Inverness) and despite looking very Scottish, has an Eton accent. He's the only hereditary peer to be elected to the House of Commons having previously sat in the House of Lords and he and his wife spend all summer turning up at charity fundraisers, so despite him being a Lib Dem, I have to approve of him really ;o)

All the action takes place on an oval field. There's a 200m track round the outside for running and cycling events:

Senior cycling (1)

And then inside you have the field events:

High jump (1)

That guy went on to win, breaking the Halkirk record, and then attempted to break the Scottish record (6ft 6" - all measurements are done in feet and inches, no metric here), but just missed it.

Of course, what everyone really comes to see is the traditional Highland sports. The dancing competition went on all day, with the same piper playing for 5 hours non-stop - she was an absolute trooper. Ladies, if you want to have fantastic legs, take up Highland dancing:

Highland dancing (2)

(Funnily enough, of all the Games photos I've put on Flickr, that one's had the most views!)

And just for Mum, who's a teacher and has the same reaction to small children as I do to kittens, here's some of the competitors for the Hornpipe class:

Hornpipe competition

The heavies are the star attraction though and classes include Weight For Distance:

Weight for distance (1)

Hammer Throw:

Hammer throw (2)

Tossing the Sheaf (the bar got to 36ft):

Sheaf toss (2)

And, of course, Tossing the Caber:

Caber (2)

Apparently there aren't that many Games that have caber any more, due to piddling health and safety reasons, so the commentator explained how it all worked. The idea is to run with the caber to the line, with a judge running behind you (this picture is called "Come back with my caber!":

Come back with my caber!

and then lob the bottom of it upwards as hard as you can:

Caber (4)

The bottom of the caber is rounded, but the top is flat so the edges dig into the turf. If the caber goes right the way over its length then that's called a Full Toss. The judge running behind (who's in great danger if the caber starts wobbling backwards during the run-up) judges how straight the caber falls - the ideal is a straight end over end throw that ends up in a 12 o'clock position from the thrower. If it doesn't make a Full Toss, then another judge is standing at the side to see how close the caber gets to going over and the closer it gets to upright, the more points are scored.

Fascinating, eh? If you want more pictures (I took over 200!) then clicking on any of the photos will take you to my Flickr account where there are a dozen or so more.

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