The Nairn Games were inaugurated on Saturday, August 10th 1867. It was the intention that this should be the first in an “annual series of athletic sports and Highland games. “

The scene at the links in 1867 would have had many basic similarities to that of today.

Two years later the first event was held, the attendance was put at 8,000 and it was established as the “largest and most popular gathering in the North.”


The first Highland Games were held more than a thousand years ago, prompted by clan chiefs and kings. Events covered a variety of sporting, martial and religious purposes. The Clan Chiefs used the games to recruit people – race winners made good messengers at a time when there were no proper roads. The strongest men were employed as bodyguards, and the pick of the dancers and pipers were also chosen … both to entertain and to reflect well on the clan.

Men of the villages & parishes gathered annually on what was, for many, their only holiday to test their strength and ability against each other using the ‘tools’ of their trades. Hence throwing hammers, putting rounded stones, heaving weights and tossing tree trunks became the order of the day.

Playing bagpipes and dancing were both incorporated into proceedings, to give warriors heart for battles or to celebrate victories.

Royalty has been connected with Highland Games for a long time. Malcolm the Third is thought to have begun royal links with the Braemar Gathering.

Earlier gatherings were not always held on the first Saturday after the 12th, but this became the customary date, in order to accommodate parties coming North for the grouse shooting season…and the tradition has been maintained.

A gathering of this size soon attracted unofficial entertainers – the first itinerant pipers, fiddlers, cheap Johns and the like. With the advent of steam traction engines, the shows which have been such a feature of the occasion for so long began to put in an appearance.

No meetings were held during the two world wars, but the games were as popular as ever when restarted after World War II. There were some changes to the games thereafter, the biggest coming in 1952 when the amateur and women’s events were introduced for the first time.

Soon the games produced new personalities, and the meetings today provide keen, competitive events. More and more the games have become an occasion for the reunion of families and friends. Increasingly it has become the practice of ‘exiles’ to make a point of being home at this time of year if at all possible.

Today also, meetings provide a greater variety of events than ever before, with traditional Highland dancing and piping providing a contrast with the athletic efforts on the track and in the heavy events, which remain as popular as ever.