The History of Highland Games and Gatherings

The History of Highland Games and Gatherings
The origins of Highlands Games are believed to date back to the 4th or 5th century when competitive games for young men involving foot-racing, horse-racing and wrestling were encouraged. Games celebrations became a common feature of St Michael’s Day (September 29th ) festivities while other racing and athletics contests sprang up at fairs on other holy days as well as at cattle fairs on the quarter days of the Scottish calendar.

The Clan system that developed in the Highlands became a fertile ground for feats of strength among the young warriors and sporting contests were held at various times as well as the conclusion of military musters when they were called ‘wappinschaws’ The clans’ warriors used these events to test their physical prowess in the same way as modern soldiers engage in physical training. According to one source, it was at one such muster in 1574 that ‘tossing of ye barr’ (caber-tossing) first appeared on record.
All of this came to an end after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 when the mainly Highland supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie were beaten in the last battle on British soil and all Highlanders were banned from bearing arms, playing the bagpipes, speaking Gaelic, wearing tartan and gathering in groups.

The Modern Games
At the start of the 19th century, after the ban had been repealed, Highland Games became established annual events as part of the romanticisation of Highland culture amongst the British ruling class at the time. Queen Victoria attended her first Highland Games in 1848. When accounts from the games describe a programme of contests that are largely unchanged today:  dancing, piping, lifting a heavy stone, throwing the hammer and running…
Happily, the more specialised pursuit of ‘twisting the four legs off a cow for which a fat sheep is offered as a prize’ does not feature in the more civilised repertoire of the modern games. This usually comprises running and jumping, throwing stones or hammers, tugs-of-war, tossing the caber, as well as a variety of piping and dancing competitions.

History of our House

In 1880, when the house was built by local businessman Adam Menzies, it was known as Clach-na-faire (stone of watching) after the large boulder stone located within the grounds. It is thought the stone date was placed there over 1,800 years ago by the Picts as a sentinel stone to keep watch over the Roman camp positioned at Dalchampaig (field of the camp), now submerged under Loch Faskally.

Outside House August 1885

In 1885 the house was sold to Sir Francis Boyd Outram, 2nd baronet and used by his family and friends as a summer holiday home. The photograph on the right shows Ethel and Balfour Bryant, 2 of the children of Theodore Bryant, owner of Bryant and May matches, during their family holiday at the house in summer 1885.

John Henry Dixon FSA


In 1913, John Henry Dixon of Dundarrach bought the house and was living here when his renowned book, Pitlochry – Past and Present was published. A friend of Japanese author Natsume Soseki  and Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Scout movement, Dixon took a great interest in local history and affairs and his obituary (Perthshire Advertiser 1926) described him as ‘a gentleman of wide culture and fine, genial personality…held in the highest esteem by all classes of the community.’

The next 32 years saw the house under the ownership of the Black family originally from Kirkpatrick Juxta, first John Little Black and then his daughter Elizabeth. Under Elizabeth’s ownership the house was occupied by local solicitor I. D. S. Liddell and his wife during the early years of their marriage.

Upon Elizabeth death in 1951, the property was sold to Lawrence J Hunter L.D.S.initiating a connection with the dental profession which lasts to this day. Mr Hunter divided the house in two, converting the rear of the house – the kitchen, the scullery, the laundry and servants’ lodgings into his home and dental surgery retained the original name of ‘Clach-na-faire’. The front of the house, the family part, became Northlands and since 1954 has been home to local doctors and various Pitlochry Bank of Scotland Bank Managers.

In 1996 Northlands became the Duncan family home and, with the departure of our children to pastures new, we are delighted to offer our home as a place for you to stay when you visit this wonderful part of Scotland.