Leg 19 – to Gordon Castle Highland Games

Well I say leg, I only did about 2 miles…

19 May 2013

Gordon Castle is just outside Fochabers, and wasn’t tricky to find seeing as I’d passed it yesterday on the way in. Thankfully it was a dry day so I packed up post a lazy morning, and made it to the Highland Games for its opening at 11.00. Amazingly I wasn’t hungover, which was pretty fortunate considering the previous nights excesses; must be all the cycling and fresh air.

I joined a short queue of traffic before locking my bike up to a fence just outside the entrance, where a Scout leader on duty offered to keep an eye on it and my panniers. The event was being run by a host of volunteers, including scouts and cadets marshalling traffic and visitors, selling tickets and programmes etc, it must be quite an enterprise to organise.

First up was a hot chocolate, followed by the Massed Pipes and Drums of Elgin & District, Dufftown & District, Strathisla, Buckie & District, and RAF Lossiemouth. They sounded very impressive marching into the main arena, and getting everything going for the day. They played a few times during the day and I took a bit of video I’ll try and upload, but can’t find a way of doing it on this app.

Massed Pipes and Drums

Massed Pipes and Drums

The Games were then officially opened by the owners of the estate, Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox, and compered by Hamish who somehow kept going throughout the day. There were a plethora of stalls to look around, from the informative to those selling various Scottish themed wares you’d be hard pressed to find in your local mall. One stall was warning of the dangers of ticks and Lyme’s disease, which I’ll need to watch out for as I generally wear shorts and will be passing through and camping in a lot of countryside. I immediately felt itchy but didn’t find any ticks, thought I had enough to worry about with the midges! Will buy a tick removal kit if I find one.

Throughout the day there were loads of events to watch and get involved in, from archery, shooting (laser and clays), and fly casting, to watching the actual Games, Highland Dancing, Dogs, and lots of other attractions.

Highland Games - hammer throwing

Highland Games – hammer throwing

The first event of the actual games was the hammer throwing, where Hamish repeatedly warned that the hammer could go anywhere so we’d better keep an eye out, despite the safety net which was a new addition to comply with health and safety regs. The competitors were all Scottish heavy weights and huge blokes, and the Games are taken pretty seriously. These are serious athletes, all competing in several events during the course of the day. Think there were 10 of Scotland’s top competitors vying against each other in the hammer, shot putt, weight for distance, weight over bar, caber toss, stones of density, and stone putt. Jeff Capes eat your heart out.

Scottish Heavies

Scottish Heavies – part of castle in background

I watched a few of the events over the course of the day, the weight over bar looked extremely challenging; a new record was set at over 16 feet I believe.

I hadn’t seen highland dancing before, and was intrigued to see what it was all about, with several different dances from the Flora to the Sword Dance. Mostly girls from the age of about 7 into their teens, and equal in competitiveness to the Highland Games. Don’t quite know how they kept bouncing on the balls of their feet for so long, but must take a lot of practice and stamina.

Highland Dancing 1

Highland Dancing 1


Highland Dancing 2

Highland Dancing 2

Accompanying the dancing were more bagpipes, in fact I don’t think there was a single point during the day when I didn’t hear the skirl of the pipes coming from somewhere, there being a solo bagpipe competition going on too. The constant piping can get a little draining after a while!

There were various animals in abundance at the Games, including ferrets, terriers, birds of prey, and Gordon Setters which were originally bred here. There was a Gordon Setter dog show but I skipped it, dog shows not really being my thing unless they’re jumping through fiery hoops or something, but I did see the terrier racing, which was fun.

Terrier racing 1

Terrier racing 1 – lined up at the start and raring to go

The terriers get very excited at this point, they can see the lure and start barking and clawing in their eagerness to get at it.

Terrier racing 2

Terrier racing 2 – and they’re off


Terrier racing 3

Terrier racing 3 – and they’re on their way back

There was also audience participation on this, with several of the spectators wanting to get involved, of a canine persuasion that is. A few did quite well, chasing the lure and finishing, in fact I think the organisers would have quite liked to take them on permanently. Several however got distracted, made it halfway and then saw something else interesting or that smelt nice, or didn’t really start at all and went in the wrong direction. Great fun all round and the dogs obviously love it.

Birds of prey flying display

Birds of prey flying display

Several different birds of prey were flown including a European Eagle Owl, Harris Hawk, and a Saker falcon I think. From a young age I’ve always love to watch birds of prey, so great to see and would love to give falconry a go some day. Will add it to the list!

Fly casting demo

Fly casting demo from bloke on stilts


Re-enactors in traditional garb

Re-enactors in traditional garb




The Foxhounds only drag hunt these days I think, not sure if the law is different in Scotland. The master huntsman was with them and put them through some moves a but later in the day.

Vintage cars 1

There were several vintage cars present, I liked this Jag


Nimrod cockpit

Nimrod cockpit


Phantom cockpit

Phantom cockpit

Cockpits courtesy of the Morayvia organisation.

By this point it was about 16.00 and I’d begun to feel a little odd, a combination of tiredness, a bit of dehydration and some rather rich and sickly food in the form of chocolate brownies, on top of hog roast and pancakes. Bagpipes may have been taking their toll by then too. I should have recognised the warning signs from earlier on with the slightly blurry vision and being off balance. The migraine came on pretty swiftly and I had to exit stage right, missing the caber tossing, although I saw a caber sail through the air from a distance during my retreat. Great show from the Scottish heavies.

I’d intended to head down to Aberlour that afternoon, to my godfather’s, but instead had to call a rain-check and made my way back to the Fochabers campsite; tricky trying to ride and control a heavy bike whilst wanting to vomit and feeling decidedly off-centre! I quickly re-pitched my tent and disappeared into it for a few hours. Unfortunately migraines can make me quite sick so I lost most of the days carb loading, but after a few hours lying down felt a lot better. Whilst migraines make me sick I fortunately rarely suffer from the bad headaches, just have to shut out noise and too much light for a while.

The late evening was quite nice by the time I’d emerged and had a shower and lots of water, but no food – wasn’t ready to risk that quite yet. The sun had even come out for the first time in days.

Evening sunshine at Fochabers campsite

Evening sunshine at Fochabers campsite

So a very short leg today, but lots of fun despite the migraine, and I had made very good progress to date so could afford a bit of an extra time off the saddle. I’d head down to Aberlour tomorrow instead.

4 thoughts on “Leg 19 – to Gordon Castle Highland Games

  1. Jim Gibson

    Hi, James. Just sent £36.15 to your fund. Nice to meet you at Fochabers on Saturday.
    If you need any assistance when you get to the Glasgow area (Oban to Stranraer) you can contact me on xxxxxxxxx or at xxxxxxxxx. Keep smiling, enjoy yourself!
    Jim Gibson

    1. Bike around Britain Post author

      Thanks Jim, for the donation and the contact details. Was great to meet you all! Bike and myself still holding up, despite some fierce weather today. In Inverness having retreated to a cafe (Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop).

      1. Jim Gibson

        Hi, James. We Scots turn deaf ears to comments about our weather! We’ve got to live with it all year round.

  2. Pingback: Self Propelled | Bike Around Britain

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