Immediately after getting soaked in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, I took a very rocky ferry for 2.5 hours to reach Ullapool in the mainland. I knew I wanted to reach Orkney as soon as possible but because of the way public transport in Scotland works, I’d have to get to Inverness first.
It was a blessing in disguise as I found out that the Inverness Highland Games were to be held the day after I arrived. Another blessing in disguise was the lack of room availability in the hostel next to the station because that forced me to find a campsite, right next to the Highland games at Bught park.
What are the Highland Games?
From the start of summer, many town & villages in the Scottish Highlands hold their annual Highland Games. It is a big social event featuring pipe bands, games of strength & agility, highland dancing, clan meetings & local markets. If you have even seen men wearing kilts tossing tree trunks, you have an insight into Highland Games. The 2017 Highland Games season starts 20th May, full list here.
I took in most of the Highland games experience outside of the sports themselves as it was time to leave for Orkney. A fantastic day out nevertheless for a measly £5 entry fee.
It was like a typical Scottish farmers market, quite small in size and split evenly between crafts & food. My favourite stall in the market was the one below, I had to resist the temptation of picking up a soft toy for Yoda because of my bulging backpack (she still brings it up now and again 😛 ).
The best thing is purchased from the market was a pack of Smoked Cheese from Highland Charcuterie & Smokehouse, Sutherland. This is such a hipster recommendation that there are no online links I can provide, no TripAdvisor, no Facebook page, nothing. Just pure word of mouth. It was simply mindblowing, each bite was a flavour explosion. We put the cheese over plain boiled pasta, ate it as is and polished it off a bit too quickly. If you ever visit Sutherland or any place north of Inverness, check them out at a local Farmers market (such as the one in Poolewe on Tuesdays once a month).
There was an entire tent with stalls dedicated to different clans. There is certainly an unequal distribution between clan members with some clans being swamped with visitors & others staying quite empty. The best part for me was seeing clan leaders all decked up.
The sad bit: Bird showcase
Falconry is quite popular in Scotland & many people in the rural areas owning birds of prey. During the Highland Games, some birds were on display and looking at their cages, it did not look like they were being very well kept. It is a shame because there birds are magnificent. They were encouraging people to pay a small fee to handle a bird but mostly the birds were restricted in their movement.
Piping, Highland Dances & the Games
To finish on an upbeat note, lets talk about the high note of the day (literally), the pipe bands & highland dances. I can only imaging how rousing the pipe bands must have been for the Scots, the hair on my arm was almost standing on end when the pipe band arrived. After the pipe bands played the opening ceremony, a number of wee highland dancers regaled the crowd with a Highland Fling dance followed by members of the public joining in for a round.
After the opening ceremony, the games were kicked off with a round of Shinty which is similar to Field Hockey.
Unfortunately, my time was up at this point. I headed to the railway station to buy my 2nd Spirit of Scotland pass on a day when the trains were cancelled (again). So boarded the rail replacement bus off to a long journey to the Orkney Islands.
Bught Park Campsite – open Easter – mid Oct
Cost: £10 per person per night for a backapcker
UK Campsite Review: 6/10
Distance from public transport: 5 mins from a bus stop but buses are infrequent. Taxi from rail station about £10.
Toilets & Showers: Not very good, didnt really use the showers & toilets minimally.
Notes: This is a city campsite so its not next to a scenic spot. But there is a leisure centre / swimming pool next door which may be good for kids. Location is also perfect for the highland games, right opp the venue.
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