Saturday, July 21 is a red letter day for Inverness.
The Highland capital is expected to welcome thousands of visitors from all corners of the globe, coming in to the city for the Inverness Highland Games and Armed Forces Day celebrations.
The entertainment starts early.
From 10am, the city centre will take on a carnival atmosphere as musicians, dancers and performers hit the streets and mingle with the hundreds of servicemen and women, veterans and young cadets who are gathering there for the Armed Forces Day parade.
This year’s parade will start at 12.15pm on the High Street and it will be led by a massed pipes and drum band made up of members of the Inverness Royal British Legion Scotland, Northern Constabulary, Cameron Association, Forres, Sutherland and Caledonian and Isle of Skye pipe bands.
It will be a colourful and musical spectacle so remember to bring along cameras and recorders to capture the scene, but it’s also a chance to show support for the men and women who make up the armed forces of the past, present and future.
It’s become something of a tradition now for the cheering spectators, having watched the parade and allowed it to pass, to join it by walking behind it as it continues through the city centre before crossing the River Ness at Ness Bridge, and turning left along Ness Walk before heading for the Northern Meeting Park.
The park itself is rather special as it’s the world’s oldest Highland games stadium, built by the Society of Northern Meeting, a group founded in 1788, the same year Bonnie Prince Charlie died.
The date of the first Highland gathering here is not known but local papers, dating from 1821, were reporting that fundraising was taking place in the town with a view to reviving the games in Inverness the following year.
We have been enjoying Highland games in Inverness since 1822 which is why it has a special place in the heart of Invernessians.
This is the north’s biggest Highland gathering of the year and it’s one not to be missed, whether you are a local or just visiting the area.
Once the parade has arrived, and everyone is in the stadium, there will be a moving ceremony – the presentation of medals to the veterans.
Games chieftain Jimmy Gray will then declare the games open and this will be followed by a celebratory rifle salute and a mass Highland fling.
The gates open for the games at 11am, but as a lot of people tend to arrive later with the parade, there can be a bit of a rush for tickets.
Top tip – buy your tickets in advance at the Town House or Northern Meeting Park on the morning of the games and you won’t miss any of the excitement.
Tickets cost £8 for adults and £4 for seniors and those aged under 18. Under-fives are admitted free.
These go on sale from the Town House at 10am and Northern Meeting Park from 11am on the day.
As there are so many things taking place, the games extend beyond the confines of Northern Meeting Park with adjacent Eden Court Theatre hosting the piping competitions and an interesting Hall of the Clans exhibition.
Piping first made an appearance at the games in the 1840s and always provides one of the highlights of a visit here.
Piping fans will notice that there have been some changes made to the programme this year with adjustments that will enable pipers to compete for points which will help them get invitations to major championships.
This system has been adopted by major competitions such as the Northern Meeting (Inverness) and the Argyllshire Gathering (Oban).
It is hoped pipers will take the opportunity to enjoy the new combined competition featuring hornpipe and jig.
Competitions will be held for the Donnie Manson Memorial Trophy (overall junior champion), the Waterside Hotel Trophy (overall senior champion) and the President’s Cup (donated by Mrs Rona Lightfoot) for the winner of the senior piobaireachd competition.
Along with a host of sporting events, this year’s games will have a market with more than 50 stalls, so there will be plenty of opportunity to buy local produce, crafts and souvenirs.
There will also be a display of vintage military vehicles and a traditional music showcase stage featuring a number of the finest musicians from the Highlands.
Inside the main arena, spectators will be invited to explore the Armed Forces Day displays and enjoy a packed programme of Highland and Scottish country dancing displays and track and field athletics.
But for many visitors, the highlight of a visit to the Inverness Highland Games is watching the competitors taking part in the heavy events as you are really close to the action, which can be nail-bitingly exciting.
Cheering on competitors is encouraged and visitors may find themselves hoarse by the end of the day, such is the drama of the competition as you cheer on your hero.
This year, the heavy events are being sponsored by Premier Inn Hotels and the games committee has introduced new championships for Scottish and overseas competitors which should lead to some intense action.
11am Gates open
11.30am Solo piping starts on Eden Court Theatre lawn. Sponsored by the Waterside Hotel
12.15pm Armed Forces parade starts in the city centre
12.30pm Parade arrives at the Northern Meeting Park
12.45pm Massed pipes and drums
1pm Chieftain’s welcome
1.15pm Official start of the Games
ASN events – sponsored by William Fraser Master Butcher
ASN boys’ 100 yards
ASN girls’ 100 yards
ASN men’s 100 yards
ASN women’s 100 yards
Track events – sponsored by Premier Inn Hotels
Under-11 girls’ 100 yards
Under-11 boys’ 100 yards
Under-13 girls’ 100 yards
Under-13 boys’ 100 yards
Under-15 girls’ 100 yards
Under-15 boys’ 100 yards
Senior women’s 100 yards
Senior men’s 100 yards
Under-13 boys’ 800m
Under-13 girls’ 800m
Under-15 boys’ 800m
Under-15 girls’ 800m
Senior women’s 800m
Senior men’s 800m
Senior men’s 400m
Senior women’s 400m
ASN men’s 200m
Under-13 girls’ 200m
Under-13 boys’ 200m
Under-15 girls’ 200m
Under-15 boys’ 200m
Senior women’s 200m
Senior men’s 200m
Girls’ 4 x 1/2 lap
Boys’ 4 x 1/2 lap
Senior women’s 4 x 1/2 lap
Senior men’s 4 x 1/2 lap
Field events – sponsored by Premier Inn Hotels
Under-11 girls’ long jump
Under-13 girls’ long jump
Under-15 girls’ long jump
Senior men’s shot putt
ASN men’s shot putt
ASN women’s shot putt
Under-11 boys’ long jump
Under-13 boys’ long jump
Under-15 boys’ long jump
Women’s high jump
Senior men’s high jump
Under-13 girls’ shot putt
Under-15 girls’ shot putt
Senior men’s long jump
Senior women’s long jump
Under-13 boys’ shot putt
Under-15 boys’ shot putt
Senior women’s shot putt
Heavy Events – sponsored by Premier Inn
1.30pm Scots hammer
2.15pm Weight for distance
3pm Inverness stone
3.30pm Weight over the bar
4pm Tossing the caber
(All times approximate)
As we look forward to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London next weekend, it is time to remind ourselves of a connection between Highland games and the Olympic Games which has largely been forgotten.
The link exists thanks to the Highland gathering organised by the Strathallan games committee on October 17-18, 1889, in France as part of the Paris Exhibition.
This event was one of the earliest international Highland games staged and the modern Olympic Games owe their existence to the visit made by Pierre de Fridi, Baron de Coubertin, to that event.
At the time of the Paris Exhibition, the baron’s dream of reviving the Olympic Games were fading because he could not visualise how it might work.
As soon as he saw wrestlers, strongmen, swordsmen, runners, high jumpers, long jumpers, bagpipers, dancers and pole vaulters all competing together he realised his vision might actually work and as he admitted later he was inspired by what he had seen.
De Coubertin appealed for information about Highland games in the English press and was contacted by Dr William Penny Brookes who had organised village games at Much Wenlock in Shropshire, based on the Scottish model from October 1850.
Brookes’s games were a mixture of athletics and also traditional country sports such as quoits, football and cricket.
De Coubertin travelled to England to meet Brookes in October 1890 and a special Wenlock games was arranged for him to enjoy.
They discussed their similar ambitions and discovered a shared dream of an international event to be staged in Athens based on the Olympics. Brookes died just four months before the first International Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896 and never saw his dream come true.
The London 2012 Olympic mascot, Wenlock, pictured left, is named after Much Wenlock in recognition of the town’s role in inspiring the modern Olympic movement.