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Thousands attend 20th anniversary of Cornhill Highland Games

The tug of war event saw Keith (in purple) and Caithness battle it out.
The tug of war event saw Keith (in purple) and Caithness battle it out.

The 20th anniversary of a tiny north-east village’s Highland Games will go down as one of the most eventful in its history after festivities had to be cut short due to bizarre weather.

Massive crowds travelled to Cornhill Highland Games on Saturday to enjoy the warm weather, which graced the morning, but they were subsequently soaked to the skin after the heavens opened.

The rain, which was last night described as “torrential” by organisers, was accompanied by massive winds which ripped tents from the ground and brought the proceedings to a premature conclusion.

Shortly after 3pm, as road racers began completing their circuit of the village, it became apparent the games could no longer continue.

The disappointment was especially poignant, because the weekend marked the last year organisers Shona Hay and Linda Beattie will be in charge of the games after 17 years at its helm.

Last night, Mrs Hay said: “The day was going as planned. It was a really nice day and we had a good crowd coming in.

“We had just started off the last road race when the heavens opened. I’d say it was torrential, but that doesn’t really do justice to how heavy it was.

“The wind then started to pick up and, out of nowhere, it lifted our first aid tent and some of our stalls. It swept through, clearing everything and ripping through the park.

“Looking at it, it was a state of devastation.”

She added she was at least thankful nobody was injured, saying: “Really, we were very lucky.

“It was quite eventful – I certainly seem to have gone out with a bang.

“We’re going to tell people about this and they’re not going to believe us.”

The pair will hand over the reigns of the games at the end of the year.

Mrs Hay added: “It’s something I am going to miss, because I’ve met some great people over the years and made some good friends, but it’s time for me to go.”

The popular games kicked off in the morning with a Highland dancing contest with heavy and lightweight events in the afternoon.

One of the most hotly contested events, the tug-of-war, was won by the team from Keith.

Their coach, David McKenzie, described the victory over Caithness in the event’s final as “pretty hard”.

He said: “The boys have upped their game as the day went on. This win gets us into the Royal Highland Games competition – the fourth year on the trot that we’ve qualified.

“We train twice a week for this and usually, every week during the summer, we are at a games or a show.

“The Cornhill Games is a good attraction. It’s smaller than some others out there, but it’s always well attended and the smaller games are often better then some of the bigger ones.

“I actually help to organise the games here, and its good that we’ve got some young blood coming in to help. Hopefully we can build on what has been working for the last 20 years.”

The programme also included the Knock Hill race, which was introduced as part of the games in 1970 alongside other traditional Highland Games events.

The race was originally planned as a one-off fundraiser for a new village playing field, but proved such a success it was made a firm fixture of the games.

Runners are tasked with completing the eight-and-a-half mile course from Cornhill to the top of Knock Hill and get back in under one hour and 45 minutes.

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