The Aboyne Highland Games- CAVE ADSUM!

ccnancyjardineThis post is by Nancy Jardine.

I’m off on my Scottish high horse yet again, today, to sell my books… and on this blog. This time I’m manning a stall at the famed Aboyne Highland Games, a large event by many local standards. Recently on this blog, I seem to always be posting about historical events or historical references. Today continues in that vein as my trip is to another place that’s steeped in tradition.

The latin motto- CAVE ADSUM doesn’t refer to the latin motto of the Aboyne Highland Games but it IS the motto of the JARDINE clan and means ‘Beware I come…or …Beware I am here!’ Guess they better watch out for me.  🙂

Aboyne games

The Aboyne Games are part of the Scottish Highland Games Association and the Grampian Games Association. Though not the largest Highland Games Event even in Scotland, the Aboyne Games has a long tradition of being an excellent, fun day out. When you read to the end of this post, you’ll maybe realise that the Aboyne Games are also very important on the highland dance circuit for specific reasons!

The Aboyne Highland Games are a very different sort of gathering from last week where I attended the Banchory Show which is primarily a large gathering for showcasing farming stock. The tradition of the highland games features people rather than animals and this year there are hundreds of events on the Aboyne Games programme. The visitor can watch live competitions of strength in the heavy events; competitions for individual pipers and pipe bands; competitions for highland dancing; track event competitions and competitions for fiddlers. It will be a noisy and exciting area to be in – of that I’m sure because I’ve attended as a tourist myself. The list here of events is a long one…

The Highland Games of Scotland are replicated world wide and for many people visiting those far flung games, it may be the only image they retain of Scotland. Yet, in a weird way, those highland games in places like Canada and the United States may have had games going on almost as long as similar ones in Scotland. 

7570452_sHow can that be? You may well ask and the detail of the answer is in the history.

What led to the establishing of these highland games, the ones we recognise today? The history is fascinating for someone like me who is super proud of my Scottish heritage, yet being history it also gets pretty detailed. On my own blog I’ve gone into the reasons in more detail and you can read that HERE.

The shorter version is that highland games, of one sort or another, have been going on since Celtic times when the chief organised a gathering of Celts to show off his own tribal champion and to emphasise the prowess of his warriors. Later, similar gatherings were made – Clan pitted against Clan – to show off how successfully warlike they were. The notion of any friendly/ sporting reasons for the Clan gatherings don’t seem to appear in history before King Malcolm III (1058-1093).

James VI
James VI of Scotland – Wikimedia Commons

Various political and religious reasons from 1603 onwards made the gatherings problematic- since any get-togethers which included weaponry could have been for seditious purposes. By 1603, the Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England (Wales included) took place. This meant the countries were reigned over by James VI– the Scottish Stuart king who became James I of England. During the years to follow, the Clan system was divided as they chose to support the catholic Stuarts or the protestant factions. Any gatherings tended then to be warlike, probably with little sportsmanship involved!

The history of the Aboyne Highland Games gets interesting by 1703 – a few years before the Scottish and English Parliaments were united (1707).

In 1703, the Laird of Grant (Clan Grant) requested 600 of his clansmen to gather together at Aboyne for a more sporting and leisurely purpose. This raised a number of eyebrows and was sufficiently suspicious for it to be recorded by the governor at Fort William (The ‘UK’ government forces base in northern Scotland). The gathering went ahead but the participants were requested (read ordered) to be very distinctive and thus easily identified. Records state that those going ‘hoisting and hunting’ should wear: “Highland coates, trewes and short hose of tartane of red and greine sett broad springed, also with gun, sword, pistol and dirk.”

Sir Walter Scott- Wikimedia Commons
Sir Walter Scott- Wikimedia Commons

Sir Walter Scott began his first accounts of these kilted highlanders who engaged in competitive athletic competitions; tossing cabers and throwing the shot put (a rounded stone). After the military struts and demonstrations of military prowess, these highland men also skirled the bagpipes. Read Sir Walter Scott’s  Waverley Novels to find out how his description embellished and brought the scenes to life.

These organised ‘kilted’ gatherings continued, at times, till approximately 1746 but by then the Jacobite rebellions had again made them problematic. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the government of the United Kingdom issued the Act of Proscription. This banned the wearing of plaids/ tartan; the playing of bagpipes; having gatherings and the carrying of arms. They were all forbidden under penalty of death. Over the next decades, much of the clan system traditions of pitting strong warrior against his neighbour, under any kind of circumstances sporting or lethal, were destroyed.

It wasn’t until Victorian times that the Aboyne Highland Games were established again in all of their full highland glory since Queen Victoria and her husband Albert were impressed by all things tartan. Queen Victoria began the tradition of attending the Braemar Highland Games in 1848, elevating the status of all of the games.

The Aboyne Games recommenced in 1867 and, with the exception of the 2 world wars, they have continued annually ever since. It’s interesting to note that some US and Canadian highland games were also started around this time – the idea having been transplanted by Clan members who emigrated from Scotland.

Aboyne dress US photo
I’m very excited about being a tiny part of such a prestigious gathering. I don’t expect to manage to get any photos as I’ll be behind my stall inside a dedicated marquee for FOCUS crafts.

I might not get to see any of the ‘Aboyne Dress’ worn by some of the dancers and that’s a great pity because I’ve only just learned that it was at the Aboyne Games in the 1970s that a new style of women’s highland dress was decided upon. The traditional, and more masculine, kilt type of outfit is only worn at the Aboyne Games for a couple of the very traditional dances with the less formal ‘Aboyne Dress’ worn for the Scottish country dances and the bulk of the highland competitions.

Have you ancestral origins which have similar ‘games’ traditions? It will be interesting to know…

Have a lovely weekend!

Nancy Jardine writes: historical romantic adventures; contemporary romantic mystery thrillers, time travel adventure for Teens/ YA markets. Her novels are available from Amazon; B & N; Smashwords and other ebook stores.

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17 thoughts on “The Aboyne Highland Games- CAVE ADSUM!

  1. Wow, you have really done your research! Very interesting and I bet it will be fun and exhausting for you. Good luck with your booth and adventure at this grand event! Neva


    1. Thanks, Cherley. I;ve had a few hours sleep so i’m ready for the day. I’ve added some Youtube videos. Amazing what you think about when you can’t get to sleep. Phew!


    1. I had a great day, Doris, thank you. I sold a record number of books; watched some highland dancing and photographed some pipers piping!


  2. That sounds like fun. I love the rich history that you’ve added to it. I remember hearing about some sort of competition distant family members got into in Arkansas, but the tradition has not been carried on.


    1. Thanks, Travis. Carrying on traditions takes a lot of dedicated, and in some cases quite obsessed, people. The organisation that goes into even small regular gatherings is quite draining on time- bus so worth it when looked back on.


  3. As you know I have Scott-Irish heritage, 39%, so I am fascinated. Seems funny to see men wearing baseball caps and kilts. Probably seems second nature for you to see it. That’s a lot of Bagpipes. I imagine my Viking heritage had some rituals, and I know my American Indian heritage does. You do get to go to a lot of Festivals. 😉 I love the TV show Highlander. Thabks for the videos and links. Cher’ley


    1. You’re welcome, Cher’ley, and the casual wearing of kilts nowadays is something that people have got used to very quickly. Many men actually do like to wear the kilt! 😉


  4. I have Irish roots, but don’t really do anything with them. 😦 I had a student this year named McAtee who participated in local games around our state. She talked to me about them during lunch one day and they sound amazing.


    1. I may sound entirely Scottish, Joe, but that’s not quite true. I have one Irish grandfather. I’m sure your student enjoyed whichever event she was participating in.


  5. Nancy, great post! My husband and I have attended a few Highland Games in our region and greatly enjoyed them! I am also participating in some events related to my books, including one with our local Humane Society later in August. Tying events to our writing helps, I do believe, and next year I’ll be looking for more opportunities like that to promote and sell my books. Best to you always — you’re such an inspiration!


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