The town of Amanzimtoti will be transformed for the day as tartan, bagpipes and general merriment descend on this South Coast spot for the 56th Highland Gathering, taking place at Hutchison Park on Saturday, 27 April. Organised by the Amanzimtoti Lions and supported by Sapphire Coast Tourism, this family-friendly festival acts as both a day of entertainment and one of the Lion’s biggest fundraisers of the year.
“We are anticipating around 10 000 visitors to this year’s event which is set to be one of the biggest Highland Gatherings yet,” said Amanzimtoti Lions member, Carol Botha. “There will be at least 22 pipe bands and a number of the country’s best Highland dancers competing for the top positions at this year’s festival. The event raises much-needed funds for the local community while also providing support for the local economy.”
And for visitors gearing up to attend this historic gathering, it’s worth having some background on this globally popular Scottish-bred event. Here are 5 fun facts about highland events:
1. Highland games were used to find the best men for battle
With origins predating any written historical records, it’s safe to say the Highland games are a fairly ancient social, cultural and sporting phenomenon. What is known, however, is that they were started as a way for clans to show off their strongest and most athletic men to be selected for battle.
2. Highland dancers were originally only male
An integral element of the Highland games is the enigmatically synchronised Highland Dancing. Dating back to somewhere around the 11th or 12th Century, this athletic style of dancing was originally performed by men as a way to commemorate a victory. The discipline required for the rigorous dancing techniques allowed the competing men to display their strength and stamina for battle. It was only in the late 19th Century that women entered Highland Dancing and now around 95% of all Highland Dancers are female.
3. The kilt counts
Staying true to its original format despite centuries of change, the Highland games has increased in popularity the world over. This has seen it emerge in other European settings, South America, and even the warm, coastal town of Amanzimtoti! The Scottish Highland Games Association, which represents more than 60 Highland Games in Scotland, insists that all competitors participating in the open heavy events must wear kilts to compete.
4. Piping for prestige
Bringing a sense of mournful nostalgia to any listener, the bagpipe is synonymous with Scottish cultural heritage and piping competitions form a vital element of the Highland games. Although bagpipes do not originate in Scotland, they have come to represent the European nation like no other instrument with The Great Highland bagpipes played as a martial instrument since the 16th Century. Just as with the sporting and dance elements, clan chieftains pitted their pipers against those of other clans with the winner gaining maximum prestige.
5. They give a toss
One of the most distinctive of the ‘heavy events’ is the caber toss – throwing a tree (generally pine logs) – with assessment on both distance and style. It’s rumoured to have started with the need to toss logs over chasms, now it’s an entertaining spectator sport where competitors aim to flip the incredibly heavy caber so that it lands in the 12 o’clock position.
Audiences to this year’s Highlands Gathering will be treated to a not-to-be-missed experience at 4.30pm as the pipe bands, joined by renowned local singer, Keely Crocker, participate in the grand finale – the Mass March Band. The entertainment continues in the main beer tent – one of two beer tents – where 13 local bands will be taking to the stage at various intervals.
In addition to the musical and dancing performances, visitors will get to enjoy the retail element through the 160 flea market stalls. For the youngsters, there will be an incredible Children’s Entertainment Area with a wide selection of activities to keep the little ones occupied throughout the festival. And lastly, for the classic car fans in the crowd, there will be an exceptional display of some of the most pristine four-wheeled beauties from around the country.
Romy Wenzel from Sapphire Coast Tourism said: “The Highland Gathering is a really fun event that visitors of all ages can enjoy. It also acts as a drawcard for those looking to visit some of the other incredible tourist sites and facilities along the Sapphire Coast, such as the warm beaches, nature trails, quality golf courses, outdoor adventure activities and extensive retail offerings. The Sapphire Coast really has it all.”
All funds raised will be donated to the local community through a number of charitable initiatives. Tickets to the Highland Gathering are available at the venue. Prices are:
Adults – R50
Scholars and pensioners – R30
Children – R10
Children under 6 years – free
Parking – R20 per car on the ASC fields