Competitors at Bermuda's first Highland Games will toss a special 12ft caber cut from a casuarina tree.  *Photo supplied
Competitors at Bermuda's first Highland Games will toss a special 12ft caber cut from a casuarina tree.  *Photo supplied

WEDNESDAY, MAY 9: It took Bermuda until 2012 to have its first Highland Games — but the origin of the traditional Scottish festival of sport dates back hundreds of years.

Now it’s planned to make the games an annual event — including star performers from around the world, with the pipes and drums of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police already lined up for next year.

Events like tossing the caber, races, Highland dancing competitions and pipes and drums are all part of the mix that has been exported all over the world. And — although the essence of traditional Scottish Highland culture — the two biggest Highland gatherings on the planet are in Los Angeles and North Carolina in the US.

Ian Hind, one of the Caledonian Society of Bermuda organizers of the event, said: “Highland Games probably started as little competitions in villages to see who was the strongest guy.

“They used what was available — throwing bales of hay over bars, tree trunks were used as cabers and large stones for shot putting.

“It evolved over time and included competitions to see who was the best piper and the best dancer. Depending on what literature you read, it’s been going on for hundreds, or maybe thousands, of years.”

A special caber cut from a casuarina tree — cut to 12 feet, rather than the usual 20ft — will be used to let competitors show off their strength and aim.

“The idea is to throw the caber end over end with the aim of landing it at 12 o’clock from the release position.

Mr Hind said the seeds of the Games were sown two years ago when he met Charles Dupplin, the CEO of reinsurance firm Hiscox, when he bought tickets for the Caledonian Society’s annual St Andrew’s Day Ball.

Mr Dupplin, Viscount Dupplin, whose family seat is Dupplin Castle in Perthshire, is Captain of the Colour Guard in the Atholl Highlanders, the only legal private army in Europe.

He offered to bring the pipes and drums of the unit, set up as the bodyguard for the Dukes of Atholl, whose ancestral home is at Blair Castle, also Perthshire, for a rare performance outside Scotland, and the idea of a Highland Games took off from there.

Mr Hind said: “The interest generated has been astonishing — it’s been beyond our wildest dreams. Word has got out and there has been an explosion of interest.”

Teams from business, rugby clubs, the police and the Regiment are queuing up to enter events like the tug o’ war.

Mr Hind said: “It’s all about fun, family, a bit of competition and entertainment and, at the same time, providing a wonderful visual spectacle and an introduction to Scottish culture for Bermudians and visitors alike.”

Mr Hind added that the event had the potential to develop into a major tourist attraction as well.

He said: “There are so many people around the world who claim Scottish links — especially in America and Canada, so it’s an ideal event to attract people from these countries.”

To give the Games a Bermudian twist, the Bermuda Islands Pipe Band, the Somerset Brigade Band, Sandys Drumline and the Bermuda Regiment Band will join forces with the Atholl Highlanders for a massed band march-off.

Caledonian Society president Scott Devine said: “The events aren’t just for serious competitors – we hope to get families involved in some of the events. They’re trying to talk me into tossing the caber – but I’ve hurt my back, so we’ll see.”

The Caledonian Society of Bermuda Highland Games will take place at the Sandys 360 Community Centre playing fields in Somerset on Friday, June 8. Entry is $5, with children under 12 free. Corporate hospitality tickets are available at $150 a ticket, which includes food, wine and the chance to sample some of Scotland’s finest whiskies.

Food stands with traditional Scottish fare, including haggis and Dundee cake, will also be open for business.

To register for events or to buy tickets for corporate hospitality, visit www.caledoniansocietyofbermuda.com or contact Elizabeth Ward on 704 0631.