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Events in the Cairngorms Explaining Scotland Suggested things to do

Clans and clan ties are a strong pull for a lot of our visitors from the US, Canada and Australia. Many of these visitors are coming to the Highlands to trace their ancestral roots. The local clans here are “Grant” and “Macpherson”. You’ll still find a high number of families with these surnames in the area.

Clans and Highland Games

The clan system in Scotland has a fascinating history and has been associated with many famous stories like the Outlander series and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. From ancient origins in the Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions, by the 13th century, the clans had grown firm roots in the Highlands of Scotland.

While the term ‘clan’ means family or children in Gaelic, not all the member of the same clan were related. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth. Over time the clan system has been romanticised. Along with border disputes, the prime cause of inter-clan unrest was cattle “reiving”. Cattle were frequently raided if the opportunity presented itself. The most important clan chiefs at this time were part-time kings, protectorates and judges. They held real power over their controlled lands.

The system remained largely intact until the time of the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. The royal troops of King George II ruthlessly crushed the rebellion. However, the conflict should not be romanticised. The facts behind the scenes are much more murky than you might think.

How and why the clan system changed

By this point, improved trade and communication links between northern and southern clans were already leading to the dilution of the clan system and the infamous Highland Clearances effectively signalled the end as thousands of Scottish land workers sought the promise of a better life on distant shores.

Today, many clans can be traced back to a specific part of Scotland, for example the MacLeods of Skye, the MacNeils of Barra or the MacNabs of St Fillan on Loch Earn. Do you have ancestry in the Highlands? Most clans have a particular tartan associated with them instead of a coat of arms. At the Kilt exhibition in Inverness you can see a huge array of different tartan patterns which have evolved over the years.

Ultimately clans and troops liked to compete.  A show of power and strength.  In heavy contests, including the hammer throw and weight for height, see competitors putting their muscles to the test, while field events such as the hill race and cycling competition test speed and stamina.   Over the centuries, the Heavy Events evolved from military exercises into festivals for the Scottish public.  With the addition of dancing, music, food and drink, the Highland Games were born

highland Games

Abernethy Highland Games


Origins of some of the Highland Games competitions

Do you know where the idea of caber tossing orginated? It was part of the logging industry. The lumberjacks would fell the trees and then have to float them down the river to the sawmill. The toss was the most effective way of landing the tree in the river.

Did you know that Baron Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, was so impressed by a Highland display he saw at the 1889 Paris Exhibition that he introduced the hammer throw, shot put and the tug o’ war to his competition? The former two are still included in the Olympics programme to this day however I think it’s time to start a campaign #bringtheolympictugowarback.


clans of Scotland

Usually the final event at the Games but always great entertainment

That’s what I think Scotland is most famous for… what do you think?

Best time to see a Highland Games

There are calendars online where you can see lists of dates for all the Highland Games and Gatherings throughout the year. Each one tends to take place on a set date. For example, our closest games (the Abernethy Highland Games), always take place on the 2nd Saturday in August. But if you’re not in the area then, you could always go to Tomintoul, Newtonmore, Braemar or Grantown Games.

Top travel stories: Myths about Scotland

Are there bears in Scotland?

bears in Scotland

Road sign near Aviemore

You might be forgiven for wondering if there are bears in Scotland, if you see the signs by the side of the road. Why are bears constantly mentioned on the road signs? Sometimes even accompanied by a picture of a bear.

A family touring Scotland were getting increasing bemused and concerned by the signs they were seeing at the side of the road mentioning bears and Scotland on the same notice. What’s this they thought? Are there bears in Scotland? Eventually they asked the owner of the accommodation where they were staying … what’s this we’re seeing about bears in Scotland? Should we be worried?

The owner of the accommodation explained that the signs were about a company which maintains the trunk roads in Scotland called “Bear Scotland”. No cause for concern unless you spot a particularly rough section of road which needs resurfacing! Bear Scotland are also responsible for gritting the main roads in the winter.


Polar Bears & Pandas

Of course you can still see bears in Scotland but only in captivity. The polar bears at the Highland Wildlife Park and the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are a big draw for visitors.

The polar bears at the Highland Wildlife park are even more of a draw now than they used to be due to the birth of wee Hamish. Hamish is the first polar bear born in the UK for 20 years or so. You’d be forgiven even more these days for thinking bears are roaming around in Scotland as since Hamish’s birth there have been signs indicating where you can go to see polar bears!

Polar bear

Photo Caption: Polar Bear at the Highland Wildlife Park

Photo Credit: Scot Mountain Holidays


Join Scot Mountain Holidays for tailor made trips in the Highlands of Scotland including:

  1. hiking,
  2. mountain biking
  3. or a personal itinerary of activities and visits from our base at Fraoch Lodge

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