Skip to content

Of cromachs, cabers and the Kiltie Dash

August 31, 2011

Heartfelt thanks to all of you who sent good wishes our way for a break in the weather on Saturday for our local Highland Games. Whether it was because of all those positive vibes, or because the rain gods have been concentrating on the eastern seaboard of North America over the past few days, we did – miraculously – have a mostly sunny afternoon. Not a soggy kilt in sight.

The pipe band arrived on the field looking as splendid as ever,

and although they had to stand to attention for the Chieftain’s Salute through the one downpour of the afternoon, the rain was brief enough not to trouble anyone.

This is a small gathering: there is no agricultural section, which means no cattle or sheep being shown and no tent full of prize-winning scones and chutneys and gardens-on-trays, as we had in the local show where I grew up. The emphasis at these Games is on the field. Piping competitions go on at the corners of the field, and highland dancing takes place on a specially erected platform. There are cycle races, a hill run, sprints and heavyweight events like putting the stone and tossing the caber.

This year, to my delight, our younger son chose to enter the Kiltie Dash. Whereas the other races are pretty serious and attract competitors from athletics clubs all over Scotland, this short sprint is open to anyone in a kilt. Only about half a dozen souls had the gumption to enter, two of whom were wearing nasty picnic rugs wrapped sarong-style over their jeans. (Outrageous travesty of our national costume! They should have been disqualified, in my opinion.) Our wee boy was the smallest entrant by far – especially once some of the heavyweight competitors joined in – and needed a last minute pep-talk from Daddy to keep up his courage.

For a moment the commentator got rather excited as he saw my husband climbing into the ring. Was the Chieftain of the Games entering the Kiltie Dash? No such luck, only his wee son. He soon managed to restore son’s natural bubbling enthusiasm. With the help of a generous handicap, our wee boy ran a very creditable race and, more to the point, he enjoyed it.

By the way, if you should be wondering about the cromach of the title of this post, my husband is holding one in the picture below as he unwraps son’s prize of a sweetie. A cromach is a shepherd’s crook, with a curved handle often carved from horn. Many are works of great craftsmanship. They are still used by shepherds but are also sometimes carried as a sort of informal baton of office by the high heid-yins (people in authority) at Highland Games, or just used by men out walking. My husband was given his for his twenty-first birthday, and treasures it.

(Prince Charles seems quite fond of his too: there are any number of photos of him looking pensive in a kilt at Balmoral, cromach in hand.)

One is rather fond of one's cromach. (Picture from

After the excitement of the Kiltie Dash, it was time to let off steam at the funfair. Water-zorbing looks the most tremendous fun, and is especially silly in a kilt.

Several members of our extended family joined us, and we met plenty of friends and acquaintances as we pottered about the fair and the side stalls in the course of the afternoon. All in all, it was another very enjoyable, sociable  – and sunny! – Games.

Making a new friend

You might enjoy Immortal memories: just an ordinary Burns’ Night.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. hmunro permalink
    August 31, 2011 1:43 am

    How wonderful to hear that your local Highland Games continue their tradition of being (relatively) rain-free! And how wonderful to read about the day’s festivities, as well. (Although I agree with you that the Kiltie Dash ought to be open only to people wearing a proper kilt. What do the people be thinkin’, wearin’ a nasty picnic rug?) Thanks for bringing some smiles, and a bit of melancholy for my ancestral home.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 31, 2011 11:22 am

      Nothing like a good bit of tartan to bring a tear to the eye of anyone with Scottish blood! 😉

      • August 7, 2012 4:01 pm

        The odd thing is pure Sassenachs like me can also get sentimental over a kilt and a piper. No idea why since my bloodline is English, Irish and probably (courtesy of a Powell great grandfather) a splash of Welsh.

  2. Margaret Lambert permalink
    August 31, 2011 1:51 am

    Everyone looks dry and crisp, they must have shed the rain quickly. Thanks for the bit about the cromach; for some reason I don’t recall ever reading anything about it. It looks like a very successful day for everyone, especially the wee boy.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 31, 2011 11:24 am

      I guess that cromachs are not generally big news. Its easy to take our own traditions for granted, isn’t it? Sometimes I have to stand back and think about what would need explaining to a visitor – but I enjoy that. And yes, thank you, it was indeed a lovely day.

  3. August 31, 2011 7:58 am

    Great fun! It looks as if your son is about to be awarded a bottle of the hard stuff – probably the last thing he would appreciate!
    None of this silly ‘rain stopped play’ nonsense as in cricket.
    (btw, no luck with the boots on first pass. I thought Russell & Bromley would be a sure bet, but no. Perhaps it’s not a ‘classic’ year. Perhaps the Borders will be a better bet – or can you recommend anywhere in your parts?)

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      August 31, 2011 11:27 am

      Yes, his parents were hoping that he might get the whisky, but that went to the adult winner instead, for some reason!
      Hear hear re. the cricket. Big softies that they are.
      Boots: have you looked at Duo on North Castle Street? They do boots with different calf-widths so you can get a really good fit, and I know that they have some classic designs. Otherwise, up our way, House of Bruar at Blair Atholl might be worth a try – for a price.

  4. Erika W. permalink
    September 1, 2011 1:19 pm

    Lovely account–thank you. Hoping for the whisky? Shame on you! My ticket stub won me a pantomime prize at the age of 11 and I watched with fury as my grandparents sampled the goods–yes–a bottle of whisky.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 1, 2011 4:57 pm

      Aw, yes, that must have been tough. He was very chuffed with his sticky sweetie, so I couldn’t begrudge him it.

  5. September 1, 2011 9:07 pm

    Well done that wee boy! Shame he only won a sticky sweetie – but maybe at that age, those things are important….it’s so long ago I can’t remember 😉 Now… what on EARTH is water zorbing?? I shall have to google this….

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 1, 2011 11:09 pm

      Oh, we weren’t expecting any prize at all, so he was delighted. I think it’s great that there are still races run for fun rather than prize money – long may it last!

      Zorbing is the most daft thing, and looks like huge fun. Imagine being a tadpole inside a piece of frogspawn, or a hamster inside a ball. You are inside a giant inflatable ball. Proper zorbing is bouncing down hills and so on: here, the balls were rolling around in a sort of paddling pool, so no danger of bumps and bruises, just a few minutes of priceless hilarity.

  6. September 2, 2011 10:29 am

    those picknick sarongs! Hilarious. Hope no one of THEM won the whiskey though…

    Need to try out the zorbing too! Or maybe have the husband try it out for me first 😉

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 2, 2011 4:39 pm

      I bet you’d love zorbing, Diana! I’m not brave enough to try the real deal, but I was really tempted to crawl in with my son to have a go on water. It looked brilliant, he couldn’t stop laughing. 🙂

  7. September 2, 2011 7:59 pm

    I think…cromachs are mentioned in the song “Road To the Isles”…but am not convinced enough to post the lyrics.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 2, 2011 11:25 pm

      Yes, they are indeed! ‘Oh the far Cuillins are puttin’ love on me, as step I wi’ my cromach tae the Isles.’ Or some such. We have a bad habit of singing it in the car on the road to Skye, rolling the ‘r’ in ‘crrromach’ with exaggerated relish. 🙂

  8. Menatra permalink
    September 3, 2011 4:49 am

    What a great post. I loved learned about the water zorbing, sounds like a lot of fun but I think I would have to try the “kiddie pool” to start with and then maybe try out the hill! I just went to my first Highlands Games here in Canada and had such a great time. It was so exciting seeing everyone in their kilts. I must admit though the original reason was to meet Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, but once I was there I was hooked. The strong man events were amazing.

    • dancingbeastie permalink*
      September 3, 2011 3:41 pm

      Hi, and thanks for your comments. It’s good to hear that you enjoyed your Highland Games. I heard about the Outlander series from a Californian lady who comes to our Games every year, and I read a couple to find out what the fuss was all about. I must admit that they don’t do it for me – maybe I am too familiar with all things Scottish – although they certainly made me look at my red-haired, kilt-wearing, French-speaking, Highland laird of a husband in a new light! 😉

  9. October 23, 2011 6:38 pm

    Oh, that does look fun and I’m so glad the sun shone for you. 🙂

  10. Kyle A. S. Macpherson permalink
    April 30, 2014 6:53 pm

    Hello! Fantastic article! would your husband ever consider selling his Scottish wildcat sporran?



    • April 30, 2014 11:19 pm

      Thank you, and well spotted! It is indeed made from a wildcat, shot on our estate many decades ago before they became a protected species. As such it is very special (if slightly gruesome in my opinion) and I’m afraid that my husband would no more sell his sporran than his cromach. (Actually I did ask, and he said he might consider it for a million quid…!)


  1. Two ways to win the Kiltie Dash « Dancing Beastie
  2. The September shift | Dancing Beastie
  3. Listening | Dancing Beastie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: