Sunday, 26th August 2018

Scenic Strathdon Summer Spectacle Shines

The sights and sounds of one of Scotland’s most iconic Highland Games filled the Aberdeenshire valley of Strathdon on Saturday, 25 August as the annual Lonach Highland Gathering and Games took place. 

A crowd of around 7,000 descended on the small Aberdeenshire village of Bellabeg to enjoy one of the highlights of north-east Scotland’s summer events calendar.  After morning showers, warm sunshine prevailed throughout the afternoon as the crowd watched a packed programme of over 70 events including Highland Dancing, piping, tug o’ war and light and heavy athletics.

It was the 177th time that this iconic Aberdeenshire event had taken place, getting underway in the usual spectacular style.  At 8:00am, as the strains of the pipes and drums of the Lonach Pipe Band pierced the cool morning air, the Lonach Highlanders commenced their six-mile march through Strathdon.

Dressed in kilts and full Highland regalia, carrying eight-foot long ceremonial pikes and Lochaber axes which sparkled in the sunshine, the 170 men who marched this year formed an impressive sight as they headed westward out of Bellabeg.  Led by Sir James Forbes of Newe, patron of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, their journey en-route to the Highland Games saw them visit six local properties.  At each, the health of its owners, the society and the local area was toasted with a dram of whisky and the cry ‘Ho Ho Lonach’.

This year, in the Year of Young People, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society which oversees proceedings, welcomed three new young members into its ranks.  The oldest marcher was 78-year-old marshalling sergeant George Thomson from Strathdon.

At one o’clock the Highlanders marched into Bellabeg Park to officially open the 177th Lonach Gathering.  They were greeted with passionate cheers and steady applause from spectators who packed the grandstands and stood five deep in places round the arena.  Following on, pulling the traditional ‘cairt’ was Socks, the Lonach horse led by his owner Derek Gray.  The well-turned-out nine-year-old Irish Heavy Cob received a rousing welcome and many admiring glances from onlookers.

The day-long celebration of Scottish culture and sporting heritage saw history being made when 45 youngsters took part in the first ever Daily Mile event at a Highland Games.  Held in conjunction with Active Schools Aberdeenshire and The Daily Mile, the primary school age children were sent off on their mile round the games arena by Elaine Wyllie, the founder of the children’s health initiative.

Commenting on the day, Elaine said: “The first Daily Lonach Mile was fantastic.  Over 40 children, boys and girls, took part.  There was lots of family support and everyone completed the 15 minutes and really had a great time.  What is evident at Lonach is the real sense of community which fits with the community ethos of The Daily Mile.

“The committee showed great vision in having the very first Daily Mile at a Highland Games.  So it is an absolute joy to have them onboard through The Daily Lonach Mile.  I think they would like to have it as part of the Lonach Gathering going forward.  I do think it is the most famous and best one, so for them to have included it is a real honour for The Daily Mile.”

Keen competition was witnessed across all disciplines at the gathering.  The four-mile hill race attracted a field of 85 runners.  Hamish Battle from Craigievar won the men’s race, while the first female home was Stephanie Owen of Larbert and Rowan Currie from Strathdon was the first Lonach Society member to finish.

Hotly contested as ever was the ladies tug o’ war competition.  The Rest of the World team – made up of ladies from throughout the UK and overseas – overpowered the Lonach Ladies team to be crowned victors.

In the heavy events, Scott Rider from Dartford was named the overall heavy event champion for 2018, whilst Lukasz Wenta from East Kilbride retained the Rob Walker Memorial Shield by winning the open caber event.

The Lonach Society School of Dancing celebrated its tenth anniversary with a special performance by its pupils.  The school was established by Louise Anderson in 2008 to help preserve the traditions of Highland Dancing and encourage more children in the Strathdon area to compete in the discipline at the Lonach Gathering.  Pupils from the dance school once again won all of the Lonach area competitions in the local Highland Dancing section.

In acknowledgement of 40 years of service in the secretary’s office at the Lonach Gathering, Alison Webster from Kildrummy was presented with a gift and bouquet of flowers by the society.

Throughout the day four local pipe bands performed for the crowd, which included visitors from Australia, Austria, Hawaii and New Zealand.  Joining Lonach Pipe Band were Ballater and District, Huntly and District and Towie and District.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said: “The Lonach Highland Gathering and Games is one of north-east Scotland’s most iconic summer spectacles and it is always heartening to see a good crowd turning out to support us.  It is a major event for the area and continues to attract visitors from around the world.  This is a unique Scottish event, amidst stunning scenery and today’s sunshine has made the day sparkle.

“There is a rich history and heritage at Lonach and encouraging our next generation to get involved is extremely important.  The length of the march and right round the arena you see youngsters with beaming smiles who are eager to get involved.  It is heartening to see.  What is also reassuring is the success that the Lonach Society School of Dancing has had in inspiring local youngsters to compete in the Highland Dancing events.  This year, The Daily Lonach Mile has added a new element for youngsters to participate in.  We hope it inspires youngsters to get more involved in Highland Games.

“A huge amount of work goes into making today happen and the society is grateful for all the support it receives.  From volunteers and visitors, to competitors, sponsors and those with trade stands, they all contribute to making the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games the special event that it is.”

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