History of Pitlochry Highland Games

Excepts from 'PITLOCHRY: Heritage of a Highland District'

Celebrations sprang up, including a revival of the old Highland Games. Pitlochry Highland Games was one of the first to be re-established in Scotland

Pitlochry Highland Games

The Pitlochry Highland Games were one of the first re-established in Scotland, in 1852, as evidenced by an ormolu brooch which is inscribed:

“Presented by Lady Feilden at the First Pitlochrie Highland Games to Mr Charles Duff of Dunavourdie as the Best Player on the Highland Bagpipes, 10th September 1852”.

A Recreation Ground was formed to the south of the town, on the north bank of the River Tummel. Only the cemetery at Dysart was nearby, otherwise the nearest place was the railway station. It was reached, as the Lady’s Dell is now, by Rie-Achan Road and by traversing the Dell. Where now the waters of Loch Faskally lap on a small beach, there was then a vista of the Recreation Ground, with a centrally-located pavilion, a terraced grass bank, the river and, over to the right, a narrow nine hole Golf Course (which predated the Recreation Ground). By 1900, the Ground was partly laid out for both football and tennis. There was also a path from Ferry Road, to the north of what is now Tummel Crescent and through the wood still shown on maps as lag na bain tighearna (‘the dell of the laird’s lady’) to the east end of the Ground. It was all to be submerged in due course.

When Loch Faskally was formed in 1950, flooding the old Recreation Ground, the Games moved to the new “Rec”, which is surprisingly similar in its topography to the old, a fact reinforced by the removal of the original Pavilion from the old Ground to the new in 1951; the Pavilion was upgraded with modern facilities in 1994.

For a time until 1921, the Games were known as the Pitlochry Athletic Sports and were considered one of only a few genuine meetings where Scottish, British and World records could be registered; some were achieved. A letter in the Oban Times of 29th August 1925 said:

History“Pitlochry Highland Games are fixed to be held early in September, when good money prizes are offered for the confined Heavyweight Championship of Scotland. As this is the only genuine record breaking meeting held in Scotland so far as proven and genuine weights are concerned – more professional records have been established at Pitlochry than at all other Games.”

Whilst Dunfermline Pipe Band was invited to play at the Games for many years, a pipe band contest was introduced in 1933, and until 1998 was limited to those pipe bands in Grade 1. There are about twenty Grade 1 bands worldwide and ten to twelve of these used to make their last appearance of the season at Pitlochry, playing individually in competition and then, at the prize-giving at the end of the day, playing together impressively as a colourful finale of the Massed Parade of Pipe Bands. At the end of the century fewer top bands, all suffering from increasingly long and arduous competitive seasons, were available to play at the Games. As a result the piping competition at the Games was broadened to include Bands in Grade 2 from 1998 and in Grades 3 and 4 from 1999. This led to many more bands competing, with between 18 and 24 bands competing – a glorious sight when all are formed up in the Massed Parade at the end of Games Day, especially when a number of the Bands conclude by marching back up Ferry Road to the centre of the main street.

Pitlochry Highland Games used to be held on the first Saturday in September, two days after the Royal Braemar Gathering, until in 1968 Braemar moved their Games without consultation to that same Saturday, leaving Pitlochry with no option but to move a week later to the second Saturday in the month, thereby becoming one of the last Games in the season. When Braemar moved its date earlier into August, Pitlochry decided to stay where it was in the calendar.

In 1996, Sir David Butter, KCVO, celebrated his 50th anniversary as Chieftain of the Games.

In 2005, Pitlochry Highland Games became a guarantee company, with the Committee members becoming its Directors.

HistoryThe events staged at the Pitlochry Highland Games in recent years are remarkably similar to those featuring in the Games Programme one hundred years earlier, with Highland dancing (Highland Fling; Hullachan; Sailor’s Hornpipe; Seann Truibhas; Strathspey & Reel o’ Tulloch; and Irish Jig), Heavy events (putting the 16lb and 22lb stones; throwing the 16lb and 22lb hammers; throwing the 28lb weight any style for distance; throwing the 56lb weight over the bar; and tossing the caber), solo piping competitions (marches; and strathspeys & reels), running (on grass – 90, 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 metres; 4 x 100 metre relays; Highland Perthshire Primary Schools 4 x 100 metre relay; and children’s races), Field events (high jump; long jump; pole vault; and hop, step & leap); Tug o’ War; and cycling (also on grass - 800 , 1,600 and 3,200 metres and the finale of ‘Deil Tak’ the Hindmost’).

Events no longer held include a hurdle race; steeplechase; individual pipers playing the “Piobaireachds” (anglicised as the ‘pibroch’); and Cumberland Wrestling (although that staged a come-back at some Games here in the 1980s).

The annual Games Day takes a surprising amount of organising and, blessed with good weather, can attract a good crowd of up to 5,000 plus all the competitors, judges, stewards and other helpers. It is thought that the official ‘gate’ of 6,024 people in 1962 is the record number of paying attendees.

Games Timeline - some highlights from 1852-1977

  • 1852
    1st. Pitlochry Games or Sports evidenced by brooch donated for Best Player on Highland Bagpipes.
  • Note
    No further records survive until 1885
  • 1885
    Amateur Athletic Sports - Athletics including 150 yards race for boys under 4 feet high, 3rd. Batt. Black Watch Band and Pipers programme.
  • 1899
    Complimentary ticket for “Athletic Sports and Grand Champion Competition”.
  • 1902
    Pitlochry Sports – Athletics, Heavy Events, Dancing, Tug-of-war, wrestling, Dunfermline Town Band, Piping, special trains arranged by Highland Railway. Tent with temperance drink, biscuits etc.
  • 1903
    Pitlochry Athletic Sports – as before plus cycle races.
  • 1904
    Black Watch Band.
  • 1906
    Forfar Instrumental Prize Band
  • 1907
    Dunfermline Town Band, Motor Gymkhana and Battle of Flowers
  • 1908
    Perth Trades Silver Band, Grand Football Character Match with teams dressed in character costumes
  • 1909
    Perth Trades Silver Band
  • Note:
    The Pitlochry Sports were not held during the First World War.
  • 1921
    Proposal by Pitlochry Cricket Club and Vale of Atholl Football Club to revive Annual Sports. Agreed at public meeting. Athletics, piping, dancing, heavy events (including record breaking), motor cycle obstacle race, and five-a-side “footer”. Bonnybridge Band and Gymnastic display. Bad weather. Loss £143 (partly due to purchase of tents, equipment etc.).
  • 1922
    Public meeting to decide if Games should continue. Agreed subject to financial support being obtained. First Ringmaster appointed. Rain insurance. Discussion on field that as girl dancers were in a class of their own above the boys special prizes should be awarded. Not agreed by all!
  • 1923
    Naval Display with field guns and Band
  • 1925
    Eccentric Gymnasts display. Dunfermline Town Band. For the first time latrines provided for men and women.
  • 1926
    Dunfermline Town Band. Tilting the bucket from cars and cycles. Letter from judge not wishing to act “owing to the ever-increasing numbers of girls in kilts…..spoiling the true style of Highland Dancing”.
  • 1927
    Local Piping and Dancing events cut out as there had been no entries for a number of years. Clown for children.
  • 1928
    Dunfermline Town Band.
  • 1929
    Dunfermline Town Band. Black Watch Gymnastic Display.
  • 1930
    Dunfermline Town Band. Black Watch Gymnastic Display. Competitors in Heavy Events asked to wear kilts.
  • 1931
    Dunfermline Town Band. Cavalry Display by 16/5th. Lancers. Juvenile dancing confined to boys (8 entered). “we consider that this number will increase in time and is very much better than a multitude of girls with which our judges are unable to cope” (!) Record attendance 4914.
  • 1932
    Dunfermline Town Band. Black Watch Gymnastic Display. Very bad weather. Attendance 2875
  • 1933
    First Pipe Band Contest. A tent for the Secretary was purchased. Broadcasting Coach.
  • 1934
    Pipe Band contest dropped. Radio Coach provided by “The Bulletin”. Display by the Royal Scots Greys.
  • 1935
    Pipe Band Contest reinstated. 17 (!) Bands competed. Parade of massed bands “spectacular”.
  • 1936
    Pipe Band Contest – 2 grades only and by invitation. 8 Bands invited.
  • 1937
    Dunfermline Town Band.
  • 1938
    Dunfermline Town Band. Tilting the Bucket dropped.
  • 1939
    Games cancelled due to international situation.
  • Note:
    The Pitlochry Sports were not held during the Second World War.
  • 1946
    Games revived but ground reduced by Hydro-Electric Board. Major David Butter elected Chieftain.
  • 1947
    Games postponed one week to avoid clash with World Pipe Band Championships. Mercantile Association asked if shops could be closed on Games Day. Attendance 5239 (a record).
  • 1948
    First games on the present ground. Dunfermline Town Band
  • 1949
    Attendance 5277 – a new record.
  • 1950
    Games filmed by Paramount Film Service. Display by the Royal Corps of Signals.
  • 1951
    Display by the Royal Corps of Signals. 14 Bands. Attendance 5975 – a new record.
  • 1952
    Alsatian Display.
  • 1958
    Helicopter display by RAF
  • 1959
    Display by Scots Guards Band and Drill Squad.
  • 1962
    Attendance 6024 – a new record.
  • 1968
    Date of Games permanently changed to one week later due to Braemar Games changing their day from Thursday to the Saturday of the same week being the day when Pitlochry Games had been held in the past.
  • 1970
    Female adult dancers 16 years of age or older allowed to compete in the Dancing Competition for the first time. Men and women danced together in the same competition although a ‘men only’ competition in the Strathspey & Tulloch was retained for a few years after 1970.
  • 1977
    Filming of the Games including committee meetings by BBC.
  • 2010
    Charles Butter appointed as Chieftain to succeed his late father, Sir David who was Chieftain of Pitlochry Highland Games for 63 years.
  • 2011
    Sir David Butter Special Prize introduced. This was possible due to a generous charitable contribution from a foundation with its roots in Victorian banking dynasty and is specifically for younger competitors.
  • 2013
    Scottish Junior Jumps Championship held at Pitlochry.


Pitlochry Highland Games Secretary: Alice McCormick | Tel: 07724 337938 | Email: secretary@pitlochryhighlandgames.co.uk | Privacy Policy

Registered as a Scottish Charity under Scottish Charity Number SC041070

Thanks to Bill Robertson, Colin Liddell MBE and David Brown for the photographs.