The standard on the Braes of Mar
Is up and streaming rarely;
The gathering pipe on Lochnagar
Is sounding lang an' sairly.
The Highland men
Frae hill and glen
In martial hue,
Wi' bonnets blue,
Wi' belted plaids,
An' burnished blades,
Are coming late and early.
Wha wadna join our noble
The Drummond and Glengarry,
Macgregor, Murray, Rollo, Keith,
Panmure and gallant Harry?
Clan Ronald's men,
The Lowlan' men,
Of Callander and Airlie.
Fy ! Donald, up an' let's
We canna' longer parley,
When Jamie's back is at the wa',
The lad we love sae dearly.
We'll go, we'll go,
An' seek the foe,
An' fling the plaid,
An' swing the blade,
An' forward dash,
An' hack and slash,
And fleg the German Carlie."
THE origin of this famous
gathering has been attributed to King Malcolm VI of Scotland. In 1040 he
felt the want of messengers either to carry his commands far and near,
Edinburgh being one destination, or possibly his idea was to establish a
regular system of post runners.
Kindrochit Castle, close to
where the standard was raised in 1715, was in more ancient times a hunting
seat of Malcolm Canmore, son of the Duncan murdered by Macbeth. To
ascertain which of his dependents were the most capable runners for this
purpose, he assembled all his tenants and subjects (so says Grant) on the
mound of the plain whereon the present castle is built. A splendid baldric
and sword, besides a purse of gold, was to be given to the youth who
should first reach the summit of Craig Choinnich, as seen from the
rendezvous. Among the assembled competitors stood conspicuous the two
eldest sons of M'Gregor of Ballochbuie. The runners were ranged. The King
held the glass ready to be turned. Three lord judges waved the flag on the
hill to signify they were ready. The King struck his shield; the trumpet
sounded ; the tartans streamed and whistled in the wind; the ground
trembled beneath their tramp; the eye seemed to carry them forward, not to
follow them; they rose and fell again, bounding like the motion of the
swift sea. Just as they reached the foot of the hill, another young man,
perspiring profusely, scarlet with heat, and breathless with haste, broke
into the circle where the King stood viewing the competitors.
"Oh! will you let me run,"
cried the youth, "will you let me run?"
"You are too late, my good
fellow," observed the King.
"Oh no, no; let me run, let
me run"; and unbuckling as he spoke, he had already thrown aside his
sword, dirk, and skian, tightened the belt of his kilt, and now stood
leaning forward on one foot, looking imploringly at the King, and casting
every moment an unquiet glance at the racers, who were now toiling up the
"Go if you wish," said the
King, "but you are too late."
The youth did not wait to
"Who is he?" inquired
Malcolm of his forester.
"The youngest of M`Gregor
of Ballochbuie's sons. His two brothers are among those that compete."
The youth cleared the
plain, fleet as a stag. The foremost were hanging on the face of the hill
above him, diminished to children and seeming scarce to move. Young
M`Gregor appeared to leap up like the vigorous goat, now climbing on all
fours, now seizing the long heather with his hands, and drawing himself
up, always up. He stopped no breathing space; he looked not behind ; he
never missed a step or hold. He reached the last of the line of white that
marked the progress of the runners through the long heather and scattered
"The springal will beat
them all," exclaimed Malcolm; "look how he ascends!"
"More power to him,"
exclaimed our huge old friend Allan Durward, looking as if he meant it.
The race became more and
more exciting. Some of the hindermost had indeed given up; but all those
who were not despairingly far behind put forth thew and sinew, and pressed
close after each other ready to take advantage of every accident. The two
M'Gregors had indeed left the others considerably behind, but they both
might fail; now was the critical moment. Young M`Gregor sprang forward
with unabated energy, passing the others one after another. They were now
hanging on the brow of that steep which stands as a wall to a kind of
steppe sloping from the east westwards, and from behind which rises the
last elevation seen from the Castle plain. The youth was now next to his
brothers. They had scaled the steep, but as the last of them was
disappearing behind it, his form rose erect on its edge, then bent forward
and plunged in headlong pursuit after them. Now close up behind them he
cried out: "Halves, brothers, and I'll stop."
"Gain what you can,"
replied the hero of the boarhunt, "and keep what you gain. I will do the
The second was too
breathless to speak. The young lad never halted; even while he spoke he
rushed onwards, and the first, who had taken a breathing space, saw him
pass the second, and bound within a few paces of the place where he
himself was. They were now engaged on the last steppe, and as they
reappeared to the spectators, there were two abreast, both equally ardent,
both exerting themselves to the utmost.
"Now, brother," said the
youngest again, "halves and I will yield."
"No, never," returned he;
"keep what you gain."
They felt their heads
dizzy, their eyes dim and painful-the breath rolled quick through their
nostrils like fire-their hearts beat louder than the sound of their
footsteps - every muscle and sinew was tightened to breaking - the foam in
their mouths seemed dried to sand-their bleeding lips, when closed, glued
themselves together-the sweat pearled on their skin in cold drops-and
their feet rose and fell mechanically more than otherwise. Now they come
in sight of the goal-now the judges encourage them by their cheers - now
they seem renewed again in vigour. The youngest put his whole soul forth;
the oldest summoned up all the strength of his tougher frame. Terribly
pressed, he was yet determined to gain, and stretched out his arm to
impede the motion of his rival, but felt nothing. They had only four yards
to go. He looked to his side, expecting to see him on the ground. At that
moment the tartans grazed the skin of his knee. His brother had leaped
forward below his outstretched arm. Furious he bounded on and fell, his
hand clutching with iron grasp the kilt of his rival. He was yet two yards
from the flag and his strength was exhausted. He could not drag the
other's prostrate body one step, and now he saw the hindermost fast
approaching, encouraged by this incident. Quick as thought, loosening the
belt of his kilt he resigned it to the hero of the boar-hunt.
"I have yielded everything
to you hitherto," quoth he, "and that I will also."
He reached the signal with
three feeble springs, seized the staff and threw it into the air; then
falling down, buried his face in the fresh heather and damp earth. A loud
shout from the plain told that the spectators had seen someone gain. But
the victor and his vanquished heard it not. They lay all three, within a
few paces of each other, unable to move arm or limb, but they panted so
strongly that their bodies seemed to rise of themselves from the ground.
When they rose up, their faces were deadly pale, checkered with livid
black lines and spots. The youngest had reached the top in three minutes.
Thus the origin of the Braemar Games attaches itself to the days of
Malcolm of the Big Head.
Before we leave the subject
of the postal system, we note that one, Donald Brown, was the runner
between Cupar Angus and Braemar, from 1780 to 1795, once a week, and paid
by local landowners.
In 1795 a G.P.O. was
established at Kincardine O'Neil, five miles from Aboyne. Duncan Cumming
was the postman, three days a week, at Braemar, Sundays, Tuesdays, and
Donald Brown had a son
called John, who was a quarryman, and a celebrated local personage. One
year he got rather tipsy the day before the Gathering, but managed to turn
up at the field at twelve midday, in his corduroy trousers, just as he had
left work in the quarry.
This, of course, created
comment amongst the spectators, and Mrs. Farquharson is reported to have
inquired whether Lord Fife did not provide proper costume for the clansmen
on his estate. Whatever the answer was, she provided him very soon
afterwards with a pair of trousers of the proper Farquharson tartan!
On another occasion, at
Glencallater, where he was engaged as a shepherd, he had also the
vineleaves in his hair, and slept peacefully through the forenoon of the
day in question.
His master came up about
this time to see how he was, but John saw him coming and went out of the
bothy door with his dog, and ran down to the loch adjacent to the place.
After going up to his knees in the water with his dog, he returned and
found his master in the house by the fire, inquiring how he got so wet.
John replied, "Git oot o' the way-let me dree mesel! If you'd been oot
amongst sheep, you'd be wet too."
Famous sports generally
have small beginnings, and the great Gathering at Braemar, not only for
the games, but also the social convivialities that keep together, should
this indeed be necessary, the multi-tartaned clans of Highlanders from far
and near, is no exception to the rule.
It was in July, 1800, that
the Wrights' Walk, as it was called, originated, the names of Duncan
Watson, Duncan Mackintosh, Malcolm McGregor, William Gruer, and Angus
Macdonald being the very first recorded. To these, or perhaps more
strictly, to three carpenters amongst them, with white aprons, is
attributed the epigenesis of the meeting now patronized by Royalty and all
the noblest aristocracy in bonnie Scotland and elsewhere.
This Society was duly
incorporated and registered, and the funds allocated periodically towards
the assistance of the dependents of poor members. These grants were,
however, soon found to be on too liberal a scale, compared to the amount
received from the contributors, and so it became necessary to curtail them
to obviate disaster.
In 1819, the funds were
invested in oatmeal, owing, it is said, to the famine resulting from the
Lord Fife became a patron,
and the Society gave him a grand ball as an official celebration of the
event. The total cost of this ball was 3s. 6d.! Some ball, I imagine. I
wish these things were as cheap nowadays!
The national costume of
kilts is soon after made compulsory, a room is engaged for the meetings
under the presidency of the Earl of Fife, and a proper festival was held
on 13th November. The funds seem to have been £66, and this was deposited
with Mr. Peter Farquharson, to bear interest at 3½ per cent., and a dinner
is inaugurated at the Invercauld Arms Hotel, at is. 6d. per head, drinks
optional, date 1824.
Revision of the rules
occurred, the name "Royal Highland Society" being adopted.
In 1828, two girnels are
bought, each to hold about a hundred bolls of meal. For those who, like
myself some years ago, never heard of either a boll or a girnel, I hasten
to say that a girnel is a huge chest, or square wooden box, made of pine
or spruce. A boll is a measure of meal up to six bushels, or sometimes
described as ten stones in weight. The price of a boll was not to exceed
Three hundred copies of the
revised rules were printed for circulation. In 1831, one of the founders,
Duncan Watson, died, and we notice that the list of vice-presidents
included Lord Elcho, Sir David Kinloch, Sir Thomas (not Harry) Lauder, Sir
William Cumming, Messrs. Farquharson Innes, Archibald Butter, Robert
Sutton, and Henry Foljambe.
1832 sees the first games,
the prize-money being £5, on the last Thursday in August. The Marquis of
Caermarthen (later Duke of Leeds) became an honorary member and presented
all his retainers with full Breadalbane tartan costumes. This good example
was soon followed by Queen Victoria with Royal Stuart tartans, and other
local chieftains according to their clans.
One interesting event in
1842 was a competition for the reading of the Gaelic language and its
In 1847, the purchase of
meal is stopped, owing to the repeal of the Corn Laws.
Queen Victoria being now
interested, her late Majesty invited the Society to Balmoral on the 22nd
September, 1859. A silver snuff-box is the first prize for tossing the
caber, a shoulder belt was given, and a medal for the race up the fell.
1865, King Edward was
present, and the word "Royal" was applied to the games. They had to be
cancelled, of course, on numerous occasions, such as the death of the
Prince Consort, the Earl and Countess of Fife, the Duke of Albany, and
later still, in recent times, the Duke of Clarence.
In the years 1887 and 1890
Her Majesty again invited the clans to Balmoral. In 1891 Sir Algernon
Borthwick has them at Cluny Park. The next three years they are at Mar
Castle, and in I896 the meeting was held at the Victoria Hall, Auchindryne
: in I897 the Diamond jubilee put off the festival, but in 1898 and 1899
it took place again at Balmoral, enhanced by more prizes and the great
hospitality of Queen Victoria, luncheon and dinner being provided for all
the Fife, Invercauld, Lonach, and the Queen's own Balmoral Highlanders.
The South African War and
the lamented death of Her Majesty in 1901 made still more cancellations,
and His Majesty King Edward VII became a patron.
In 1902 a return is made to
Cluny Park, a truly beautiful spot and close to the River Dee. The last
event to be recorded before coming to the actual sports is the gift by the
Duke of Fife in 1906, of twelve acres of ground, on which over £1,000 was
spent in that year in improvement for the purpose of the games. A charge
for admission was then started, and with permission from the Duchess of
Fife, the ground was christened "The Princess Royal Park."
The foregoing account has
been offered in some brevity, as my friend, Mr. G. B. Lowe, in "The Book
of the Braemar Gathering" gives us annually all the information that can
be desired, and we cordially recommend everyone to have a copy of this
invaluable souvenir, in which, year by year, new features are introduced,
and articles contributed by litterateurs of world-wide reputation,
eminently qualified to handle the subjects upon which they write.
Copiously illustrated, this booklet makes a most acceptable present for
those of whom force of circumstances deprives the opportunity of being
personally present on the occasion, a volume of incalculable value in
clubs and hospitals, and one of the strongest links forged in that great
Caledonian chain that binds the clansmen on their native heath to their
countless compatriots across the cosmic continents. Just as the tune of
John Peel is their anthem to hunting men and women in the whole universe,
so the name Braemar is never absent from the thoughts of the Scottish
sportsman and athlete all the world over. Long may it remain thus.
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