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Highland Gatherings

"Don't give us dull facts and figures; make it amusing and readable - local colour and anecdote. Side-track, if you will, but let it be chatty." - The Candid Friend.

IT is possible that after perusing these pages a hyper-critical reader may find fault with the collaborators for including such a lot of matter and information that at first sight has no apparent relativity to the games that are the raison d'Ítre of this volume.

Our answer to this is, that, in our opinion, in order to give some reason for the existence of these gatherings and games, it is necessary to study - all too briefly in our limited space and time - the antecedents and habits of the clansmen amongst whom these annual festivals survive with such amazing and creditable tenacity to-day. It has been found impossible to separate the history of the Highlander as a soldier or a sportsman, or a peaceful residenter (I believe that is the correct appellation) in the mountains, from his status as an athlete in these pages.

It must be remembered that athletes and sportsmen are two different characters. They are frequently combined in one person; indeed it is difficult to find a true athlete who is not a "sportsman" in the accepted terms of those who have acquired the cachet of a public school or the imprimatur of a leading university.

With what combative feelings do we take up a London newspaper, and find one page headed "All the sports." We look up and down its columns and can see not a single mention of a sport in it. In winter-time at all events, it is mainly of cup-ties: how so-and-so has sold his services from one club to another in the game called Association Football: how one hundred thousand young men watched some such game, when quite half of them would have been far more healthily employed in some game themselves, or having a five-mile walk in the country instead.

This is, of course, entirely apart from the betting and other undesirable commercialities that turn athletics into athleticism, and make men seek the gain and not the game.

Perhaps you find a column devoted to golf (which came from Holland) where professionalism is rampant. Strangely enough, this is not a game at all, because it can be played alone: it is certainly not a sport, but merely a pastime, which supplies to middle-aged persons that excuse for a walk that was never brought home to them in other days. One wonders what they did without it. It will always have its crazy votaries, young and old, but how few good golfers are also good shots, keen fishermen, or hunting men, i.e., sportsmen. Your average racing man and dog-breeder is a sporting man, quite a distinct class.

Let us turn from all this to the quiet seclusion of some Scottish glen, where, a few days before the great meetings, a handful of hard-working farm hands are practising with the caber or the shot. Do you think that bookmakers are dreamt of in their philosophy? Could anything be more incongruous with its surroundings than a deafening din of "3 to 1, Starkey!" or "Evens Maitland," while these honest Highlanders were tossing the caber before Royalty in the arena at Braemar?

Or again, how would it sound, just as The Mackintosh, at Inverness, walked up with Colonel Farquharson, to hear "I back McGregor for the stone" or "5 to 2 The Black Watch for the Tug-of-War"?

We doubt if betting prevails at the Highland Gatherings, and it is pleasant to think that the noisy undesirabilities of, say, the hound-trails in England, are not tolerated over the Border, where your true athlete, whether competitor or spectator, does not need the pandemonium of yelling bookmakers to call him to the contest. He wants to see the best men win, at the performance of the various feats, and not merely draw their money at the end.

We have to thank a great number of persons who have been of indispensable assistance in our search for accurate information as regards the games we have chronicled. In the Braemar district, there were the secretary and the treasurer, Messrs. Grant and Ewan, Mr. James Mackintosh, Mr. G. B. Lowe, Mr. Adamson, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Grant of the Invercauld Arms Inn at Crathie, Mr. John MacPherson, who is also a contributor, Dr. Leslie Stewart and Mr. W. A. Hartley, W.S., both visitors from Edinburgh, Mr. Richard David of Arbroath, the proprietors of the Arbroath Herald, Mr. Smith of the White Hart Hotel in that town, and a host of other kindly friends.

At Inverness we were given the full run of the files of the Inverness Courier, as well as the personal help of the proprietor, Mr. Evan M. Barron, Mr. Grant, and two members of the staff, whose deaths, I regret to say, took place not long after our meeting, viz., Mr. L. A.. Boyne and Mr. James Macrae. They were particularly helpful on the field, on both days of the festival. In many respects they were like David and Jonathan, and it may be safely said that if their extreme courtesy and utility to a stranger like the writer counts for only a portion of their personal attributes, their loss must be well-nigh irreparable.

Major David Ross and his assistant secretary, Mr. Wotherspoon, were also unsparing in their efforts with information and facilities for gathering details impossible elsewhere, in which accuracy was of paramount importance.

H.R.H. the Princess Royal has not only contributed a masterly foreword, but presented us with her signed portrait for reproduction. The Marquis of Huntly, Lord Lovat, Sir Hector Munro, and The Mackintosh have all most kindly sent their portraits, while one of the most pleasing and typical of the pictures is that of Sir lain Colquhoun, Bart., D.S.O., of Luss, congratulating Archie Cameron on his victory in the hill race, when the latter was over sixty years old. In the background may be seen Sir lain's piper, Macfarlane, providing appropriate music at the same time.

Sincere thanks, too, are tendered to the owners of the copyrights of "Letters of Queen Victoria" and "Pages from a Private Diary" (Sir John Murray), "The Legends of the Braes of Mar" (Lewis Smith & Son), "Men of Muscle" by Chas. Donaldson (Messrs. Carter & Pratt) and "The Book of the Braemar Gathering" (Arbroath Herald).

The works of Taylor, the Water Poet, quite justify an incursion into matter of his, other than what is quoted in this book, if one can tolerate the somewhat gory and gruesome half century of which he wrote. The title of "Hell, Hull, and Halifax," anyhow, suggests possibilities of peculiar interest.

Amongst those who have been good enough to supply illustrations are Messrs. Bisset of Ballater, the Topical Press Agency, Sport & General, A. C. Milne of Brechin, Whyte, and Paterson, both of Inverness, and Messrs. Vandyk Ltd., of London.

It is now just over two hundred years since the death of King George I. One year after his accession in 1714, the standard was raised at Braemar to oppose the House of Hanover, and reinstate the House of Stuart. Within a few minutes' walk of the scene of that historic event, the twenty thousand crowd at Braemar now annually raises its unanimous voice to welcome our good King George V.

Let us hope and pray that never, even in another two hundred years, will it be necessary for the loyal subjects of our Sovereign to raise the standard, seen at Balmoral with such pride and patriotism last September, by the writer, to defend the House of Windsor against the hordes of Moscow, or any other foreign capital.

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