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Cowal Highland Gathering

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Cowal Highland Gathering
Official logo of the Gathering
Pipe bands filing into the stadium for the salute to the Chieftain and the award announcements at the 2008 event
DatesFinal weekend in August annually
Location(s)Dunoon, Cowal
CountryScotland, United Kingdom
Years active1894 – present

The Cowal Highland Gathering (also known as the Cowal Games) is an annual Highland games held in the Scottish town of Dunoon, on the Cowal peninsula in Argyll and Bute, over the final weekend in August.


The first record of an organised Highland games in the town is in 1871, the same year as the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban started. In subsequent years games were held at New Year.[1] The organisation of the Cowal events and other games around Scotland was due to a wide interest in Highland sports, partly stemming from Queen Victoria's love of Scotland.[2]

The event that would evolve into the Cowal Gathering was first held on 11 August 1894, and organised by local man Robert Cameron.[3]

1906 saw the introduction of a pipe band competition for Army bands, at the suggestion of Malcolm McCulloch. 25 bands entered in 1909, the first year that civilian bands were allowed to compete.[4][5] The Argyll Shield, donated in 1906 by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, is still awarded to the winning band in the Grade 1 competition.[6][7]

The easy access of Dunoon by paddle steamer from Glasgow contributed to popularity of the Games.[8] The Games also featured in early BBC television broadcasts.[3]

The global COVID-19 pandemic saw the cancelling of the highland gathering for 2020 and 2021, events normally attracting in excess of 1500 competitors annually. This was due both to travel restrictions for international participants, as well as uncertainty health-wise. A 'virtual gathering' was to be held for 2021, following a similar 2020 action.[9]


Pipe band competition

Dunoon Stadium, the venue for the field events
Dunoon Stadium, the venue for the field events

As the last major competition in the season, Cowal was historically where the Champion of Champions title for the best overall performance in the major competitions of the season was decided and awarded. Until the World Pipe Band Championships started in Glasgow in 1947, Cowal was regarded as the premier pipe band competition.[10]

Following discussions between the Gathering Committee and the RSPBA, it was decided that after 2013 Cowal would lose its status as a major competition due to difficulties accommodating the number of bands.[11] The pipe band competition continues to be held but with a reduced number of entrants.[12]

Panoramic view of the 2014 event
Panoramic view of the 2014 event

Solo bagpipe competition

The Games hosts open graded pibroch, march, and strathspey and reel competitions, as well as juvenile and local restricted competitions.[13]

Highland dancing competition

Highland dancers competing
Highland dancers competing

At the Games are held the Scottish National Highland Dancing Championships which is only open to Scottish residents, the Scottish (open) Highland Dancing Championships and the qualifiers and finals of the World Championships.[14]


The Games features a variety of traditional Highland games events, including the shot put, caber toss, weight throw and hammer throw, as part of an international competition. The shot put is done with both a standard 16 pounds (7.3 kg) shot and with the naturally formed 34 pounds (15 kg) Cowal Stone.[15][16]

There is a 5-kilometre fun run and a hill race from the stadium to the top of Tom Odhar and back again,[17] and since 2007 there has been a Scottish Backhold wrestling competition.[18]


  1. ^ Jarvie, Grant (1999). Sport in the Making of Celtic Culture. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-7185-0129-7.
  2. ^ Sharpe, Gillian (28 June 2014). "Highland Games: 'Part of our culture'". BBC News. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b "A brief history of the Cowal Highland Gathering". Archived from the original on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  4. ^ Donaldson, Ann. The Scottish Highland Games in America. Pelican Publishing. pp. 109–149. ISBN 978-1-4556-1171-3.
  5. ^ "Another look back at the great days of Cowal Highland Gathering" (PDF). Pipe Band Magazine: 17–20. January 2016.
  6. ^ Kenny Smith (22 August 2018). "Cowal Highland Gathering is all ready to begin". Scottish Field. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  7. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering Pipe bands". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  8. ^ Collins, Tony; Martin, John; Vamplew, Wray (2005). Encyclopedia of Traditional British Rural Sports. Psychology Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-415-35224-6.
  9. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering 2021 cancelled". Cowal Highland Gathering. 16 March 2021. Retrieved 16 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Cowal hopes to regain appeal". pipesdrums. 31 July 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Sun setting on Cowal as RSPBA championship (updated)". pipesdrums. 31 January 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  12. ^ Brian Ferguson (23 January 2013). "Cowal Highland Gathering future in doubt". The Scotsman. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering solo piping". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  14. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering Highland dancing". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  15. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering heavy athletics". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Heavy Events". Archived from the original on 22 September 2008. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  17. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering – Cowal Hill Race". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  18. ^ "Cowal Highland Gathering Traditional wrestling". Retrieved 17 November 2018.
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Cowal Highland Gathering
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