As family days out go, this one ranked among Scotland’s very best. Thousands of people from across the world gathered in Dunoon today for the spectacular climax of the Cowal Highland Gathering (CHG).
Competitors and spectators alike joined forces to ensure the event’s finale was a day to remember for everyone involved – as it always is. From the hundreds of dancers and pipers to the heavy athletes, runners, ceilidh bands, stunt cyclists and many other entertainers on show, every participant contributed to what was a fantastic day’s entertainment.
The standard of competition was breathtaking, with many of the world’s top competitors giving their all in a bid go home with the silverware. Overseeing the action was this year’s Chieftain, former Sky chairman and Cowal resident Nick Ferguson CBE.
One of the highlights of the Gathering’s final day – and one of the most fiercely contested – was, as always, the Cowal Pipe Band Championship. This year, Inveraray and District Pipe Band managed to hold off the challenge of Johnstone Pipe Band to be crowned winners of the Grade 1 Cowal Pipe Band Championships 2016 and take home the famous Argyll Shield.
In the other sections and grades, the Cowal Pipe Band champions were:
Novice Juvenile B – Kintyre Schools Novice
Juvenile A – Oban High School
Juvenile – Oban High School
Grade 4 – Lanark and District
Grade 4 MSR – Lanark and District
Grade 3 – Kintyre Schools
Grade 3 MSR – Kintyre Schools
Grade 2 – Johnstone
Grade 2 MSR – Johnstone
Inveraray and District won the Best Band on Parade.
The champion juvenile drum major was Rowan Murdoch of Denny and Dunipace, and the champion adult drum major was Campbell Gillies of Rothesay and District.
Today also saw the Argyllshire Highland Dancing competitions (for dancers who live in Argyll and Bute) which turned out to be a real family affair.
Top honours in the Under 13 category went to Eilidh Gammons from Helensburgh, with her sister Catriona picking up the top prize in the Under 16 category.
Rhiannon Charles, also from Helensburgh, triumphed in the 16 years and over class.
At 11am, at the Burgh Hall in Dunoon town centre, 40 brave runners lined up for what must be one of the toughest 5K runs in the country – the Cowal Hill Race.
This year, it was once again won by Steven Campbell of Greenock’s Glenpark Harriers, with Adam McLean second and Paul Monaghan third. The first local home was Richard Reid of Dunoon Hill Runners.
The winner of the women’s race was Lucie Noakes, also of Dunoon Hill Runners, followed by Marion McMillan (2nd) and third-placed Morven Walsh.
Then came the biggest Highland Dancing competition in the world – the World Championship finals - with dancers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA pitting their skills against the best the UK has to offer.
In the end, it was Erin Blair of California who once again emerged victorious in the World Juvenile finals, followed by Michelle Gordon of Huntly and Louise Barton of Cairneyhill.
The trophy for best Scottish Juvenile Dancer went to Michelle Gordon, and the best Overseas Juvenile Dancer was Erin Blair.
In the World Junior championship, California’s Emma Schiff held off the challenge of Sophie Dunn (2nd) and Morgan McDougall (3rd), both of Ontario, Canada.
The best Scottish Junior Dancer was Finley Duncan of Banff, and the trophy for the best Overseas Junior Dancer went to Emma Schiff.
The Adult World champion was once again Ontario’s Marielle Lesperance, who won every element of her competition.
In second place was Alberta’s Rebecca Thow, with Ellis Hayes from Newton Stewart in third.
Marielle is also taking home the Mary McHarg Quaich for best Overseas Adult Dancer. The cup for best Scottish Adult Dancer went to Ellis Hayes.
Throughout the afternoon, four of the world’s hottest traditional music bands entertained the crowds in the now-famous ceilidh tent.
Leading the pack once again was Oban-based Skipinnish, who brought the house down when they headlined the show over the last two years and who also wowed the crowds at last night’s Gig at the Gathering.
Today, they were joined by three of the hottest up and coming names on the traditional music scene – Deoch ‘n Dorus, Trail West and Heron Valley.
While they were playing in their marquee behind the stadium, the heavy athletes and wrestlers battled it out for top honours in the stadium itself.
For the first year ever, there was a new International Heavy Athletics Team competition as well as the traditional individual contests.
Four-strong teams (three men and one woman) from Scotland, Germany and Iceland battled it out throughout the afternoon, with Iceland eventually carrying off the new team trophy.
In the overall individual heavy athletics, Iceland’s Heisi Geirmundsson came out on top, with Daniel Dorow from Germany second and Scotland’s Daniel Carlin third.
In the women’s competition, Lucy Marshall from England beat off the challenge of Germany’s Sylvana Bomholt (2nd) and Laura Allan of Scotland, who came third. Stefan Kolitch and Sylvana Bomholt, both of Germany, were crowned men’s and women’s caber toss champions respectively.
The wrestling this year featured 33 wrestlers from five countries – Scotland, Iceland, Germany, France and Estonia. The Female Open section was won by Iceland’s Marin Daesdotter, with compatriot Margaret Runadottir runner-up.
In the men’s Open competition, European Champion Asmunder Asmundsson from Iceland fought off the challenge of Frazer Hirsch from Carnoustie to take the title. Gunnar Gustav of Iceland was third.
The weight category winners were Sam McCrory from Hamilton in the 9 and a half stone category, Greg Neilson (also from Hamilton) in the 11 and a half stone event, Scott Carson from Aberdeen in the 13 and a half stone section and Frazer Hirsch in the 15 and a half stone category.
This year, there was a bigger and better selection of entertainment for all ages than ever before. One of the most popular draws proved to be the Xtreme mountain bike stunt team, which performed three gravity-defying shows to packed audiences. Among the other most popular new attractions were the Ferret World display and Glasgow Science Centre’s Disgusting Digestion workshops.
A highlight for the younger visitors was once again ‘Artie’s Tartan Tales’ featuring veteran entertainer Artie Trezise, who spent 30 years as one half of The Singing Kettle.
Cowal Highland Gathering chair Ronnie Cairns said the success of the weekend and the enthusiasm of everyone involved would ensure that this famous event will continue to go from strength to strength. “Judging from the feedback we’ve been receiving over the last three days, the vast majority of people who have taken part this year – whether competeting or spectating – are going home having had a brilliant time,” he said.
“It’s very rewarding for everyone involved in its organisation to see and hear how much people enjoy it. There are so many people working away behind the scenes to ensure that everything is as good as it can possibly be by the time the last weekend in August arrives, and I’d like to thank all our supporters, volunteers and sponsors for once again pulling it off.
“Our competitors have excelled themselves, as they do every year. Our spectators have marvelled at the skills on show, as they do every year. And the entertainments on offer in addition to the traditional Highland games elements have once again proved a major hit.
“The success of this weekend ensures we now have renewed energy to ensure the Gathering continues to be one of Scotland’s top family events by once again securing the best competitors, attractions and entertainment for next year.
“We very much look forward to welcoming everyone back to Dunoon for the 2017 Gathering.”
Craig Anderson, Managing Director of The Scottish Salmon Company, said: “Yet again the Gathering has shown just why it is one of Scotland’s top family events, and why we are so proud to continue our support as its main sponsor. “From its unique atmosphere, world-class competitors and spectacular musical performances, this year offered the perfect celebration of Scotland’s culture and traditions. It has also been extremely encouraging to see the Food Zone expand and more local producers showcase the best of Scotland’s larder to visitors.
“We are committed to playing an active role in the communities that we work in and to support the Gathering as it strengthens its reputation as one the world’s most spectacular Highland Games.”
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “Scotland is known worldwide as the perfect stage for events and, over the last three days, the 2016 Cowal Highland Gathering has proven how important highland games are to this reputation.”
Dunoon residents and visitors are already starting to line the streets for the event’s show-stopping finale this evening – the massing of the bands and their march down Argyll Street. The final act of this year’s Gathering will be the spectacular Western Ferries firework display at the Coal Pier in Dunoon town centre, starting at 9.30pm.
A full list of the results of all today’s action will be posted on the website (www.cowalgathering.com) as soon as possible.