Ceres Highland Games – 703rd Anniversary

Ceres is a small village about 8 miles inland from St Andrews, or less than 5 miles from Strathkinness, where I lived before moving to Canada. Growing up in the area, I’m almost certain I had heard of the Ceres Games, but as a teenager, it probably wasn’t high on the priority list.

Oh! how times change with age. One day, while returning to Strathkinness, we drove through Ceres noting signs advertising next weekend’s highland games. Back at the house, I googled and found that it was the 703rd anniversary, of the first games held in 1314. OMG, we have to check it out, and bonus, admission is “free”.

The first games in 1314 were for local soldiers returning from the successful battle at Bannockburn. Robert the Bruce, or Robert 1, then King of Scotland, personally awarded the games charter, to the village of Ceres. Except for the war years, the Ceres games have been held every year, on the village green, or Bow Butts.

For a more detailed history select here

Village green from the St Andrews road

All events take place in the one area, with seating available on the grassy banks surrounding the field on 2 sides. We arrived early to watch the dancing, so got seats on one of the few benches at the top of the hill on the left side. They were actually great seats, otherwise we would require a deck chair or blanket.

The sprint lanes were about 100 yards and the outer oval track about 250 yards. While originally used for horse and carriage racing, the outer track is now for long distance running and cycling. However, the corners are tight and the burn (stream) flows along the right side of the green. In previous years, some participants have not made the turn and ended up in the burn.

Watching the Highland Dancing brought back some great memories, as our daughter Heather participated for many years, with Judi making all her outfits, except the kilt.

Performing the Scottish Sword Dance

Dating from the 1500’s, the dancers perform by dancing within the 4 quadrants created by 2 crossed swords. I still recall the garage floor marked with strips of duct tape representing the swords, which is where Heather used to practice.

Highland fling

Dancers, judge and lone piper

The dancing started about 11:00 and continued most of the afternoon, with a short break before the medals were handed out. While many activities were taking place simultaneously, it was most enjoyable watching the dancing, which brought back many happy memories of our Heather’s performances and tests.

You just can’t have a Highland Games without a pipe band and Ceres didn’t disappoint, with the local St Andrews Pipe Band. They started with a procession through the village to the village green, where they completed a lap belting out some rousing Scottish music, before forming up in front of the podium for the opening ceremony.

St Andrews Pipe Band completing lap around village green

St Andrews Pipe Band during opening ceremony

Excellent opening ceremony, no lengthy speeches, just a simple welcome and let the games begin.

First up on the agenda were the kids races, starting with the youngest girls. All events included a handicap, which for the kids was based on age. To start the competition, the announcer invited all girls aged 3 to 5 down to the village green. They only ran about 20 yards, so it was a quick race.

Girls 3 to 5 race

Next on the agenda was the girls 6 to 9 race, with a number of the dancers joining in, wearing their kilts. Lots of energy coming from the crowd, encouraging the kids, with Judi leading the way.

Girls 6 to 9 race

Boys 6 to 9 race

Once the kids races were complete, they started with the open sprints, long distance running and cycling.

100 yards sprint

The sprinting track had over 15 handicap lines, but before the race started one of the officials marked out a starting position a further 3 yards closer to the finish line. Open to men and ladies of any age, the handicap stating grid was very effective in making it a close race. Even though the closest chap had over a 10 yard head start, by the time they reached the finish line, all runners were within a couple of feet. The race was won by one of the chaps at the back of the starting grid.

Handicaps were very effective, as almost all races required photo finishes, with ladies winning 3 of the 8 races.

One of 4 cycle races

The cycle races became progressively longer, with the last race called, “De’il tak the
hindmost”. During the final race, the last rider at the completion of each lap must retire, with the last 2 riders going head to head. The chap in orange, in the above photo, was easily the fastest, consequently he started well behind the others. On the longer races he was more than a full lap behind. However, he won 3 of the 4 races and was a very close 2nd in the first race.

Finally some blue skies

The day started out dull and overcast, but by mid-afternoon, we started to get some clearing and even some sunshine.

Directly in front of our seats were the highlights of any Highland Games – the heavy events, which included:

  • Shot Put
  • Weight throwing – distance
  • Weight throwing – height
  • Ceres Stane (stone)
  • Sheaf throwing
  • Tossing the caber

Shot Put

Weighing about 16 lbs, the shot put is similar to the Olympic track and field event. The winning distance was 51′ 05″, with the world record being a massive 75′.

Winding up to throw the shot put

Shot put in the air

Weight Tossing – Height

Competitors throw a 56 lbs weight up and over a raised bar, similar to the high jump. However, as we saw, this isn’t the safest for competition, as one hit the bar and came straight down. Fortunately he stepped out of the way of the rapidly plummeting weight.

Great throw, with weight easily clearing the bar

Weight hits the bar and comes straight down

Winning height was 14′ 06″.

Weight Tossing – Distance

Again they toss a 56 lb weight, but for distance, rather than height. I missed this competition, while collecting lunch from one of the food trucks, but winning distance was a massive 39′ 01″.

Ceres Stane Tossing

I’m not sure the weight of the Ceres Stane, but it is certainly much bigger than the one used in the previous competition. With a winning distance of about 20′, I suspect it is probably around 100 lbs.

Tossing the Ceres Stane – a solid concrete ball

The red arrow identifies the location of the stane as it flies through the air. The green flags identify landing spots for previous throws, so this was one of the longest.

Sheaf Tossing

This was the most competitive event and was the one that lasted the longest. It comprised tossing a 16 lbs burlap bag stuffed with straw, over the bar with a pitch fork.

Tossing the sheaf

The above photo was one of the early throws, with the bar still fairly low. As we got down to the last 2, the bar kept creeping up to almost the top of the poles. It continued so long that the sheaf had very little burlap at the end. This resulted in a tie, with both completing 26′.

Tossing the Caber

This is definitely a highlight of any Highland Games, tossing the caber, a tapered pole weighing 175 lbs, that is 19′ 06″ in length. The caber must be lifted, held vertical and then tossed forward.

Balancing the caber before tossing – looks easy!!!

Tossing the caber

Caber flying through the air

Tossing the caber isn’t really that easy

This chap was obviously a newcomer to the heavy competitions, as his results were consistently below the others. Sadly, he slipped just prior to tossing the caber, but regardless, an excellent effort.

We spent about 5 hours at the Ceres Games and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, a really most enjoyable afternoon.