The final day of the 2013 Cowal Highland Gathering saw hordes all over the Dunoon Stadium and the town, arriving by ferry, by car and on foot. And the weather played fair.
In the sun, the bright little tents, the families, the dogs, the pipe bands, the highland dancers, the multiple food stalls, the rides and the scenic setting of this spectacular event made it a day to remember.
With the big results to come today in the highland dancing and pipe band competitions, everywhere you looked there were pipe bands tuning up and practising their entrance marching in unison. Above is the Kelty and Blairadam pipe band in a very well synchronised march, given that the band members in the visible line are of very different heights.
Musicians concentrated totally on their instruments and on the sound they were making.
Pipers and drummers alike got into the zone in preparation to compete.
West Lothian finished second in the Juvenile grade, by one point,to Boghal and Bathgate Caledonia.
All ages are colleagues in the bands, interdependent, working together – and with the huge support teams of family and friends.
People gathered, swirled around, watched, ate and sat on the grassy hills as the events, including the always inspiring heavy athletes, gathered pace. Among the winners were Lucy Marshall from Crick, who smashed the previous 14ft Cowal record in the 56lb weight for height event by a massive 18 inches.
In the dancing area, the contestants jumped impossibly high and wide, feet flashing between the blades of the crossed swords.
While in the holding tent for those preparing to go on, there was constant movement, like a brightly textured and graceful ant heap as individual dancers polished their moves.
In the end, the three world championship winners were Morgan Bamford from New Zealand (adult), Megan Sweeney from Toronto, Canada (junior) and Kaylee Finnegan from California, USA (juvenile).
The highest placed Scottish dancers were Rebecca Thow from Aberdeen (fourth in the world adult class) and Ellis Hayes from Newton Stewart (fourth in the world juvenile class).
The first ever Cowal Hill Run was a major feature of the day and as for the town of Dunoon, a mile or so away – you couldn’t move.
We went in to see the lie of the land there – and all you could do was keep moving on through. There was nowhere to park; loaded Argyll Ferries passenger boats were coming in to the linkspan; Western Ferries were shuttling endlessly across the Clyde; there were crowded performances at the bandstand in front of the Argyll Hotel – and the joyful group in the top photograph were just off the Clyde Clipper.
In a way, the heart of the Cowal Highland Gathering is best exemplified in the ‘Trophy Room’ – aka Trophy tent. Shades are advised before entering. The tent blazed with the gleam of silver and the weight of history in the glorious heavy shields, encrusted with the names of winners down the decades – like the fabulous Argyll Shield, traditionally awarded to the winner of the Grade 1 Pipe Band competition.
The contents of this tent, laid out in their multiple magnificence, testify to the competitive engine of the games and to the glory of the victors.
The scale of the event is simply gigantic – as the long fleet of coaches transporting the pipe bands shows.
On a day when the sun largely shone brightly, the setting of the Stadium is quite beautiful, wrapped around by the hills and with the punctuation mark of the spire of one of the Dunoon Churches.
Even the competitors found it possible to relax – as some members of the George Watson’s College Pipe Band showed.
George Watson’s College is a continually successful pipe band in the Juvenile Grade but were pipped today, taking fifth place to a triumphant Boghall and Bathgate, who were making a fabulous sound.
In the Grade 1 finals yesterday, Field Marshal Montgomery managed to hold off the challenge of Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia (2nd) and Scottish Power (3rd) to be crowned winners of the 2013 Grade 1 Cowal Pipe Band Championships.
Elsewhere, at the top of the bank above the Stadium, some got down to the business of serious fun.
They weren’t alone. Everyone was there for the fun of it – and, of course, for the winning.
At the end of a very successful Gatering, Chair, Ronnie Cairns said: ‘We all know how popular the traditional Highland Games events such as the piping, dancing and heavy athletics are, and of course they remain the main draw. However, we’re delighted with the feedback we’ve had on some of the new attractions – such as the interactive storytelling and drumming workshops for youngsters – and we’ll continue to look at ways to further improve the event in the future.
‘A big thank you again to everyone involved, and I hope we’ll see you back again next year.’
Looks like they will.