Harpenden hosts its annual Highland Gathering
PUBLISHED: 12:08 08 July 2016 | UPDATED: 09:38 11 July 2016
Transporting the Scottish Highlands to rural Herts might sound like a whisky-induced idea, but the Harpenden Highland Gathering is now 21 and one of the biggest around. Louise McEvoy investigates
It may be hundreds of miles from Scotland, but there will be Highland dancing, haggis and even tossing the caber in Herts this month.
Highland Gathering in Harpenden is the village Lions Club’s largest annual fundraising event and is a family fun day with a traditional Scottish flavour.
At Rothamsted Park on Sunday July 10, a record seven pipe bands will take part in the 21st event and as well as dancing and solo piping competitions there will be traditional heavy sports events in the games arena, including the stone putt, weight throw and tossing the caber.
On the main stage, there will be dancing displays from the Hiel’and Toe Club, while Celtic rock band the Wight Hot Pipes will be performing a blend of music that ranges from Amazing Grace to We Will Rock You.
In the display arena, Hawkeye Falconry will perform a bird-of-prey display, farmer David Seamark and his highly-trained dogs will round up geese and sheep, while Wild in the Country will enlist the help of the audience for some lively ferret racing.
There will also be a classic car and motorbike display, up to 100 stalls, a food court, bar, funfair, climbing wall, go-karts, children’s events and cadet force displays. Traditional and handmade items will be for sale in a crafters’ marquee, and Scottish fine food, clothing and crafts will be available in Scots’ Corner.
So, with all this Scottish fun and games right on our doorstep, it begs the question – why is there a Highland Gathering here? Mohan Cashyap, who has been involved with the event for 15 years and is chairman this year, explains, ‘The first of the local Highland Games took place in 1946 in Wheathampstead.
‘It was held as a fundraising event to assist Scottish engineers who had been working in aircraft factories, including de Havilland in Hatfield, during the Second World War.
‘On June 1, 1949, further games were held in Clarence Park in St Albans. From 1950 onwards, the games were held in Rothamsted Park, Harpenden, where the natural bowl-shaped area proved ideal for staging the event.’
The games flourished until 1972, after which Rothamsted Park was unavailable. Alternative venues in Hertford and Letchworth were found for the following two years, but the move was the death knell and the games stopped in 1974.
More than 20 years later, the Harpenden Lions Club grasped the thistle once more and the first of the ‘modern games’ took place in 1996 at Harpenden Rugby Club. The following year, the event relocated to its traditional home at Rothamsted Park.
‘The Harpenden Lions Highland Gathering is now one of the largest events of its kind in England, raising thousands of pounds for charitable purposes every year,’ Cashyap explains. ‘Since 1996, the event has taken place annually and gone from strength to strength. Over the past three years, sums paid to the principal beneficiaries and the various youth groups who have assisted the club have exceeded £50,000.’
This year, in addition to its own charities, the club has chosen to support Diabetes Advice and Support Hertfordshire plus the PSP Association, which offers help to people suffering from two rare, progressive and terminal neurodegenerative diseases caused by premature loss of nerve cells in the brain.
As to what makes the gathering such a special occasion, Cashyap says, ‘Spectacular pipe band displays – including one from as far away as Truro, dance, traditional games and the sound of the bagpipes set the scene for the day, but there is much more. The Scottish theme is our unique selling point and people who come have a really enjoyable day. My highlight is seeing all those bands marching in the arena, both at the start and the end of the event.’ The Highland Gathering takes place from 10am-5pm. A programme/ticket is £4 in advance or £6 on the gate for adults. Entry is free for accompanied children under 16.
For more information, visit harplions.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call the helpline 0845 833 7426 or see the Facebook page.
Volunteers at the event are very welcome – use any of the methods above to register your interest.