The Scottish Alternative Games at New Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway

The Scottish Alternative Games at New Galloway, Dumfries and Galloway

A Rough Guides Readers’ Poll has just voted Scotland the world’s most beautiful country. There’s no argument about that. The mighty mountains, forests and lochs are unparalleled. The only problem with Scotland, is there’s no accounting for the weather. Brilliant sunshine can turn to torrential rain, as suddenly as though someone in the heavens were flicking a switch. And drizzle often drags on all day long – as we discovered, when we went to see the Scottish Alternative Games at New Galloway, in Dumfries and Galloway.

The Scottish Alternative Games celebrated their 40th anniversary this year. In 1977 Mungo Bryson was inspired by a rusty old gird ‘n’ cleek* on his farm, and decided to set up the Alternative Games in celebration of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. As the name suggests, they’re an alternative to the more traditional Highland Games.

Gird 'n' cleek

*Gird ‘n’ Cleek

The gird ‘n’ cleek is the centrepiece of the Alternative Games. The Games host the annual world championship of the sport. If you’re not familiar with gird ‘n’ cleek, imagine a long metal rod, attached to a hoop. The contestant runs, pushing the hoop along using the rod. There’s a real art to it – you have to crouch slightly, to get the right angle, and if you don’t manage the speed and traction properly, the hoop wobbles and collapses.

gird 'n' cleek

Catstrand Arts Centre

Since 2001 the Games have been held at the Catstrand in New Galloway. Catstrand General Manager Brian Edgar explained:

“Mungo asked us to host the Games here, as we have a better site. The hill over the playground gives a good viewpoint, and you can sit with a cider to watch the Games. The gird ‘n’ cleek title has only been held outside Scotland once, and it’s often New Galloway people who win the contest. Gird ‘n’ cleek has developed from the games children used to play, beating a hoop along with a stick. It was traditionally played by children here in Scotland, but you also found it in the north of England. I even saw a picture from Japan, of a child playing with a hoop and stick.”

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the gird ‘n’ cleek from this year’s championship, because – well, because it was rained off. After a morning of torrential downpours, the hill, so useful for creating a vantage point, became a slippery quagmire. When limbering up on a practise run, ruddy-haired young locals would reach one corner in particular, then fall and skid, along a slip-n-slide of mossy grass and churned-up mud. It was just too dangerous to hold the competition.

Lockerbie Pipe Band

What you’ll find at the Games

But the show went on. Although Brian told me that on sunnier years there would have been double the numbers, the Alternative Games were busy. They opened to rousing bagpipes, played by the Lockerbie Pipe Band. Inside a marquee you could buy tea and scones, as well as ale and cider. Our prizes on the tombola included jam, a litre of squash, and a large bottle of gin. The children were captivated by archery sessions and the hook-a-duck, as well as delicious ice cream (from the local Cream o’ Galloway. We might just have gone back for second scoops….)

Brian commentated the day’s proceedings with wit and the understated energy so common in Scots. To a first-timer like me, the absence of the gird ‘n’ cleek didn’t diminish the charm of the afternoon. I tried my hand at tossing the sheaf, which apparently was a popular wind-down for farmers at the end of the day. These days, competitors toss a weighted sack, rather than a sheaf of corn. My favourite event was the tractor-pulling. Women and men both competed to drag along a rusty old John Deere, using just a rope and their own brute strength. The contestants were formidable – you’d fear for the state of your elbows if one of them ever challenged you to an arm-wrestle.

tossing the sheaf

Me, tossing the sheaf. Apologies about the rain-spattered picture. It was tipping down by this point.

Indoors, there was face-painting, and the Catstrand Ukelele band acted as a jolly warm-up for snail-racing. Over several heats, the snails were tipped out of a tupperware box into the centre of what looked like an archery target. Snail trainers smeared beer over the racetrack, and the snails followed this tempting path to the edge of the circle. You could bet on a snail (they all had numbers chalked on their shells), or pay a little more to ‘own’ a snail, which would win you bonus cash if it came in first.

snail racing

snail racing

snail racing

We bought number 17. Sadly, he didn’t win – and we weren’t even allowed to take him home with us. But apart from that, a good day was had by all.

Scottish Alternative Games

The Scottish Alternative Games are held at the beginning of August at the Catstrand Arts Centre, New Galloway. New Galloway is 14 miles north of Castle Douglas, in south-west Scotland, just off the A713.

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28 Comments

  1. September 8, 2017 / 9:06 am

    I hadn’t come across these before, but I love it when traditions are continued like this – a shame the highlight was rained off, although it sounds like there was plenty to entertain whatever the weather,

    • Nell
      Author
      September 8, 2017 / 10:35 am

      No doubt we’ll be back on a year when they weather’s beter, so I’ll report back!

  2. September 8, 2017 / 1:00 pm

    We went to out first Highland Games this year in Nairn, and it was really interesting to watch the traditional (but rarely seen round my neck of the woods) games, but this one sounds like so much fun as an alternative!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 11, 2017 / 9:02 pm

      Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a traditional Highland Games in Scotland. This is the closest I’ve come to it!

  3. September 8, 2017 / 7:30 pm

    Despite the weather, this looks like such an entertaining day! I would’ve loved to see the gird ā€˜nā€™ cleek – it sounded interesting, the kids would probably have opted for the face painting and the snail race šŸ™‚ Really enjoyed following your travels Nell x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 11, 2017 / 9:30 pm

      There was tons there for the whole family, Katy. You’ll have to head up one year! x

  4. September 9, 2017 / 6:38 am

    My husband is from Scotland and we alway joke about the weather. At least you weren’t blown away šŸ™‚

    • Nell
      Author
      September 11, 2017 / 9:30 pm

      True. Things could have been worse.

  5. September 10, 2017 / 9:15 am

    Oh this sounds brilliant! I’m sorry the weather wasn’t kind to you but I’m glad you had a fab day anyway, love the snail racing!
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 10:55 am

      You’re right – the weather didn’t dampen our spirits!

  6. September 10, 2017 / 10:06 am

    This sounds so much fun. I love the snail racing, what a great idea! And tossing the sheaf! You look like you got the hang of it in the photo!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 10:56 am

      Hmmm. My sheaf fell far short. Need to practise for next year!

  7. September 10, 2017 / 4:31 pm

    Oh this look so much fun, I really want to explore Scotland a little more its such a wonderful place to visit and this looks like a great family day Nell x

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 10:59 am

      You should definitely go again, Sarah. x

  8. September 10, 2017 / 7:34 pm

    Such a shame about the weather but what a great traditional event this sounds like!!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 11:01 am

      It was lots of fun, Daisy.

  9. September 10, 2017 / 7:57 pm

    I am sure I have heard of these games before – shame about the weather but I assume Scotland is like Wales where it rains a lot. Kaz

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 11:01 am

      Yep. We came here after visiting Wales, and it was definitely similar!

    • Nell
      Author
      September 12, 2017 / 11:02 am

      The gird ‘n’ cleek was a new one on me, too…

  10. September 12, 2017 / 4:34 pm

    What an unusual and interesting day. I think my two would have loved the snail racing. Shame about the weather but is certainly didn’t stop the fun! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 13, 2017 / 12:07 pm

      You’re right – your two would have loved the snails, I’m sure.

  11. September 13, 2017 / 9:10 am

    It is very wet in that part of the world isn’t it. It’s such a shame as it is stunning. I totally get why you went back for more Cream o’galloway ice cream. It’s amazing

    • Nell
      Author
      September 13, 2017 / 12:21 pm

      I guess part of what makes it stunning is the green, lush countryside, and you don’t get that without rain! Mmm yum – I want some Cream o’ Galloway now šŸ™‚

  12. September 13, 2017 / 5:38 pm

    We went to our first traditional Highland Games this summer, which were great although your alternative sounds fun too. Scotland is one of my favourite countries despite the weather – some days we’d be out walking with rain on our backs and sun in our eyes! Good for rainbows though…. #Mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 14, 2017 / 6:59 pm

      Yes, we saw a few. One double rainbow, too! The one in your post was very pretty.

  13. September 18, 2017 / 9:14 pm

    What a quirky event! Shame about the weather but perhaps added to the Scottishness of it all. #mondayescapes

    • Nell
      Author
      September 19, 2017 / 8:15 pm

      It did just that!

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