As family days out go, this was one of the best.
Thousands of people from across the world gathered in Dunoon today for the finale of the celebrated Cowal Highland Gathering.
Competitors and spectators alike joined forces to ensure the event’s spectacular Saturday was a day to remember for everyone involved.
From the hundreds of dancers and pipers to the heavy athletes, runners, ceilidh tent performers, 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, actor Martin Compston, who had flown in from Los Angeles to be at the event with his fiancé and parents.
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, Johnstone Pipe Band managed to hold off the challenge of Oban Pipe Band to be crowned winners of the Grade 1 Cowal Pipe Band Championships 2014.
In the other sections and grades, the Cowal Pipe Band champions were:
Novice juvenile – Oban High School
Juvenile – Kintyre Schools
Grade 4 – Lanark and District
Grade 4 MSR - Wolverhampton
Grade 3 – Isle of Islay
Grade 3 MSR – Isle of Islay
Grade 2 – Johnstone
Grade 2 MSR – Johnstone
The champion juvenile drum major was once again Emma Barr from Field Marshall Montgomery, and the champion adult drum major was once again Brian Wilson MBE from Lomond & Clyde.
Today also saw the Argyllshire Highland Dancing competitions, with top honours going to Lisa McGillivray from Kirn (Under 13), with Blairmore’s Libby Maclean winning the under 16 category and Rhiannon Charles from Helensburgh triumphing in the 16 years and over.
At 11am, at the Burgh Hall in Dunoon town centre, 49 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 won by Steven Campbell of Greenock’s Glenpark Harriers in an amazing time of 21 minutes and 2 seconds, with Paul Monaghan (also Glenpark Harriers) second (21.15) and Iain Cairns from Dunoon third (21.37).
The first local home was Iain Cairns. The winner of the women’s race was Lisa Marshall, also of Dunoon Hill Runners, in a time of 27.49. The next local woman to cross the line was Lindsay Moss in a time of 29.32.
Then came the biggest Highland Dancing competition in the world – the World Championship finals - with dancers from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the USA pitting their skills against the best the UK has to offer.
In the end, it was Erin Blair from California who once again emerged victorious in the World Juvenile finals, followed – as she was last year – by Sophie Dunn of Ontario. Larissa Godin from New Brunswick came third.
The trophy for best Scottish Juvenile Dancer went to Holly Donaldson from Kirriemuir.
In the World Junior championship, Newton Stewart’s Ellis Hayes followed up her fourth place last year with victory this year. Second was Mellisa Carnegie from Alberta and third was California’s Emma Schiff.
The Adult World champion was once again Marielle Lesperance from Ontario, with Rebecca Thow (formerly of Aberdeen and now Ontario) second and last year’s Junior winner, Abbie MacNeil of Glasgow, third.
Marielle also won the Mary McHarg Quaich for Best Overseas Adult Dancer. The Victor Wesley Challenge Trophy for Best Scottish Adult Dancer went to Abbie McNeil and the James Lomath Trophy for Best Overseas Juvenile Dancer was won by the World Champion, Erin Blair.
Throughout the afternoon, four of the world’s hottest traditional music bands entertained the crowds in the now-famous McEwan’s Ceilidh Tent.
Leading the pack once again was Oban-based Skipinnish, who brought the house down when they headlined the show last year and who also wowed the crowds at last night’s inaugural Gig at the Gathering.
Today, they were joined by three of the hottest names on the traditional music scene – The Gunna Sound Ceilidh Band, Eriskay Lilt and Dùn Mòr Ceilidh Band.
While they were playing, the heavy athletes and wrestlers battled it out for top honours.
Heisi Geirmundsson from Iceland triumphed in the men’s heavy athletics, with Kylle Randalls from Grangemouth second and Germany’s’ Daniel Dorrow third.
In the women’s competition, Lucy Marshall from Crick beat off the challenge of Germany’s Sylvanna Bomholt (2nd) and Laura Gillespie from Dunfermline (3rd).
Heisi Geirmundsson and Sylvanna Bomholt were crowned men’s and women’s caber toss champions respectively.
In the wrestling, the Female Open section was won by Eva Dogg Johansdottir from Iceland, with Glasgow’s Erin McNeill second and Marin Davidsdottir from Iceland third.
In the men’s Open competition, Fraser Hirsch from Carnoustie was crowned champion, followed by Iceland’s Asmundr Asmundsson (2nd) and Aberdeen’s Scott Carson (3rd).
The weight category winners were Sam McCrory from Hamilton in the 9 and a half stone category, Ryan Ferry (Hamilton) in 11 and a half stone, Greg Neilson (Hamilton) in 13 and a half stone and Fraser Hirsch (Carnoustie) in the 15 and a half category.
This year, there was a bigger and better selection of entertainment for all ages than ever before.
One of the most popular draws once again proved to be the Clan mountain bike stunt team, which returned to Cowal after their triumphant debut last year to perform their gravity-defying shows to packed audiences.
Another show-stopper was the Drakes of Hazard Duck and Dog display team, which also featured in last year’s event.
A highlight for the younger visitors was once again ‘Artie’s Tartan Tales’. Veteran entertainer Artie Trezise – who spent 30 years as one half of The Singing Kettle - uses a tartan trunk full of souvenirs and trinkets as props for his traditional but interactive Scottish storytelling sessions.
Cowal Highland Gathering chair Ronnie Cairns said the event would go down as one of the most memorable in recent times.
He stressed that its success was in no small part due to the ongoing efforts and support of the people of Dunoon and the wider Cowal community, as well as the event’s sponsors.
Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s Director of Events, said: “The Cowal Highland Gathering brings together many of the aspects that make Scotland the perfect stage for events, including our unique culture and heritage, stunning natural environment and, of course, our people. We are proud to support this event, which welcomes thousands of visitors from all over Scotland and as far afield as Australia and South Africa for a celebration of Scottish sport, music, dance and hospitality that always lives long in the memory.”
Dunoon residents and visitors are already starting to line the streets for the Gathering’s show-stopping finale this evening – the massing of the bands and their march down Argyll Street.
The final act of this year’s event, as usual, will be the spectacular Western Ferries firework display at Dunoon’s Coal Pier which starts at 9.00pm.
A full list of today’s results will be posted on the website as soon as possible.