Cowal Highland Gathering organisers are getting ready to welcome thousands of competitors and spectators to one of the country’s most exciting and fun-filled annual events.
Final preparations are now being made to ensure the three-day extravaganza lives up to its billing as one of Scotland’s biggest and best family days out.
The Gathering is renowned for spectacularly blending the traditional elements of a highland games with countless other attractions and forms of entertainment.
Each year, hundreds of the world’s best highland dancers, pipers, heavy athletes and traditional wrestlers converge on this corner of Scotland to battle it out to be crowned Cowal Champion – a title cherished around the world.
In 2017 it will welcome a record 720 dancers from all corners of the globe. The Gathering hosts both the Scottish and World Highland Dancing Championships, and the trophies are the most keenly contested highland dancing silverware on the planet.
Many of this year’s entrants will have travelled thousands of miles to take part, including 105 dancers from Canada, 34 from the USA, 18 from Australia, six from South Africa and two from New Zealand. There will also be nine competitors from Northern Ireland, 16 from England and an enormous 529 from Scotland.
The piping has also seen an increase in entrants, with 77 solo pipers having signed up for competition in addition to the many pipe bands on show.
As always the piping contests are sure to raise the roof, and there can be few more impressive sounds than the massed bands finale which marks the end of the stadium events.
While the dancers and pipers are battling it out for glory, the international field of heavy athletes and traditional wrestlers will be straining every muscle and sinew to emerge victorious from their own spectacular events.
The traditional highland games disciplines have always formed the cornerstone of Cowal Highland Gathering. However, in recent years there has been so much more to enjoy, and the 2017 event is packed full of additional entertainment for all the family.
Among the other main attractions are the spectacular RIdgeside Falconry Display team. For many years RIdgeside have trained their collection of birds of prey to give exciting and humorous displays to the public and it is definitely a hands on - or talons on – audience experience.
From the humble barn owl to the full grown Griffin African Vulture with an 11ft wingspan, you won't fail to be impressed and spectators will be able to admire the birds on static display when they’re not performing.
Also on hand to wow the crowds will be Scotland’s premier cycle stunt team The Clan, which is back by popular demand after knockout performances at last year’s Gathering.
The Clan’s ‘Big Air Show’ is about as big and bad as it gets, with audiences mesmerised as trials aces negotiating seemingly impossible challenges are joined by ramp riders pulling off huge jumps, flips and other tricks.
The Gathering also boasts a huge range of other attractions, from the ever-popular Artie Treszise of ‘Singing Kettle’ fame to the Glasgow Science Centre tent, from the ‘come and try’ mountain bike track to the children’s craft area.
All this, of course, takes place to the soundtrack of the event’s famous Ceilidh Tent. Always one of the event’s most popular draws, the line up this year once again features some of the country’s most exciting traditional bands – Eriskay Lilt, Heron Valley, HO-RO and Manran.
As if all that’s not enough, there is also the spectacle of the closing stages of the brutal Cowal Hill Race, sponsored by Argyll Financial Services, which sees runners set off from the town centre before scaling ’The Camel's Hump’ and then racing to the finish line in the stadium itself.
The event will close with the celebrated evening march past of bands through the town (with prizes for ‘Most Entertaining Band’ sponsored by three local bars La Cantina/51st State, The Commercial Bar and MacClure’s Bar) followed by the spectacular closing fireworks display sponsored by Western Ferries.
Gathering chair Ronnie Cairns said everything was shaping up to make the 2017 event one to remember.
“We’re now putting the finishing touches to what promises to be an unforgettable weekend of action and fun, and we’re all looking forward to welcoming thousands of competitors and spectators to Dunoon in just a couple of weeks,” he added.
“Over the last few years the Gathering has cemented its role as one of Scotland’s ‘must do’ annual family attractions, and this year promises to further enhance that reputation. This is the time when all the hard work which has been going on behind the scenes for months really proves its worth.
“As always, a real sense of excitement and anticipation is spreading throughout the town - from local businesses gearing up for a bumper weekend to local residents enjoying the pre-event buzz.
“The whole town is working together to ensure that the thousands of people who will arrive from across the world are going to experience it at its very best, and we’re looking forward to welcoming competitors and spectators to Dunoon and to the fun kicking off.”
Craig Anderson, Chief Executive of The Scottish Salmon Company, title sponsor of this year’s Gathering, said: “We are proud to support the Cowal Highland Gathering for the fourth year. With each year our passion and enthusiasm for the Gathering grows. The event is a celebration of Scotland’s finest traditions and for many it is the pinnacle of the Highland Games season.
“We are committed to playing an active role in the communities where we live and work and this event is particularly special as we have several sites nearby. We wish all the competitors and organisers the best of luck and look forward to a great day.”
Cowal Highland Gathering is supported by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.
Stuart Turner, Head of EventScotland, said: “We are delighted to once again be supporting The Cowal Highland Gathering, a key cultural event for Argyll and Bute, and for Scotland. From the world’s best highland dancers, pipers and athletes to the Falconry display and ‘come and try’ activities, it is a great weekend for the whole family with so much to see and do.
“Scotland is the perfect stage for events and we look forward to welcoming competitors and spectators from all over the world to Dunoon for what promises to be fantastic weekend of competition and entertainment.”
This year’s Cowal Highland Gathering runs from Thursday 24 – Saturday 26 August 2017.