Braemar Royal Highland Gathering - The Story so far ...
Braemar has always been a good place for a 'gathering'.
Its geographical position made it a point of great strategic importance in the days of clan warfare, situated as it is at the centre of roads and tracks leading, East, West, North and South.
Braemar still lies in the heart of the biggest deer forest in the country and for hundreds of years Kings, Nobles, and huntsmen have been drawn to the vicinity for the thrills of the chase.
In olden times cattle were moved to and from markets along recognised drover's roads - again, Braemar was at the centre of these.
Braemar has therefore always been the place for a 'gathering' of one kind or another and there are good grounds to believe that such meetings have been held here since the 8th Century.
On the hill of Creag Choinneach whose tree clad slopes rise abruptly from the road leading into Braemar, Kenneth MacAlpine, first King of Scots, had his hunting seat and, in the very heart of the village, lies the ruins of Kindrochit Castle, the stronghold of King Malcolm Canmore. Tradition has it that King Malcolm called the clans to the Braes of Mar to select by competition his hardiest soldiers and his fleetest messengers, and this may be claimed to be the original Braemar Gathering. Kindrochit sprang more into evidence in the 14th century when King Robert II hunted in Mar, and this stronghold must have known many a clan rally.
A hundred years later the Braemar Wrights Society was formed. In those days the welfare state was unknown and the Wright's Society, (the 'wrights' being those who 'wrought' with their hands) was an early form of social insurance. It carried kinship and friendship a practical step further and organised relief in times of hardship for the sick and the aged, for widows and orphans.
Quarterly meetings were held for the collection of subscriptions - even now still referred to as 'quarterly pennies' - for the disbursement of benefits, relief, etc. and an annual meeting was generally presided over by the Laird of the time and, by invitation, in his castle.
An interesting venture some 160 years ago was the purchase by the Society of oatmeal in bulk and its resale to members in bad times. In the early 1800s the Wrights Society became the Braemar Highland Society and its aims included preservation of the kilt, and of the language and cultural interests of the Highlands. It was registered under the Friendly Societies Act in 1831 and the aims of the present Society are still those of the founders.
As might be expected, of course, the social side was not forgotten in this land of the reel, the Pibroch and the dram - and undoubtedly the day of the year was the Society's Annual Procession - or 'Wrights' Walk' as it was called - when the members wore their white linen aprons and colourful sashes embroidered 'Braemar Wrights' Society'.
They generally met in the forenoon and with the pipes sounding and colours streaming, proceeded to some favourite spot for a regular picnic of dancing, piping, games and athletic contests and this day out was the Braemar Gathering of a century and a half ago. The night generally ended with a ball and a dinner in the Castle home of one of their Chiefs.
1832 possibly marks the beginning of the Gatherings as we know them today. But the year that stands out in the Society's history is 1848 for it was in that year that Queen Victoria honoured the Braemar Gathering with her presence for the first time.
The Gathering that year took place before Invercauld Castle, on the estate of the Chief of the Clan Farquharson. (The present Chief, Captain A.A.C. Farquharson is the 16th laird). There, on the green sward before this house, the Clansmen piped, danced, tossed the caber and putted river stones - all to the delight of Her Majesty and her Consort, Prince Albert, their family and members of the Court. Queen Victoria later bestowed the honour of Royal Patronage on the Society (1866) and became a generous (and keenly interested) benefactor to its funds.
This close interest lasted throughout her long lifetime and now for over a hundred years successive Gatherings have risen to acclaim the reigning Monarch as their Chief. It was in 1906 that the first Duke of Fife gave the Society its present 12 acre ground - previous to that date the Gathering had been held variously at Mar Castle, Invercauld Castle, or, by the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, at Balmoral Castle.
The lovely new setting has gradually been made able to accommodate the huge crowds who now attend from all over the world.
** The Braemar Rloyal Highland Society cerlebrated its bi-centenary in 2015.
Having run the Gathering since 1832, to take account of changing times, in 2002 the Society decided to form a separate company to run the event. The Braemar Royal Highland Charity Ltd, a company wholly owned by the Braemar Royal Highland Society, was formed for this purpose.
In the Autumn of 2018 a long time ambition of the Society was realised with the opening of a new £2.5million Highland Games Centre at the Gathering venue in Braemar.
The centre tells the story of the Gathering and Highland Games, with exhibitions and display providing a well documented archive.