Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering (Photo: Steven Rennie Photography)
Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering (Photo: Steven Rennie Photography)

Highlanders the stars at the Lonach Gathering

The Lonach Highlanders were the star attraction at the 178th Lonach Highland Gathering and Games which was held in Aberdeenshire on Saturday.

Resplendent in their Highland regalia and shouldering their traditional eight-foot long pikes, and following in the footsteps of their forefathers, the Lonach Highlanders set out at 7.50am from Bellabeg on their historic six-mile march through Strathdon.

With the strains of the pipes and drums of the Lonach Pipe Band piercing the morning air, the highlanders continued a tradition that stretches back nearly 200 years as they visited six local properties, toasting the health of each property’s owners.

The iconic procession, which this year featured 169 of the society’s 220-strong membership, was a spectacular sight as it wound its way through Strathdon. Among the ranks were three youngsters who were taking part in their first Lonach march. The eldest marcher was 79-year-old marshalling sergeant George Thomson from Strathdon.

Organised by the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, which was founded in 1823, the Lonach Highland Gathering and Games is a highlight of the summer events calendar in north-east Scotland. This year it drew a crowd of over 7,500 people. Visitors from across Britain and the world packed onto the games field from 10.30am, with some travelling from Australia, New Zealand and Canada to attend the event.

The gathering also welcomed a group of 14 students and four adults from the Japanese city of Nagasaki, who are currently on a visit to the UK. During their visit to the Lonach Gathering, which was arranged by Ronnie Watt of Milltimber, the group were presented with commemorative caps by the Consul General of Japan in Edinburgh, Mr Nozomu Takaoka.

At one o’clock the Lonach Highlanders, led by patron Sir James Fobes of Newe, marched onto Bellabeg Park to officially open proceedings. Greeting them were hearty cheers and warm applause from the crowds watching from the grandstands and that stood four to five deep in places around the arena. The scene was repeated two hours later when the Lonach Highlanders led by the massed pipe bands completed a second circuit of the games arena.

Following the march every step of the way, pulling the traditional ‘cairt’, was Socks the Lonach horse. This was the ten-year-old Gypsy Cob Cross’s fifth year fulfilling the role. Owned by Derek Gray of Kildrummy, the well turned out gelding once again received plenty of attention from visitors.

Held in warm, dry conditions, the gathering is a celebration of Scottish culture, music and sporting heritage and takes place annually on the fourth Saturday in August.

There was close competition across the piping, dancing, tug o’ war and athletics disciplines. In the piping, Calum Brown from Peterculter won the open Piobaireachd event, while Campbell Wilson from New Zealand claimed the under-18s Piobaireachd title and collected the Thomson Family Trophy.

With their vibrant colours and intricate footwork, the Highland dancing competitors provided energetic displays. Rachael Walker of Fettercairn won five of the seven senior open Highland dancing events. In the 12 – 15 years open category, Stonehaven’s Caitlin Findlay won three of the four events, while Ellie Kilfedder from Edinburgh swept the boards in the 11 years and under category.

On the local dancing boards, pupils from the Lonach Society School of Dancing again won all of the Lonach area competitions in the local Highland dancing section.

A field of 107 runners took on the four-mile hill race. Clyde Williamson from Rhynie won the men’s race, while the first female home was Sarah Hardy Forman from Keig. In the junior section, Callum Gorman was the first boy home, while Molly Hector was the first girl home. Iain Gauld from Midmar was the first Lonach Society member to finish.

Sir James Forbes of Newe, pictured at the Lonach Gathering (Photo: Steven Rennie Photography)

Feats of strength and stamina were on show in the heavy events. Scott Rider from Dartford was named the overall heavy event champion for 2019, whilst Lukasz Wenta from East Kilbride retained the Rob Walker Memorial Shield by winning the open caber event.

Joining the Lonach Pipe Band to play for spectators throughout the day were the pipe bands of Ballater and District, Huntly and District, Towie and District and Robert Gordon’s College.

After its successful introduction last year, the gathering again hosted The Daily Mile Lonach event for primary age schoolchildren. Around 40 youngsters took part in the non-competitive event that aims to improve health and fitness, and inspire people to adopt more active lifestyles. It was held in conjunction with The Daily Mile and Active Schools Aberdeenshire.

Children’s races, a family funfair and around 80 trade stands featuring a range of local produce and crafts provided plenty of fun and interest for visitors during the day.

Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said: ‘Everyone’s hard work over recent weeks to prepare for the 178th Lonach Highland Gathering and Games has paid off. There has been a great atmosphere all day and the weather was warm and dry, and not too hot for marching.

‘Each year, the march never disappoints. Seeing the Lonach Highlanders wend their way through Strathdon in their kilts, shouldering their pikes in step to the strains of the pipes and drums and following in the footsteps of their forebears is stunning. The history, heritage and traditions associated with Lonach continue to appeal to visitors from around the world. It was great to hear so many different languages around the games field.

‘All of the events have received plenty of encouragement from the sizeable crowd, while the trade stand aisles have been bustling all day. Staging the gathering is a collective effort that involves the support of sponsors, caterers, traders, volunteers, competitors and locals. The Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is hugely grateful for all of the support it receives.’

The success of this year’s gathering and the achievements of competitors will be celebrated on Friday, 30 August at the annual Lonach Highland Ball in the Lonach Hall.

Established in 1823, by Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe and Edinglassie, the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society is a charitable organisation based in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire. The society organises the annual Lonach Gathering at Bellabeg Park, Strathdon, which is held on the fourth Saturday of August.

The main attraction at the gathering is the march of the Lonach Highlanders, a unique body of non-military men. Further information on the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, the Lonach Highlanders and the annual Lonach Highland Gathering can be found at