Good weather, superb competition and a marvelous family atmosphere combined to make the 2016 Cowal Highland Gathering one of the best in recent years.
Dunoon played host to thousands of people from across the world – and the town gave them a great show and a great day out.
The stadium events continue to amaze, the ‘fringe’ events in the top field are becoming a draw in their own right for many and, in the evening, the town was ablaze with colour, noise – and fireworks.
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, Inveraray and District Pipe Band held off the challenge of Johnstone Pipe Band to be crowned winners of the Grade 1 Cowal Pipe Band Championships 2016 and take home the famous Argyll Shield.
In the other sections and grades, the Cowal Pipe Band champions were:
Novice Juvenile B – Kintyre Schools
Novice Juvenile A – Oban High School
Juvenile – Oban High School
Grade 4 – Lanark and District
Grade 4 MSR – Lanark and District
Grade 3 – Kintyre Schools
Grade 3 MSR – Kintyre Schools
Grade 2 – Johnstone
Grade 2 MSR – Johnstone
Inveraray and District won the Best Band on Parade. The champion juvenile drum major was Rowan Murdoch of Denny and Dunipace, and the champion adult drum major was Campbell Gillies of Rothesay and District.
Saturday also saw the Argyllshire Highland Dancing competitions (for dancers who live in Argyll and Bute) which turned out to be a real family affair. Top honours in the Under 13 category went to Eilidh Gammons from Helensburgh, with her sister Catriona picking up the top prize in the Under 16 category. Rhiannon Charles, also from Helensburgh, triumphed in the 16 years and over class.
At 11am, Dunoon’s Burgh Hall, 40 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 once again won by Steven Campbell of Greenock’s Glenpark Harriers, with Adam McLean second and Paul Monaghan third.
The first local home was Richard Reid of Dunoon Hill Runners. The winner of the women’s race was Lucie Noakes, also of Dunoon Hill Runners, followed by Marion McMillan (2nd) and third-placed Morven Walsh.
Then came the biggest Highland Dancing competition in the world – the World Championship finals - with dancers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA pitting their skills against the best the UK has to offer.
In the end, it was Erin Blair of California who once again emerged victorious in the World Juvenile finals, followed by Michelle Gordon of Huntly and Louise Barton of Cairneyhill.
The trophy for best Scottish Juvenile Dancer went to Michelle Gordon, and the best Overseas Juvenile Dancer was Erin Blair.
In the World Junior championship, California’s Emma Schiff held off the challenge of Sophie Dunn (2nd) and Morgan McDougall (3rd), both of Ontario, Canada.
The best Scottish Junior Dancer was Finley Duncan of Banff, and the trophy for the best Overseas Junior Dancer went to Emma Schiff.
The Adult World champion was once again Ontario’s Marielle Lesperance, who won every element of her competition. In second place was Alberta’s Rebecca Thow, with Ellis Hayes from Newton Stewart in third.
Marielle is also taking home the Mary McHarg Quaich for best Overseas Adult Dancer. The cup for best Scottish Adult Dancer went to Ellis Hayes.
Throughout the afternoon, four of the world’s hottest traditional music bands entertained the crowds in the now-famous ceilidh tent.
Leading the pack once again was Oban-based Skipinnish, who brought the house down when they headlined the show over the last two years and who also wowed the crowds at last night’s Gig at the Gathering.
Local band Heron Valley showed why promoters are beginning to consider them as festival headliners, with an energetic yet skillful take on ceilidh music.
They were joined by three of the hottest up and coming names on the traditional music scene – Deoch ‘n Dorus and Trail West.
While they were playing in their marquee behind the stadium, the heavy athletes and wrestlers battled it out for top honours in the stadium itself.
For the first year ever, there was a new International Heavy Athletics Team competition as well as the traditional individual contests. Four-strong teams (three men and one woman) from Scotland, Germany and Iceland battled it out throughout the afternoon, with Iceland eventually carrying off the new team trophy.
In the overall individual heavy athletics, Iceland’s Heisi Geirmundsson came out on top, with Daniel Dorow from Germany second and Scotland’s Daniel Carlin third.
In the women’s competition, Lucy Marshall from England beat off the challenge of Germany’s Sylvana Bomholt (2nd) and Laura Allan of Scotland, who came third.
Stefan Kolitch and Sylvana Bomholt, both of Germany, were crowned men’s and women’s caber toss champions respectively.
The wrestling this year featured 33 wrestlers from five countries – Scotland, Iceland, Germany, France and Estonia.
The Female Open section was won by Iceland’s Marin Daesdotter, with compatriot Margaret Runadottir runner-up.
In the men’s Open competition, European Champion Asmunder Asmundsson from Iceland fought off the challenge of Frazer Hirsch from Carnoustie to take the title. Gunnar Gustav of Iceland was third.
The weight category winners were Sam McCrory from Hamilton in the 9 and a half stone category, Greg Neilson (also from Hamilton) in the 11 and a half stone event, Scott Carson from Aberdeen in the 13 and a half stone section and Frazer Hirsch in the 15 and a half stone category.
This year, there was a bigger and better selection of entertainment for all ages than ever before.
One of the most popular draws proved to be the Xtreme mountain bike stunt team, which performed three gravity-defying shows to packed audiences.
Among the other most popular new attractions were the Ferret World display and Glasgow Science Centre’s Disgusting Digestion workshops.
A highlight for the younger visitors was once again ‘Artie’s Tartan Tales’ featuring veteran entertainer Artie Trezise, who spent 30 years as one half of The Singing Kettle.
A fun ‘march down the street; followed as a number of pipe bands dressed up and headed from the stadium to Dunoon’s Queen’s Hall, stopping occasionally to give performances in the round to appreciative crowds.
Grade 1 winners Inveraray and District led the parade, showing people why they won the coveted Grade 1 Champion of Champions title this year.
The only local band to take part in this year’s Gathering, Dunoon Grammar School, were the last band down and delighted onlookers outside the Observer Shop as they performed a hilarious Olimpics themed routine, which had clearly been well-rehearsed. From slo-mo running to the ‘Chariots of Fire’ theme to football and rugby to the Match of the Day theme, those who caught the routine can consider themselves lucky.
The Gathering has changed in the last few years. It has changed from a sometimes dour, competition-led event to a more celebratory one. The smiles on peoples’ faces this weekend showed that the transformation has been successful.
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