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Harpenden Highland Gathering: A historic and popular event

PUBLISHED: 10:00 02 May 2019

Harpenden Highland Gathering

Harpenden Highland Gathering

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The Harpenden Highland Gathering is one of the largest outside Scotland, with around 6,000 people celebrating annually, and tens of thousands raised for charity, but what is the history of this famous event?

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

The first local Highland games convened in 1946, when a fundraising event was held at Beech Hyde Farm in Wheathampstead.

It aimed to support Scottish engineers who had been working in local aircraft factories during the Second World War, including De Havilland in Hatfield.

Such was its success, the games grew into a local tradition and in 1949 further events were held in Clarence Park in St Albans, organised by the St Albans and Mid-Herts Caledonian Society.

Rothamsted Park took over the baton in 1950 and here the games have become a summer fixture.

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

Colney Heath resident Steve Law who performed at the games in the late 1960s as a member of the St Albans Caledonian Society Pipe Band, told the St Albans Review in 2010 how popular the games came to be within the local community.

He said: “Of all the Highland games I have ever been to the Harpenden one was always the best, and the setting at Rothamsted was brilliant.”

Steve recalled the huge masses of people who would come to celebrate: “There used to be a lot more people attending in those days.

“I think there were around four to five thousand in 2009, but I remember there being some ten thousand when I was a boy.”

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

The games thrived until 1972, when Rothamsted Park could no longer be used as a venue.

Temporary locations were found in Hertford and Letchworth, but the games were discontinued.

After a near 20-year hiatus, a meeting at a dinner party in the late 1990s spawned the revival of the modern games.

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

At the home of Harpenden resident Val Robertson, a local Scotsman and member of Harpenden Lions Club agreed to resurrect the event as a lucrative charity fundraiser.

The plan was to raise considerable sums of money for selected charities and host a fun community event for all the family.

On June 22, 1996 – the 50th anniversary of the inaugural gathering - the first of the modern games was born at the Harpenden Rugby Club.

The following year the event relocated to its spiritual home at Rothamsted Park, where it continues to flourish year-on-year.

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

Revellers partake in great displays of Scottish tradition, including caber tossing, stone putting, and Highland dancing.

The Harpenden Lions Club remain proud custodians of the gathering, and organize the games every July with the help of experienced Scots outside the club who aid with the 'heavy' events and the dancing.

The 2018 Highland Gathering attracted over 6,000 people and raised thousands of pounds for Rennie Grove Hospice Care, The National Deaf Children's Society and The Harpenden Lions Club own charities, including the Life Skills Programme for local schools.

Find out more about Rennie Grove Hospice Care at www.renniegrove.org, The National Deaf Children's Society at www.ndcs.org.uk and The Harpenden Lions Club at www.harpenden-lions.co.uk

Harpenden Highland Gathering will take place this year on July 14. Entry is £4. This year will support Keech Hospice Care, which provide free, specialist care for adults in Luton and south Bedfordshire, and children from Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes with life-limiting and terminal illnesses.

Harpenden Highland GatheringHarpenden Highland Gathering

Find out more about Keech at www.keech.org.uk

Find out more about the Harpenden Highland Gathering 2019 by emailing info@harpenden-lions.co.uk

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