Ach, crivens! Coming up are the most glorious of festivals of the year… Irish and Scottish fests! At least in my area (Indiana), we have excellent ones in the early fall. At last year’s Scottish fest, I discovered a few things: do not drink too much Scotch at noon when the temperatures are in the 90s; Scottish fest organizers should learn what beers go with Scotland and have those on tap; and that highland games look like great fun!
While watching the men and women in kilts toss a few cabers and hammers around, I saw something that made me realize I could do it. One of the older male participants was swinging the metal weight around on its chain, he spun around, slipped, and fell right on his arse. I realized that I could do that! I could easily fall on my bottom! So from that point on, I started planning out my training.
Outside of the usual weight training (for strength) and a wee bit o’ jogging (for endurance), I realized I should also have at least a minimal amount of equipment training (for technique). After looking up equipment on-line, though, I noticed that it is very expensive to purchase. Even the cheapest of items was in the $400 range, and I wasn’t about to spend that much on a few items.
So rather, I made my own. For the caber toss, I simply bought an eight foot long 4x4 post. While it is not the best, and rather shorter than an actual caber, it works decently for at least some experience. The sheaf toss is easily handled by a pitchfork and bales of hay (I haven’t set up a horizontal pole to toss over, but try to measure height by taking video and tossing it against a tree). The stone put is easy, too, as you can just buy the appropriate (for age, weight, and gender class) rock at a hardware store.
The two more difficult ones are still not very hard to put together. For the hammer throw, I bought a 10 pound sledge hammer and practiced with it. It’s weighted differently and won’t go as far as the Highland Games hammer, but it cost $30 instead of $400. Once my technique was decent, I bought a couple of five pound weight lifting plates and duct taped them to the sledge hammer head, increasing its weight to 20 pounds, near the 22 I’ll be tossing around at the games.
The stone throw was a lot harder to put together, and I only did so for the 28 pound weight, and have not put together a 56 pound weight yet, as concrete weights a less than metal and it would be completely unwieldy.
For the stone throw, I bought quick set concrete, a cheap plastic waste can, and a metal rope with ring handles that are used for pulling dead trees. All of these can be bought at a hardware store of decent size. I also used my home scale that I already had (as well as a couple of Scottish ales!). I simply poured and stirred the concrete into the waste can, and stirred with water (I used a ratio of around 8 to 1, but look at the instructions). I would weigh the mixture often and stopped when it was around 27 pounds. Then, before the concrete set, I pushed one of the handles and most of the metal from the tree pull down into the mix. Once the concrete had set (I waited a day), I cut the plastic waste can away with a box knife and had my equipment!
For all of my Highland Games fellow warrior-brutes, I wish you lads and lassies good luck this season!
Note: this article was first written for the defunct Pagan Forest magazine, in the spring of 2015, before I participated in my first Highland Games. I have since played, in Columbus, Indiana's September 2015 games. My homemade equipment did do a really good job of giving me the form, but I will admit that having real equipment would have done so much better. Then again, I did save a thousand or more dollars by making my own and I did place in a few events. The real equipment is pricey! :)
© 2016 James Slaven