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The Games and the Chieftains

West Lothian’s own celebration of the historic Highland Games tradition takes place in Bathgate on 25th May.

The hill run to the top of Cairnpapple may be more challenging than the very first hill run said to be the origin of the Highland Games tradition - King Malcolm III (1057-1093) summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich, near Braemar, to select his royal messenger. While the origin of the Games was all about finding the fittest and strongest men for the clan chieftain’s household, as the tradition developed music and dancing were introduced for added prestige. Today, it is a fantastic celebration of a quintessential Scottish tradition and a great day out for families of all ages. The West Lothian Highland Games are no exception.

I caught up with the joint Chieftains of this year’s West Lothian Highland Games, Alan and Barbara Waddell, to find out more about them, the role, and the Games. Alan and Barbara run the Kilt Studio in Bathgate, where they have been stalwart supporters of the West Lothian Highland Games (and many other local events) since launching their kilt business via a field stall at the 2003 event.

“It’s a great honour to be asked as Chieftains this year,” says Alan. “We will receive the official Highland Games Crook in a ceremony on the Friday night before the Games, and besides being the ceremonial face of the event itself, will be Chieftains for the whole year before handing over the crook to next year’s Chieftain.” Alan and Barbara will open the Games on Saturday 25th May, and present the awards and medals for the competitors - the dancers, the bands, the athletes and the runners. It’s a nod to the days when the clan chief chose the ablest people for his army and offices.

Besides the iconic heavy athletics (caber tossing, hammer throwing), music and dancing, the day includes children’s attractions, mini stream engines, stalls from local traders, a street parade, bar, and much more. “We want to spread the news of the Games, to get people to come and enjoy the day and to really put it on the map,” says Barbara. Competitors come from all over Scotland and beyond, many doing a “Games season,” competing at many events throughout the summer.

“The West Lothian Highland Games are evolving,” explains Alan, “and there are some new features this year.” One of these is the Junior Highland Games, run by West Lothian College and drawing young athletes and dancers from schools across West Lothian in order to get more young people involved. Another new element is in the music side of the day - there will be a performance from a a modern instrumental band Drumz ‘n’ Roses, a band with a unique Scottish twist encouraging audience engagement and participation.

No Games are complete without pipe bands. This year, instead of a pipe band competition, there will be four different bands performing. In common with many other areas, there has been a decrease in the number of bands entering the competition, so it is being done this way to maintain a strong pipe band element.

The Kilt Studio has outfitted eight of the West Lothian Chieftains over their past 16 years in business. They have supported the Games via their expertise in tartans, outfitting, and all things Highland. They sponsored the creation of the West Lothian Highland Games mascot, Hamish the Haggis, several years ago.

Alan and Barbara, joint chieftains of the Highland Games 2019
Alan and Barbara of The Kilt Studio, joint chieftains of the Highland Games 2019

They take a unique and very inclusive approach to their business. “We called it the Kilt Studio as the emphasis is on the studio itself as a space for getting together, discussing what people need to make their outfit or event work well, running open evenings and so on. “We are the opposite of an ‘exclusive’ outfitter,” explains Alan. “We want to include everyone, support the local community and give back to the community that has supported our business in the town for 16 years. We have made so many good friends via the Kilt Studio.”

Alan hails from Glasgow, studied design at Art college and started his career in graphic design; Barbara is from Ayrshire, and was working for a bridal company and involved in events when, comparing notes of the work they were doing, Alan and Barbara realised they could do something creative together. So the Kilt Studio came about more via the design and events management side of the business than purely kilts. Together they have gained a reputation for their tartan design, attention to detail in the outfitting, custom-making accessories and being very creative. They want to use their role of Chieftains this year to boost the West Lothian Highland Games and all it stands for as much as possible.

Article in Konect May 2019

Author: Helen-Jane Shearer


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