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Highland Gathering wins vote for being a massive success

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: July 24, 2014

  • Pictures from the Ashbourne Highland Gathering, held at the town's recreation ground in Cokayne Avenue. Events ranged from Scottish dancing, pipe and drum bands, tug-of-war and sheep racing. Although final attendance numbers have still to be calculated, there are signs that more visitors than ever came along this year.

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Thousands of people enjoyed the delights of the 29th annual Highland Gathering in the town – and had the chance to "vote" on Scotland's future, as Zena Hawley reports. Pictures by Geoff Merryweather.

IT has no official bearing on the eventual vote but Ashbourne has decided it would rather Scotland stayed as part of the United Kingdom.

That was the verdict of people who had the chance to take part in a mock vote during the Highland Gathering last Sunday.

More than 8,000 people visited the afternoon event, which celebrates all things Scottish, and witnessed a variety of events from racing sheep to caber tossing.

But in among the pipe band competitions, running races and heavyweight contests, people were asked to cast their vote answering the simple question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

The question is exactly the same as that which will appear on people's voting papers in Scotland on Thursday, September 18 – barely 54 days away at the time of going to press.

Warwick Adams, secretary of the Highland Gathering committee, said the vote would have given Scots living in England a chance to express their view.

"Which is something they won't be able to do when it comes to the actual vote in September," said Mr Adams.

Only people registered to vote in Scotland will be eligible to take part in the referendum and so this will mean many Scots living outside of the country not having a vote and non-Scots in Scotland having a vote on the country's future.

Mr Adams said: "In our vote, around 78% voted in favour of Scotland remaining part of the union.

"But the real thing is likely to be much closer and it is on a knife-edge, with about 40% in favour and 40% against at the moment. So it will be down to those who have yet to decide. I expect they will be a target for the politicians of both sides."

Mr Adams, while respecting the confidentiality of the ballot box on Sunday, was happy to reveal he would like to see Scotland as an independent country.

He added: "Whatever happens will affect Scotland's future but I would like to see independence, although all my fellow Scots in this area may not agree with me."

Numbers voting in the Ashbourne poll were not huge, with just 346 casting their votes.

Mr Adams is one of a team of just six people who organise the Highland Gathering on the town's recreation ground each year.

In previous years, bad weather has resulted in the event being cancelled and so everyone was looking anxiously heavenwards last Friday and Saturday when there were several downpours.

Mr Adams said: "We received a tremendous amount of anxious e-mails last Saturday, checking that we were still going ahead.

"Fortunately, the day of the event itself was fantastic. It was a perfect day."

Although final attendance numbers have still to be calculated, there are signs that more visitors than ever came along this year.

"The cashiers on the entrance were reporting significant increases in numbers at times during the afternoon, so we are optimistic," said Mr Adams.

"It's great to see it all come together on the day after months of planning and we could not achieve this without all of the people who volunteer to help us run things before and during the event.

"We believe that people love this event and we are happy to keep bringing it to them each year."

One of the main attractions every year is the drum-major's challenge, when the crowds are drawn to watch the tossing of his mace over three key points in the town.

One by one, the participating bands march from the field with the drum major charged with the task of hurling his spinning mace over a banner on the recreation ground, the Green Man sign in St John Street, and then a banner in Dig Street.

It is understood that several bands managed to get the mace over this year.

Another of the long-standing event's favourites is the appearance of celebrity strong-man Geoff Capes and his team of competitors in the Highland games.

Highland games are festivals held throughout the year in Scotland and were originally a way for the clans to demonstrate their relative strength to each other without having to go to war.

Challenges in Ashbourne this year included throwing the hammer, weight for height and weight for distance, along with lifting the Manhood Stones.

The final event was the tossing of the caber in which competitors attempt to throw and flip end-over-end a long, heavy log.

The All-England Amateur Solo Piping Championship was also a prominent part of the afternoon's activities.

Piping is always the mainstay of the gathering and the All-England Amateur is played in five separate grades, allowing pipers to play-off against their peers.

For those who like their entertainment to be more musical, a tent was set aside for people to enjoy folk music, provided by such acts as singers Steven Quigg and Hugh Stewart.

Rounding off the musical festivities was folk-rock band Stargazy.

Planning has already started for the Highland Gathering 2015.

Mr Adams added: "We are already wining and dining a few chieftains and plans are in place for the whole thing to go ahead again next year – which will be our 30th."

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