Jay Scott

Jay Scott would have been a wonderful athlete in any generation – his performances over a number of years speak for themselves.   He would have been much better known however had henot been competing as a professional athlete at a time when the amateur code held sway and there was little coverage in any of the media.   His marks, good as they were, would have been even better had he been able to compete on the same surfaces and had the same competition opportunities as the amateur athletes of his day.

Born in Ayrshire, Mr Scott’s family moved to farm on Inchmurrin island, Loch Lomond, when he was two years old. Rowing to school across the water every day with his older brother Tom, Jay soon became skilled in boatmanship and acquired a considerable knowledge of the loch, later coming to the rescue of many a stricken tourist. After boarding school, he attended the West of Scotland Agricultural College before returning to farm on Inchmurrin. Despite claiming to be one of the smallest children at school, he soon built up an athletic physique and began to excel in Highland Games competitions.

He began entering highland games events in the 1950s and, on his day, was well nigh unbeatable.  At Tobermory Games, for instance, he once won the 100 yards, 220 yards, hop, step and jump, long jump, pole vault, seven heavyweight events, and also the high jump, beating an American Olympic athlete into second place with a leap of 6ft 3ins.    At the Aboyne Games, he won the trophy for best athlete seven times in a row, and, in a match against the leading decathlete of the day, was so far ahead after eight events that there was no need to throw the discus or run the 1,500 metres.    There is also the story of how, arriving at the Taynuilt Games too late for the high jump, he then beat the winner’s height clad in his kilt, coat and street shoes.   Such was his prowess that versions of this story that have him clearing the bar carrying two suitcases are regularly believed and recycled.   There are many such stories – for example, at the Luss Games in 1954 he was said to have jogged through the blistering heat from one event to the next, and won almost every local event and most of the open field games.

If we take some actual examples,

* at Dingwall on the last Saturday in July, 1955, he won eight events and the report in the ‘Glasgow Herald’ read: “Three of the chief trophies in the open events at the Dingwall Highland Gathering on Saturday were won by J Scott (Inchmurrin), who also broke two of his own ground records.   In the high jump he cleared 5′ 10″ – 1″ more than the previous record – and in the hop. step and jump he leapt 43′ 01″ – 3″ better than his previous best.   Altogether Scott was first in eight events.   For scoring most points he was awarded the challenge rose bowl, and he received the Fraser Challenge Cup for the open jumps, and the Macrae Challenge Plate for the 100 yards.”   

How does the hop, step and jump compare with his amateur contemporaries?   Well his 43’01” = 13.132m;   the SAAA Champion that year cleared 13.94m which is 45’3.5″.  Bearing in mind the other seven events tackled by Scott, and the difference in competition surfaces, and the level of competition, I would suggest that it stands up very well indeed.   Incidentally, the SAAA victor was Tom MacNab.   

* The following week, he only won the high jump while his brother Tom won the long jump and the pole vault.  

*On the 13th August, it was the Taynuilt Games where he turned his attention to the heavy events beating Ewan Cameron in the shot with 40′ 10″ and the long jump with 20′ 8″.   The SAAA Shot was won by TA Logan with 13′ 46″ (Jay’s converted to 12.446m) but the previous provisos still maintain.   This was only one year after he started competing and he and his brother Tom won a staggering range of events: 100 yards, shot putt, high jump, long jump, hop, step and leap, and pole vault among them.     To achieve such success, they must have trained very hard or been really blessed with great natural ability.  

Probably both is nearer the truth but we are still left with the question about what they could have done with big city facilities and opportunities.   In 1964 for instance Jay high jumped 6′ 3 1/2″ at Tobermory – the SAAA champion then was the wonderful Crawford Fairbrother who had a season’s best of 2.05 metres.   Jay’s high jump would convert to 1.91m which would have placed him fourth home Scot in the rankings that year – second being Alex Kilpatrick an Anglo living in London (1.98m), and third Patrick MacKenzie, another Anglo living in Brighton. (1.97m).   The next home Scots were David Cairns of Springburn  and Alan Houston (VPAAC) on 1.94m.   It was during the late 50’s when his portrait started to appear on the Scott’s Porage Oats packets and the question was – was he paid?   His son Rob is quoted in the ‘Edinburgh Evening News’ as saying the first he knew of it was when a friend spotted him on the packet.   He then his son reckons got a one off payment when he approached the company.   It would have been vastly different in the twenty first century!

His fame spread, and he was invited to go on a world tour. He tossed the caber in the Bahamas and, in 1964, visited Canada and the US.    The stories just kept coming: this from The Scotsman “Here his beguiling form came to the attention of film star Jayne Mansfield, always on the lookout for someone whose physique matched her own extraordinary proportions – she was eventually to marry body-builder Mickey Hargitay – who invited him to spend the night on her heart shaped bed.   They were, however, not alone in Ms Mansfield’s pink boudoir. Also there were her lapdogs. Scott was so bothered by them yapping at his heels that he asked for them to be taken away. He might as well have requested that she remove her make-up. Minders were summoned, and the man who had beaten all-comers on the games field was unceremoniously dumped into her swimming pool.”   That’s the story anyway.JS 22lb Aboyne 55

At Aboyne, 1955

His athletic stature really caught the eye of his future wife Fay when they met in June 1957 at Loch Lomond. Fay was starring in a show at the Alhambra in Glasgow when they started dating. They wed the next year at Kilmaronock Church, near Drymen. They lived on Inchmurrin for six years as Mr Scott continued to collect trophy after trophy at Highland Games competitions. The Scotts moved to a house on the shore of Loch Lomond in 1964 and began work on what is now Duck Bay Marina.    Scott won a Civic Trust award for his work on the complex, but tragedy struck soon afterwards when the family home was burned down in a fire. The family moved on a few years later to a farm near Aberfoyle, but soon afterwards, in 1973,  Mr Scott suffered a serious head injury in a tractor accident.    He no longer took part in as many competitions, but the accident, and a subsequent brain operation, left him in poor health and his glory days as one of the country’s top athletes were over, although he still holds a Highland Games high-jump record. The family moved to Edinburgh where they took over a guest house in Portobello. They later gave up the business and Mrs Scott taught drama at Queen Margaret College. Recently, in May 1997, Mr Scott had been focusing on the refurbishment of a 40-foot boat on Loch Lomond. However, he suffered a major set-back when the vessel was vandalised, and, after a minor stroke, he was seriously ill in the last six months of his life, and succumbed to a heart attack two days before his 67th birthday.

There is an excellent obituary in the Glasgow Herald of 9th June 1997 from which much of this has been gleaned and which can be found in its entirety at 



His career is summarised in the International Highland Games Federation website as follows:

Jay was the youngest of the two Scott brothers who grew up on Inchmurrin,a lovely island on Loch Lomond.   The brothers were born in Ayrshire in 1926 and 1930 respectively, and in their boyhood,when attending Kiel School at Dumbarton , they showed little sign of the athletic greatness they were later to display.   Both were quite small and although they played rugby they were not outstanding.   Working on the island ,however agreed with them and they grew into powerful men,rugged and tanned,wearing shorts or kilts all year round regardless of the weather.   Heavy farm work , building , cutting trees and rowing on the loch built tough strong muscles and soon Tom was topping 6 feet 2 ½ inches and young Jay was not far behind him.  At 14 stone neither carried an ounce of superfluous weight and tailors found it difficult to belive their tapes when they registered a chest measurement of 44 inches and a waist about a dozen inches less.    Tom and Jay began their professional careers at Luss Highland Games – Tom in 1947 and Jay a year later.At first the light events were favoured, but later both joined the heavies and competed with success.

“Jack of all trades, master of none” certainly does not apply to either of the Scotts.   Both broke records at more than one event it is safe to say that Jay was the best all round heavy and light event athlete of his era.   His performance could hardly be equalled by any one person competing under the conditions prevailing at the games, where all events are run within record.   Nobody , to my knowledge, has ever exceeded his record of 51 feet 11 inches at the hop, hop and jump his 48 feet 10 inches in the more accepted hop, step and jump is also a fine effort. The hundred yards done in 9-8 seconds on undulating ground also takes a bit of beating.    He came third in the famous Powderhall Sprint, a handicap race,and was back marker in the finals on another occasion.   He pole-vaulted 11 feet 5 inches at many gatherings, threw the 56ib weight 34 feet, tossed it over a bar at 14 feet 1 inch, slung the 28 ib weight a full 73 feet at Pitlochry and putt the shot at 47 feet 3 inches. With the stone his distance is 44 feet 5 inches.   In 1957 he began hammer throwing and caber tossing at the games and within one season did 110 feet with the hammer and won several prizes on the caber.

Although the island of Inchmurrin is small and quiet, adventure is not lacking.  It is such a well -known beauty spot that hundreds of holidaymakers pass the island in cabin launches, canoes, rowing boats and sometimes small dinghies. Loch Lomond can be quite treacherous and more than a score of these holidaymakers have been rescued from drowning by the speedy action and pluck of the two brothers.   In addition they have rescued many more who have been marooned in boats or on adjacent islands-quite a serious predicament in a loch 21 miles long.    Jay was at the top for several years but actually only won the Scottish Championship once.  This was in 1958.

There is a very short clip of Jay and Fay being interviewed in 1957 about their plans for Duck Bay at http://ssa.nls.uk/film/T1732

Quite an athlete, but we’ll never know just how good.



Also on site: the complete text of the wonderful book  “Powderhall and Pedestrianism”   Just click on the title.

George McCrae 3

George McCrae winning the 10 miles at Powderhall

The great annual professional meeting on 1st January was for many years known simply as ‘Powderhall’ since that was where it took place.   It is now known mainly as the New Year Sprint and although it is deservedly a real festival of sprinting, the programme is much bigger than that and for many years professional runners (‘peds’) have had good races and won lots of prize money there.   A fixture since 1870, it has always attracted the attention of the Press, even when the amateur athletic code dominated the scene: as a child I remember Scottish sports annuals including a bit about the event amidst all the coverage of football, rugby, cricket, motor cycle racing, boxing and athletics.    The event itself is described and its history recounted in two books.   The first is “Powderhall and Pedestrianism” by David A Jamieson, published by W & AK Johnstone, Edinburgh, and takes the event up to 1943 and the other is “Gold at New Year” by John Franklyn, published by Tweedbank Press which covers the sprint up to 1970.    This account of the event has been compiled using two contributions by Shane Fenton to the unofficial sal website and the official New Year Sprint website (www.newyearsprint.com)

Endurance events have been a feature at Powderhall in all of its incarnations with races at half mile, mile, two miles and long distance.    For detailed results for all events over the entire history of the event go to

http://www.sportingworld.co.uk/newyearsprint/rollofhonoursupportingevents_21.html .

   Among the names to feature among the winners are Michael Glen, Alastair Macfarlane, Glen Stewart and George McCrae (seen above winning in 1913) was the 145th running of the event which uninterrupted by war or weather the sprint handicap race has taken place on or around New Years Day every year since it was first won by Jedburgh’s Dan Wight in 1870.   Throughout the years the race has had a few different venues but no matter where it is run, it is always referred to as the ‘Powderhall’.   The race took place at the Powderhall Stadium in Edinburgh up until 1957 with the exception of 1953 when it was held at Old Meadowbank, from 1958 until 1964 venues at Hawick, Tranent and Newtongrange hosted the event before it returned to Powderhall for a further six years culminating in 1970 with Scotland’s greatest ever sprinter George McNeil winning the Centenary running of the race in 1970.

The following year, Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh with it’s then novel ‘Tartan Track’ surface played host to the race and that’s where it stayed until 1999 when it moved to it’s current home at Musselburgh Racecourse.   The race has a unique history, only five men have been dual winners with only two retaining the title, there have been a father and son winner and brothers have also won the race, there has also been one ‘dead heat’.

The Mile race has been held since 1870 with only three individual years omitted plus the five years of the second world war.    It has been won off scratch only three times in its history, the first was in 1870 when JS Ridley of Gateshead won the race, in 1975 WS Gray of Livingston was the victor and in 1994 C May of Liverpool was first finisher.   Other than that The only winner off less than 10 yards was Michael Glen of Bathgate in 1953 off 5 yards at Old Meadowbank.    The race has taken various formats but the strangest feature for me is that it has not always been a Mile!   It is listed as over 880 yads/800m up to 1 Mile/1600m and for the first 100 years it was a Mile Open Handicap race.   Then in 1971 there were two races – one a 1600m Open Handicap and the other a 1000m Open Short Limit Handicap.   The first was won by D Minto and the second by RM Cuthbertson.   They were held at Meadowbank and the fast track ensured fast times of 4:08.4 and 2:28.05 off 80m and 10m respectively.   This pattern of two races continued until 1990 whereafter it became a 1600m open handicap and it has remained so.

The Half Mile has, apart from two years – 1871 and 1880 when it was a 660 yards open handicap – stayed as an 880 yards until 1970 when it became an 800m open handicap race.   The race in 1971 was won by RM Cuthbertson off 35 yards in 1:51.05 – the same RM Cuthbertson who won the 1000m that same year at Meadowbank.    There was a gap between 1871 and 1880 when it was not run, and it was then kept at that distance although I note that in 2013, it is a ‘four furlongs race’.

If we go up to Two Miles, which is described as over 1600m/1 mile up to 3200m/2 Miles, it was first run in 1871 and there are only 35 results for the distance listed on the official website of the New Year Sprint.   It jumped from 1871 to 1916 for the second race then to 1923 for the third running.    Thereafter it went to 1924, 1925, then 1946 and then 1972 when (apart from 1993) it continued to date.    The race itself was a Two Miles Open Handicap until 1972 when it was a 3200 open short limit handicap and the following year it was a 3200m open handicap race.   This stayed the case until centenary year of 2000 when it became a ‘One Lap’ race.

Up a distance again, and we get ‘Long Distance (Over two miles)’ races.    These events had a comparatively short life in that the first, a 15 Miles, was in 1913 and the last, a 10 Miles, was in 1942.    These races were all called Marathons.   George McCrae won the first race but no time was given,  The following year, the race was won by J Smith of Peebles in 1:28:43 and no time was given for any winners until 1919 when in the first year that the race was run at 10 miles, the victor was TG Shaw of Edinburgh in 49:49 with a start of 3 laps 350 yards.   A bit daunting for anyone more than three laps behind at the start!    The following year the winner was timed at 50:47 off 4 laps 50 yards.    Thereafter they organisers went back to time handicaps rather than distance handicaps.    No time was given for the winner of the marathon from 1922 to 1942.

One of the attractions of Powderhall has been the fact that it is purely a running meeting.    When I first persuaded the British Milers Club to hold one of their Grand Prix meetings at Scotstoun, I was approached by several who said that they really enjoyed a meeting where there were only middle distance races – 8 x 800m for men, 3 x 800m for women,  5 x 1500m for men, etc, and there is no doubt that track events with the clear-cut immediate winner has a different attraction from the extended and often fascinating field event duels.   The New Year Sprint had only running events.   They were all open handicap races where everyone had a chance to win.    It was also helped by the timing of the event – midwinter has always been a time for festivals of various sorts from the Roman Saturnalia to the Christmas celebrations and in Scotland the New Year was the high spot of the winter.   People in a good mood, with the betting associated there was a chance to win back some of the money spent over the holiday period – so long as you had some spare change to invest with the bookie.

For the professional runners used to running on grass or rough cinder tracks of doubtful measurement, Powderhall was an opportunity to run on a good track.   The Edinburgh track was always a good one – the SAAA Championships were held at Powderhall in 1883, 1884, 1886, 1888, 1890, 1894, 1894, 1896, 1900, 1901, 1904, 1906, 1907, 1910 and 1914 as well as twice after the First World War.   International matches were also held there – 1897, 1899, 1903, 1905, 1913 and 1935 for the Scotland v Ireland internationals.   The size of the purse also attracted the top runners and there were athletes from England, Wales and Ireland coming to Scotland to compete.

Good crowds, good tracks and good athletes – a recipe for a cracking good sports meeting.   The fame spread and in 1903 a Welsh Powderhall Sprint was inaugurated, named after the Edinburgh event!    Wikipedia says: “In 1903, the Welsh Powderhall, named after the famous track in Edinburgh, was established in Pontypridd and held at Taff Vale Park.   The first Welsh Powderhall had a first prize of £100, and the venue became the home of Welsh professional running until its final contest in 1934.”


Michael Glen

The professional running scene in Scotland threw up many excellent athletes who went unrecognised despite very good performances, usually on poor tracks of variable distances.   Most of the better known ‘peds’ were sprinters such as Ricky Dunbar and George McNeill but many of the endurance runners were of a good standard – note how well Alastair Macfarlane performed when he switched codes in the late 1960’s.   One of the very best was Michael Glen from Bathgate who would have been a top class runner in any era and in any company.    I asked Alastair whether he had run against Michael and he replied:    

“Indeed I did compete against him. I first competed at the professional games in 1965 when I was 19. At that time Michael was past his best but was something of a legend. He was holder of the World Professional Mile record at 4m 7s which he did on a grass track at Keswick on August 1st 1955. During my time as a professional Michael didn’t compete very often, I suppose because of his  poor handicaps due to his reputation. He tended to run in scratch races and invitation short limit handicaps. I consider as one of my best ever races an invitation short limit mile handicap at Lauder in August 1968. I was off the back mark of 20yards and Michael was off 30. I was soon with him and we had a momentous struggle all the way to the tape as I won by a couple of yards. In July 1968 at Innerleithen, I paced Alan Simpson  to a new Scottish record when he won the British Professional Mile Championship in 4m 9.2s. I took him to just beyond the half mile and I remember that Michael was furious with me afterwards for doing it! His brothers Jimmy, Eddie and Cornelious were all useful runners also. ”   Clearly a top class athlete whose career deserves a closer look.

MICHAEL Glen was born in Bathgate in 1934 and still lives there in a street called Race Road.    He comes from a family of runners and his brothers Jimmy, Eddie and Cornelius were all useful runners too.    His running career began in 1944 when, aged 11, he won what was called a “boy’s marathon” at the Paulville Gala Day Sports at Bathgate and won a small amount of money.   That made him a professional – it’s a story that was repeated many times in Scotland during the amateur era and many very good athletes were lost to the sport as a consequence.   (Robert Reid  could have been one lost who applied and got reintsatement as an amateur)     The likes of Gus McCuaig and Alastair Macfarlane who were reinstated showed just some of the quality that was lost.

For 26 years, he competed the length of the country (but principally in the Borders and Lake District)  in many, many of races on the track and also in some of the hill races that were fairly common in the professional meetings.    He was undoubtedly the “king” of professional middle distance  running.   If we look at any of the records for the many Games he competed in, his name is studded all the way through.   eg some of his performances in the records of the Jedburgh Meeting we get first in the Mile and in the two miles in 1955, first in the same two events in 1956 (two miles in 9:25.3 on a heavy grassy track) in 1956,  won the British One Mile Championship in 1958 in 4:20.4.    It should of course be noted that the nature of the tracks and the distance round them was almost always inferior to the 440 yard cinder tracks used by the amateurs.    There were two results that emanated from his continued and high quality success.   The first was that he became well known to althletics aficionados of both codes and the second was that he was marked man as far as the handicappers were concerned and was know to have started as much as 30 yards behind the scratch mark in handicap races so that there were occasions when his Mile time was for 1790 yards!   A long Scots mile indeed.

Michael is third from the right in this group

What was his best ever run?   Well, the article “Monarch of the Mile” by Jack Davidson in the “Scotsman” on 27th July, 2013 (an article worth reading in its entirety), says that  “His “day of days” was at the Keswick Games in the Lake District when he set a new world and British professional mile record on grass. That Bank Holiday meeting was a big event, part of the annual Keswick Show in Fitz Park in the town. Professional running was very  popular in the Lake District and had a long tradition. There must have been over 20.000 people there that day – a great atmosphere!

“The grass track was just laid out for that event and had a slight rise towards the finishing line. I hadn’t set out specifically to beat the record but I’d been in good form. I was the backmarker off  scratch conceding handicaps up to 250 yards to my 25 or so fellow competitors. I threaded my way through the field and crossed the line in 4min 7sec to set a new world and British record, beating the legendary Walter George’s mark of 4m 12sec set back in 1886.”

The obstacles posed by so many rivals and the deficiencies  of a rudimentary grass track surely detracted from his  performance?

“I reckon if it had been a proper track with a limited field of quality runners, including a pacemaker, I could have got the time down to about 4m 2 or 3sec.”

The top three Scotsmen in 1955 were 4:07.0, 4:07.8 and 4:13.2; in 1956 were 4:06.2, 4:07.6 and 4:08.6, in 1957 the men and their times were A Gordon (Achilles) 4:03.4, M Berisford (Sale) 4:04.8 and G Everett 4:05.3.   That was the best of the decade which ended with 1959’s top three all timed at 4:06.    Clearly not too far away.    The GB Mile championship winning times were: 1954: Roger Bannister   4:07.6;   1955:  Brian Hewson  4:05.4;   1956:  Ken Wood  4:06.8;   1957:   Brian Hewson 4:06.7;   1958: Graham Everett   4:06.4;   1959:   Ken Wood  4:08.1.    Even GB Championships were not too far away!

At about the same time, Ricky Dunbar was the top paid sprinter in the country and I remember another professional talking about the ‘preps’ tha the top runners had for major meetings, telling me that when Dunbar stripped off for a big race “he looked like Superman.”   There was a suggestion that a head-to-head be arranged between Menzies Campbell and Dunbar to determine who was Scotland’s top sprinter and both men were ‘up for it’, as they say.   The SAAA would not hear of it and that was that.   Were similar challenges on for Glen?   Whether or not there was, the answer would have been the same.   As Davidson says in the article already quoted,

“I would have loved to have run against  Bannister and in the Olympics but it was not to be. Discreet enquiries were made on my behalf after my Keswick record about me joining the amateurs, but the response was a curt “No”. You see, by then, I had been running as a professional for about 11 years.”

A local trainer, Jimmy Gibson, a friend of his dad, took him and some others under his wing and soon had them running at games across the country. As prizes were in cash, Michael and his young pals were all deemed professionals. In those days, there was a wide chasm separating the amateurs from  the professionals, with the latter being unable to compete in big international events like the Olympics.

“I never really had any personal issues with the amateurs of the time. We trained in our groups and they trained in theirs. I knew some quite well, including Graeme Everett, the top Scottish amateur miler of the time. He was a fine lad. Another top amateur I got to know was the famous Gordon Pirie, who was also a smashing guy. He turned professional not long  after the Rome Olympics and I actually ran against him – and  beat him – at Jedburgh Games in 1962. We got talking about the amateur/ pro issue and, when I told him my level of  winnings, he thought the “amateurs” did much better overall – first-class travel all over the world, all expenses paid and  “bonuses” thrown in.”

So he went on doing what he enjoyed doing – all endurance runners, whatever their background, understand the compulsion to run.   He ran in the Highland Gatherings in the North, on the Fife circuit, in some of the Midland events, at the Border Games and in the Lake District.

Brother John winning at Newtongrange in 1960

That was in the summer: what about the winter  when Graham Everett and company were running in the short road relays and over the country?   Another quote:

“In the winter, my main focus was on the Powderhall New Year events for which I would go on “special preparations” for six weeks at a time. In summer, on a good week, I could win up to about £60 or £70. Sometimes you’d also be paid petrol expenses and appearance money. It doesn’t sound much now, but then it was about two or three times a working man’s weekly wage. But competing and winning  were the really important things for me. I just had to be the best, that was what drove me.

“I think I got that from my dad. He’d been a miner and instilled that will to win in me. My three brothers Neil, James and Edward, and my sister Mary  were all good runners who had success at the games, but it was my will to win that made me better.”

“Special  preparations” have been mentioned already and mean nothing to anyone not versed in the professional game.   They were explained to me by a runner who had done several of them for Powderhall over the years.    His version (and they were not all identical but followed the same general principal)  lasted for two months when he went to live with his trainer.    He trained twice or even three times a day, each session followed by a massage; there was a nap in the afternoon; his  food would be specially prepared and tasted by the trainer before he was allowed to eat it; he would be in bed every night at 9:00 pm.    The end point was to get the man to the starting line as ready to produce his very best as possible.      (Any further information about the ‘preps’ would be well received)   He won Powderhall twice.


I have spoken to several sources about Michael and they all say that he worked with Bernard Gallagher, the golfer, working on fitness training.    In the late 1960’s Glen who had been self-coached formost of his career, begam a coaching career and in 1969 applied for and won a Churchill Fellowship Athletics Scholarship to travel to America to study coaching methods.  The late 1960’s and into the 1970’s was a period when professional training methods were being looked at seriously by John Anderson and then Frank Dick and former professional athletes like Jimmy Bryce were being questioned about their methods and there is no doubt that professional training techniques were employed by Allan Wells on his way to Moscow in 1980.   About the Churchill Scholarship he says, “That was a fantastic experience for three months in Los Angeles San Francisco and New York. I learned from top American coaches, including Olympic ones. Actually, at the end of my trip I was offered a coaching job in Los Angeles but family  circumstances prevented me taking it.”

In 1969, he was invited down to the Guildhall in London where he was presented with the Churchill Fellowship Gold Medal by the Queen Mother. That completed a nice double for Michael as, in 1955, he had been presented to the Queen at Braemar Highland Games.

Brother Eddie winning Innerleithen Youths Mile in 1959

Michael, at 81 years old,  had no active involvement in the sport, but still followed it closely. He was

  • Twice a winner at Powderhall,
  • winner of  countless championships and races at Highland and Border Games,
  • 14-times winner of the world’s oldest continuous foot race, the Red Hose at Carnwath, established by Royal Charter in 1508
  • and, of course, that Keswick race with his British record there still standing 58 years on.

During his career, the emphasis was on competing and winning, often as many as four track races and a hill race  the same day. As a result, times suffered. There was no opportunity to “peak” to achieve a special time in one particular race, nor were there pacemakers to facilitate that nor tracks as good as the amateurs’.

His talent waBs recognised in 2014 when Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games and he was asked to carry the torch on its way to Glasgow – his stretch, needless to say, was through Bathgate.   

He was undoubtedly a vey talented athlete who was the equal of most of the top middle distance men in the country and would almost certainly have been a Games competitor and track title holder as an amateur.   Michael died on 27th June 2017 at the age of 84. 



Strathallan Gathering

Bridge of Allan 1973

Willie Day winning the road race at Strathallan in the 1970’s

The Strathallan Gathering is held in Bridge of Allan on the first Sunday in August.   It is a meeting with a long and noble history and was a professional meeting until well into the twentieth century when it joined the amateur ranks.   It is now back in the professional fold.

As an amateur athlete running in the 1960’s and 70’s, there were not that many Highland Games that I was able to run in if I were to retain my amateur status.   The Strathallan Gathering was one though and it was always a great day out.   The meeting, on a dedicated Games Field, with a wonderful stand (now sadly gone), before a very good crowd with genuine personalities as Chieftain and with a fair in the adjacent field and pony trotting after the Games had ended, was a real experience.    I still go most years as a spectator but gone are the fireside rugs, cake stands and casserole sets as prizes and money prizes are good.   As well as being easy for the Committee to organise and hand out, they are often most welcome to the athletes.   Their permanent trophies for the various events are a good reminder of who has won what – they even have specific trophies for the younger age groups such as the Bastable Trophy for Under 17’s .    The following historical appreciation is from the meeting programme.


The Strathallan meeting in its present form has held a central place in traditional Scottish sport for 150 years.  Before that its origin can be found in the sports gatherings of ordinary country folk when the Lairds met to play at, “Tilting at the ring” under a charter granted by James I in 1453.  A link to the old Wappenschaws, (a kind of medieval “Home Guard” when every grown man had to show his weapons in good order), is tenuous, but what is certain is that by the early 19th century competitive sports were taking place here on a regular basis.   William Litt of Cumbria wrote in 1823 of “The famous old school of wrestlers in Strathallan, Stirlingshire”.

There is no record of when The Country Archery and Rifle Club was founded but it was probably about 1825 and it also held sports competitions at its meetings.  Their competitions became the Strathallan Highland Games and were organised by JA Henderson of Westerton from at least 1848 until 1858 when he died.   Major General Sir James Alexander, K.C.B., became Laird of Westerton in 1863 and reorganised the games which have been held annually ever since then with the exception of the duration of the two World Wars.

Strathallan’s committee has a unique claim to fame, it is intimately connected with the birth of the modern cult of Body-building.  In 1888 it was responsible for organising the Highland Gathering at the Glasgow International Exhibition and in 1889 at the Paris International Exhibition.  When the Strathallan Committee and the highland games stars they had brought to Paris for the Exhibition arrived, they found to their surprise that the world’s first Body-building competition was about to be held.  The competition was to be a team competition and had already attracted an entry of 300 strongmen, but nothing daunted, the Scots led by the famous wrestler Jimmy Esson of Aberdeen, entered and won.  Sadly Jimmy Esson died of his wounds in A German Prisoner of War camp in 1916.

In 1999 the meeting reverted to its roots.  Until 1956 it was a traditional games with money prizes, then from 1957 till 1998 it affiliated to the amateur sports organisations.  A new era demands a new start and in 1999, the year of the first Scottish Parliament for almost 300 years, we once again affiliated to the Scottish Games Association to continue to promote for the benefit of the coming generations, the old traditional Scottish sports, dances and music.

There have been many changes to the programme.   For example at the urging of the Scottish Marathon Club in the 1950’s, it introduced a 20 miles road race that took runners along through Bridge of Allan straight out towards Alloa and over the hill at Sauchie to Tillicoultry, along the Hillfoots villages of Alva and Menstrie to Blairlogie, down to the main road again and back to the Games Park.  Because of the low number of entries, the race was cut first to a half marathon, then to a 10K and finally it was dropped altogether.   The Games always had novelty events which were very popular – parachute drops, police dog handlers giving a display, and so on.   The programme is a varied one with field events not found everywhere such as the long jump, at times the triple jump too.   Trophies are keenly fought for – eg the aforementioned Bastable Trophy for the Best Youth of the meeting for performances across all the events for U17’s.   For many years there were only two events for this group – the 100 yards and the half mile – but there are now several more available, and all with good prize money.

It is a popular and well attended meeting with lots of stands displaying and selling local produce such as fruit, cheese alongside hand made jewellery and craft stands.

Highland Games

Al Cowal

Alastair Douglas (in yellow) running before the crowds at Cowal

The Highland Games and various Gatherings around Scotland are a large part of the Scottish athletics tradition, including as they do all areas of athletics excellence.    Almost all of the top athletes in the country have at one time or another taken part in such an event and in fact the Edinburgh Highland Games of the post-war years featured many of the very best athletes from around the world.    Before the Commonwealth Games in 1970 and 1986 in Edinburgh, many of the foreign athletes had a go at some of the highland games before or after the Commonwealth Games.   The difficulties that arose when the amateur era began in the 1880’s and the governing body would not countenance any amateur competing for money.    This led to many an anomaly and many an injustice (see the profile of Robert Reid ).    Menzies Campbell was asked to race Ricky Dunbar who was the top ped of the time when they were both in their prime but the authorities would not wear that one either.   Not all Games were professional though, many altering to embrace the amateur code and some like Strathallan have been professional, then amateur and are now basically open and offering good prize money.   We are now in what is more or less a post-amateur athletics scene and it may be that eventually all athletics will be local but that’s a much bigger debate.   As an introduction to the subject Shane Fenton has contributed the following piece as an introduction to the Highland Gatherings.   The picture is of Graham Crawford racing in the 2 miles race at Blairgowrie.

Graham at Blairgowrie

Games in the Highlands of Scotland

It is reported in numerous books and Highland games programs, that King Malcolm Canmore, in the 11th century, summoned contestants to a foot race to the summit of Craig Choinnich (overlooking Braemar). Some have seen in this alleged event the origin of today’s modern Highland games[2].

Following the repeal of the Act of Proscription, various Highland Societies, beginning in the 1780s, began to organize around attempts to retain or revive Highland traditions. It was these early efforts that eventually led to the Highland Games as we know them today.

This modern revival of the Highland games received an enormous boost with the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822, although events were held in the years just prior to that. In 1819, for example, the St. Fillans Society organized a full scale Highland games with piping, dancing, and athletics and the Northern Meeting Society’s Highland Games – the forerunner of The City of Inverness Highland Games – was first held in 1822.

In the 1840s, in Braemar, Games began as a fund raising effort by local artisans to support a “Friendly Society” and their charitable activities. Soon thereafter, Queen Victoria who, together with her consort Prince Albert, had made Balmoral Castle their special retreat, began to patronize the Games. The Queen first attended the Braemar Games in 1848 and the following year, they were moved to the grounds of the Castle itself. Later, in 1868, the first in a series of “Highland Memoirs” excerpted from Victoria’s Journals, would be published.

Together with the earlier 1822 event, Queen Victoria’s patronage of the Games constituted one of the most significant factors in the popularization of the Games and what some have called the Highlandification of Scotland.

Among better-known games in Scotland are the ones held at Braemar, Inverness, Cowal, Lonach, Ballater and Aboyne. The Aboyne games have been running since 1867 without a break apart from the two world wars.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the Highland games played a role in the development of the Olympic movement. As part of his efforts to organize the first games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin visited a number of athletic competitions in order to determine which sports should be included in the Olympic Games, to standardize rules, and to examine the technical aspects of running such a competition. Among the events he visited for this purpose were a Highland Games event organized in conjunction with the Paris Exhibition of 1889. That event, in addition to what we today would call track and field events, also contained wrestling, tug-of-war, cycling, as well as competition in piping and dancing.


Heavy Events

In their original form many centuries ago, Highland games gatherings centered around athletic and sports competitions. Though other activities were always a part of the festivities, many today still consider that Highand athletics are what the games are all about – in short, that the athletics are the Games, and all the other activities are just entertainment. Regardless, it remains true today that the athletic competitions are at least an integral part of the events and one – the caber toss – has come to almost symbolize the Highland games.

Although quite a range of events can be a part of the Highland athletics competition, a few have become standard.

  • Caber toss: a long tapered wooden pole or log is stood upright and hoisted by the competitor who balances it vertically holding the smaller end in his hands. Then the competitor runs forward attempting to toss it in such a way that it turns end over end with first, the upper (larger) end striking the ground and then the smaller end, originally held by the athlete, following through and in turn striking the ground in the 12 o’clock position measured relative to the direction of the run. If successful, the athlete is said to have turned the caber. Cabers vary greatly in length and weight, both factors increasing the difficulty of a successful toss. Competitors are judged on how closely their throws approximate the ideal 12 o’clock toss.
  • Stone put: this event is similar to the modern-day shot put as seen in the Olympic Games. However, instead of a steel ball, a large stone, of variable weight, is used. There are also some differences from the Olympic shot put in allowable techniques. The Highland games stone put exists in two versions. One version, called the “Braemar stone”, uses a 20 to 26 pound stone for the men (13 to 18 pounds for women). It is a standing put in which no run up to the toeboard or “trig” is allowed. The other version, called the “Open Stone”, uses a 16 to 22 pound stone for the men (8 to 12 pounds for women). The athlete is allowed to use any throwing style, including a spin, provided that the stone is delivered with one hand.
  • Scottish hammer throw: this event is similar to the hammer throw as seen in modern-day track and field competitions, though with some differences. In the Scottish event, a round metal ball (weighing 16 or 22 lbs for the men or 12 or 16 lbs for women) is attached to the end of a shaft about 4 feet in length and made out of wood, bamboo, rattan, or plastic. With the feet in a fixed position, the hammer is whirled about one’s head and thrown for distance over either the right or left shoulder. If conditions and event rules permit, hammer throwers may use special equipment consisting of flat blades attached to the footwear which are used to dig into the turf to maintain their balance and resist the centrifugal forces of the implement as it is whirled about the head. This substantially increases the distance attainable in the throw.
  • Weight throw, also known as the weight for distance event. There are actually two separate events, one using a light (28 lb for men, or 14 lb for women) and the other a heavy (56 lb for men, 42 lb for masters men, and 28 lb for women) weight. The weights are made of metal and have a handle either directly attached to the weight or attached to the weight by means of a chain. The implement is thrown using one hand only, but otherwise using any technique. Usually a spinning technique is employed. The longest throw wins.
  • Weight over the bar, also know as weight for height. The athletes attempt to toss a 56 pound weight with an attached handle over a horizontal bar using only one hand.
  • Sheaf toss: A bundle of straw (the sheaf) weighing 20 pounds (9 kg) for the men and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) for the women and wrapped in a burlap bag is tossed vertically with a pitchfork over a raised bar much like that used in pole vaulting.

In the 19th century, the athletic competitions at Highland games events resembled more closely a track and field meet of modern times. Some of the games preserve this tradition by holding competitions is these events. This could include, in addition to standard track and field events, a tug-of-war, kilted mile run and other foot races, shinty (a game somewhat like field hockey and dating back to the 18th century or earlier), and the stone carry.

Many of the Heavy Events competitors in Scottish highland athletics are former high school and college track and field athletes who find the Scottish games are a good way to continue their competitive careers.