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Bring on the war games

The Gododdin will arise a week tomorrow, and issue an ancient challenge. The Carnyx war horn will summon combatants to the inaugural Gododdin Games at Blair Atholl.

The Gododdin will arise a week tomorrow, and issue an ancient challenge. The Carnyx war horn will summon combatants to the inaugural Gododdin Games at Blair Atholl.

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Twelve feet long, like an Alpenhorn, but traditionally with a boar's head (making a note akin to a stuck pig) it provided battle music, such as it was, pre-pibroch.

Warlike pursuits were the games of ancient Scotland, and are being revived in a back-to-the-future attempt to repackage and revitalise traditional highland games which evolved from the roots of battlefield combat.

Pillage, rape, severed body parts, and burning flesh are off the programme, in deference to wimpish modern convention - but a new gladiatorial circus is unmistakably in town. Or at least at Blair Atholl tomorrow week. Participants include national champions, world record- holders, and Olympians.

Highland games are Scotland's second biggest spectator sport, yet they are waning. This August, there will be no track athletics at Cowal where they have raced for more than 100 years, war and a tiny handful of summers excluded.

Among traditional highland gatherings to have disappeared during the past 20 years or so, are Airdrie, Falkirk, Elgin, Carluke, Kirkintilloch, Dirans, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Grangemouth. Amateur events at Strathallan, Bearsden and Cupar have gone professional. And this year, the Border games have split from the Scottish Games Association, though three new events have been added to form a rival 12-meeting circuit.

However, there is government backing for the preservation of Scottish culture. EventScotland and Perth & Kinross District Council have bankrolled the Gododdin format, following talks with the Highland Games Consultancy, launched by the Edmunds family from Carmunock, who have a weighty strength event pedigree.

The Gododdin Games are the brainchild of Dr Douglas Edmunds, seven-times Scottish shot and discus champion, strength sports entrepreneur, World Strongest Man judge, and twice world caber champion (hence his autobiography: The World's Greatest Tosser) and his 6ft 4in. 21-stone son, Gregor.

"Strongman and highland games are tired," said Edmunds senior. "People are fed up with big, fat guys who lift weights, and the highland games are really just about throwing. So we're trying to marry the two, sex it up, make it a bit more theatrical, dramatic, and exciting. Challengers will come from all over the world to vie for the accolade of chieftain's champion."

Combat events are being married to traditional throws, with their origins linked to historical events, themed around the struggle for Scottish nationhood. Wrestling, battering-ram jousting, and stone-carrying are on the programme. Implements have evolved from weapons of war and ancient rural life.

A hammer was favoured for smashing enemy armour, and training for wielding the two-handed claymore. Flaming spheres were hurled over battlements (as the Picts did against the Romans at Ardoch) or into the rigging of enemy ships.

The Gododdin ruled central Scotland 700 years before Wallace. The native Brythonic tribe were indigenous Celtic inhabitants of Britain, and Din Eidyn (Edinburgh) was a principal fort, until it fell to the Angles of Bernicia around 638AD. Their territory embraced large areas of Northumbria, and stretched as far as Stirling. They are the inspiration for Britain's first epic poem, Y Goddodin, by Welsh poet Aneurin.

Gregor, Braemar champion last year, tossed its formidable caber, a unique family double.

"I believe you aren't the only one in your family to have won this," remarked The Queen who found even the trophy beyond her. "It's a kilted thrower, about a foot tall," says Gregor, "and weighs more than a shot putt."

He is a substantial chip off the family block. He spent three years building log houses and saunas in Finland with two-time world strongest man Jouko Aloha, and living with the Finn who was runner-up for the World's Strongest Woman title.

Romance, theatre, and a sense of history are essence of the new initiative, but it may not find total approval from purists. "We're trying to create something different from our culture, and the aim is to take it elsewhere, and draw in elements of other cultures, like lifting kettle bells and Cossack dancing in the Ukraine," explains Gregor.

A Scottish circuit is planned, and Ukraine and Iceland have also expressed interest.

Paul Bush, acting operations chief at EventScotland said: "Highland games are an integral part of Scotland's cultural landscape.

"Gododdin represents an exciting new development, and by running the strongman contest alongside the highland games at Blair Atholl, a new world-wide audience will be exposed to the games. Fans of the strongman format will be able to tune into international TV coverage.

"Games are key drivers of tourism to Scotland and the Highlands. Gododdin, by increasing awareness and interest, can help boost the number of visitors, helping to promote this unique aspect of Scottish culture. Event-Scotland is very pleased to be supporting this event."

Channel 4 are filming it, and the International Federation of Strength Athletes are including it in a package that reaches a worldwide TV audience of 1.3bn.

Scene-setting backgrounders are being filmed this weekend at the Wallace Memorial, the fort at Ardoch, Glen Lyon, Scone Palace, Blair Castle, and the Standing Stones at Aberlemno.

"I'll be prancing around in chain mail, helmets, plaids, and with a replica of the Wallace sword," says Gregor, swopping his day job as a sports therapy student.

"I'm recovering from an ear infection which upset my balance, but I managed to break two ground records at Gourock the other day, so I reckon I'm on the way back."

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