Long lost medal with 150 year history returned to its home

The Queen during her visit to last year's 150th anniversary Aboyne Highland Games.
The Queen during her visit to last year's 150th anniversary Aboyne Highland Games.

A medal won by a competitor at an Aberdeenshire event nearly 150 years ago has been returned to the organisation that awarded it.

Officials of Aboyne Highland Games have been reunited with the champion prize medal, presented in 1871 for tossing the caber.

The medal was recently anonymously donated to the Aboyne Highland Games

The medal was recently anonymously donated to the Aboyne Highland Games

The recipient was John Moir of Auchernach, Strathdon, who was a successful Highland Games athlete in the 1860s and 1870s.

Moir’s medal was one of six champion prizes presented in 1871 at the fifth Aboyne Highland Games.

The others were awarded for bagpipe music, throwing the light hammer, best dressed Highlander, throwing the heavy hammer and dancing Highland reels.

Some 22 other competitions were also staged at that year’s games.

Along with being presented with the champion prize for tossing the caber, Moir beat six other athletes to win the all-comers competition for tossing the caber in 1871.

He also finished second in a field of five entrants in putting the light stone, throwing a distance of 40ft 8in.

Measuring 5cm in diameter, the double-sided white metal medal features a beaded design that surrounds recessed faces, engraved on both sides.

The ornate circular medal is topped off by a scroll embellishment and small clasp.

One side is inscribed with Aboyne Annual Highland Games 1871, while the reverse reads Champion Prize for tossing caber to John Moir.

It has recently been donated anonymously to the Aboyne Highland Games.

Medals of this type were commonly presented to winning competitors at Highland Games during the 19th century.

Photographs from around the 1870s show legendary athletes Donald Dinnie and James Fleming standing proudly displaying dozens of medals pinned to their jackets.

Tossing the caber continues to be an integral part of games throughout the world and is one of the traditional events’ most iconic disciplines.

At Aboyne, it is one of only a handful of disciplines to have been contested at every games held since 1867.

Last year, to mark the 150th anniversary of its founding, Aboyne Highland Games commissioned a new caber, which will again feature at this year’s event on Saturday, August 4.

The 23ft 6in (7.15m) long Douglas Fir caber was dedicated by the Queen during her visit, with the monarch pouring a dram of commemorative Aboyne Highland Games whisky over the timber.

Called the Aboyne Caber, it features in a special event that has a £600 prize and is only contested by the heavy athlete who wins the open caber competition earlier in the day.

This year, the prize fund for the event has increased by £100 after neither of the four heavy athletes who jointly won the open caber toss competition in 2017 were able to successfully land the 130lb (59kg) log in the perfect 12 o’clock position.

Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said: “This little medal is a small but fascinating piece in the history of our games.

“It tells its own story and provides some background to one of the regular competitors at Aboyne Highland Games when the event was in its infancy.

“Items such as these bring the history of the games, and the local area, to life.

“Tossing the caber has been an integral part of Aboyne Highland Games since its founding.

“Therefore, it is fitting that we have been reunited with this champion prize medal 150 years after the games was established, and following Her Majesty The Queen’s historic visit last year when she christened the new Aboyne Caber.

“We are always interested to hear from anyone who has memorabilia or photographs relating to Aboyne Highland Games.

“In particular, we are quite keen to track down copies of the programmes from the very early games and in the 1920s and 1930s.”

Founded in 1867, Aboyne Highland Games is a traditional Scottish event held annually on the first Saturday in August.

The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year.

Featuring a programme of traditional Games events, including Highland dancing, tossing the caber, piping and fiddle competitions, the showpiece on the village green attracts visitors from around the world and makes an important contribution to the local economy.