You hear the someone blowing their bagpipes in the distance. Squatting, you take control of your log. It’s the biggest one you’ve ever had. The butt nesting firmly in your hands, and pole resting on your shoulder weighing you whole body down. Your thighs go rock solid as you lift your log with your feet firmly planted on the ground. It doesn’t get any lighter as you manage to stand upright. You notice the crowd, there are lots of people who have come out to watch you toss, don’t disappoint them.
The Caber Toss is probably the most iconic Scottish sports, and has been included in the Highland Games since the Victorian era. This event is a true test of testosterone fuelled men proving “I can toss my log better than you”.
The exact origins of the Caber Toss are unknown. Theories range from lumberjacks transporting newly fell trees to rivers, and military origins, using the caber to as a means to cross streams or scale castle walls. Just as plausible, but not as interesting, is the theory that it was invented by a bunch of lads trying to impress a lass, because you know, nothing attracts the girls like a giant tosser.
One of the greatest tossers in history was a man by the name of Donald Dinnie. He participated in many of the early Highland Games between 1850 and 1890. He became infamous for refusing to toss for Prince Albert until he paid him a £2 appearance fee.
Since Victorian times, the sport has grown with the Highland Games which has now spread worldwide to wherever there is a strong enough Scottish diaspora to support it. Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada all host regular Highland Games events, many of which are community events targeted at families.
The basic aim is to toss a log as straight as possible. Starting from a squat position, athletes hold the butt of the log in their hands and can use a run up to gain momentum. The athlete is to heave the caber in an upward direction to flip it on its head, and the butt must fall pointing away from the tosser.
The length of the caber ranges from 16 – 22 feet (4.9 – 6.7 metres) and can weigh between 100 – 180 pounds (45 – 82 kg). If the caber is too heavy, and no athlete can toss it, it can be cut down to a more tossible size, but if one person can toss it successfully, it can not be shortened.
Contrary to the usual assumption of throwing sports, the Caber Toss is not scored on distance, but on accuracy. The caber must fall in a straight line from the tosser, i.e. land at 12 O’Clock. Points are deducted based on the degree of inaccuracy.
How to Experience the Caber Toss
The best way to experience this sport is at the highland games. These can be found both in Scotland and worldwide. The world’s largest games are hosted by the Caledonian Club of San Francisco and attracts over 50,000 spectators. If you are in Australia for the Commonwealth games, consider doing a side trip down to the Brigadoon Highland Gathering in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales for a family friendly day of Scottish culture. The event will be held on Saturday 7 April and is about an hour drive from Canberra, so plan accordingly.