Ashbourne Highland Gathering

In 1976 the Ashbourne Pipe Band was formed. It allowed members to meet together to play for pleasure and so they did, but soon they were being asked to undertake public engagements. As they gained more exposure more members joined, coming from a wider geographical area and so the ‘and district’ was added to the name of the band. In the late 1970s many pipe band competitions were held throughout England and the band became involved in competing. We would love to say these events were spectacular but in the early days they were fairly poor and very badly organised and the members of Ashbourne Pipe Band and District felt they could do better, especially since they had their own ideal site.

In 1983 the planning began and two years later in Summer 1985, the first Ashbourne Highland Gathering was held, organised by members of the Ashbourne Pipe Band committee and almost entirely funded by then, with a little funding from local companies. The first gathering lost ?900 but the second broke even, and the first chairman, Alistair Brown, retired the Argyll in Scotland and the current chairman, David Frith took over in 1987.

The event became very successful but also more time-consuming and the committee decided their main interest must be to promote excellence within the band and so another committee was formed to organise the Gathering, comprising of willing volunteers who had helped in the first couple of  years but who had shown initiative in developing the event. This continued successfully until 2000 and the Ashbourne Highland Gathering ltd committee was formed, the mission to promote the music and culture of Scotland. The company doesn’t run the Gathering for profit and the income each year is retained for investment in the following year’s event and the rest is donated to local charities.

The Pipe Band competition attracts many bands and there is no more stirring a site than that of the massed bands marching into the main arena to play it traditional salute to the Chieftain, and the finale of the Gathering. It has an unbroken run for 24 consecutive years but fell victim to the weather in 2009 and was cancelled due to the recreation ground being waterlogged.

The Pipe Band competitions have to be one of the highlights, culminating with a prize-giving ceremony, which involves a spectacular mass pipe band march followed by all the competing bands marching through the town of Ashbourne to draw the day to a musical end. There are heavyweights competitions, dancing competition and tug of war as well as the annual hill race, a traditional part of every Highland Gathering and in the town of Ashbourne, the gateway to the Peak District, there was no difficulty in finding a tough but enjoyable route!

The 4 mile course has four major climbs as the cross is farmland and wood and is very challenging for all standards of runners. The race starts and finishes in the main arena where a large crowd cheered the runners on their way and welcome them back with open arms as they make a final circuit to the finishing line. It really is a very stirring sight.

With main arena events such as sheep dog displays and duck herding, highland dance competitions , there are other bands and various stalls providing a wide range of goods  for sale from kilts to kettles, pictures to plants and sweets to sweaters to name but a few. There are games and inflatables, helter-skelter and mini roundabouts and the opportunity to try target shooting skills at paintball, darts and football. There is also a larger craft marquee holding up to 30 stallholders with a wide variety of goods.  It is a fantastic day out for all the family and an event which will remain in your memory for years to come, reminding what a fantastic holiday you had when you visited Ashbourne!