Tossing the caber is easily the most recognisable trademark of Scottish Highland games and is one of the most spectacular of the heavy events.
The origins of caber tossing are unknown although it has been suggested that it was developed by foresters for throwing tree trunks into the river. It would be difficult to devise a more physically demanding method of moving felled timber and the more likely explanation is that it was a sport amongst foresters that became part of the traditional Highland Gathering events.
The caber used at Crieff for the Scottish Heavyweight Championship each year weighs over 150lbs (70kgs) and is 17ft 4ins (5.3m) long. The Braemar caber is only 132lIbs (59.9kgs) in weight but is 19ft 9ins (6m) in length. The largest caber recorded in the Guinness Book of records is 25ft (7.62m) and 280lbs (127kg).
Games organisers strive for consistency in the weight of their caber and because timber dries out and becomes lighter, they will often soak the caber in a convenient loch for some days before their annual games or, bore holes in it and fill them with molten lead!
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Contrary to popular belief, the caber is not thrown for distance but for style. The games officials will set the caber on its end with the thickest portion in the air. The athlete rests the caber against his shoulder and, clasping his arms around it, performs the difficult task of lifting it up off the ground whilst keeping it perfectly balanced. When he's achieved that, he will give it a quick flick up and move his hands under the narrow end. He's now ready to throw it.
The competition is judged with the aid of an imaginary clock-face on the ground spread out flat in front of the thrower with him facing the 12 o'clock position. That invisible clock-face keeps pace with him as he runs and when he has reached the desired speed he will stop abruptly at what becomes the 6 o' clock position and heave the caber up so that its heavy end lands in the middle of the clock and the whole caber turns right over, ending up with the narrow end pointing exactly towards the 12 o'clock position.
Quite frequently none of the competitors will achieve the exact 12 o'clock position and the prizes will be given for the throw that is nearest to the ideal. In some games, if the caber was not thrown, an old-fashioned two-handed, crosscut saw would be brought on and the heavies would saw an inch off the caber until one of them threw it.