Tilting the Ring

In 1226, King Alexander II of Scotland, granted a Charter to the Burgh of Stirling, for their Merchants Guild, to hold markets or fairs and he also gave them other privileges.

   In the medieval period (13th to 16th century), Stirling Castle, which is associated with King Arthur, was famed for hosting jousting tournaments (tilts). Knights on horseback, dressed in armour, would charge at each other with wooden lances, in an effort to unseat their opponents. Horse and pony races also took place.

   Leading up to the 18th century, Stirling Chapmen (merchants) were privileged to continue the jousting tradition, by holding tilting competitions at their fairs.

   In 1707, Stirling Guildry bought a gold ring, which was to be tilted for annually at the market, or fair. The event consisted of knights on horseback, galloping towards a suspended ring at full speed. The object was to detach, or carry, the ring with their lances, as many times as they could within an hour. The ring was only 7/8ths of an inch in diameter.

Those annual Tilting at the Ring competitions and horse/pony races, which were held by the Stirling Chapmen, at the King’s Park, Stirling, continued for a century. In 1818, foot races were held for the first time at the market/fair. Horse races were also still held, but the main attraction was still “Tilting the Ring”. Due to the addition of foot races, this is now acknowledged as the start of the Stirling Highland Games

Tilting, horse and foot races continued annually until 1823, when putting a 22lb 4 oz. ball was added. In 1824, a hammer competition was also added, as was a sack race. Wrestling, tossing the bar and other sports were intended, but the shortness of daylight prevented them from being held.

In 1851, under the patronage of the Provost of Stirling, Major Henderson from Westerton and officers from Stirling Castle, full Highland Games, with numerous events, including “Tilting the Ring”, were held at Stirling. Bagpipe playing and Highland Dancing competitions were also included for the first time.

Thanks to the tradition of holding “Tilting the Ring” competitions at the Chapmen Sports in Stirling, numerous other places in Scotland adopted the event and held similar competitions at their own early Highland Games.      

Today, though “Tilting the Ring” competitions are no longer held at Highland Games, a modern re-incarnation, “Tilting the Bucket” can still be seen at several Highland Games across Scotland. At these competitions, the ‘knight’ is sat in a wheelbarrow, which is pushed by a colleague. The object being to push their lance through a hole in the middle of a board, on top of which, a pail of water is balanced. If the lance strikes the board, the bucket will tilt over and soak the unsuccessful competitors.