The History Behind the Caber Toss

Anybody who has attended a Scottish Highland Games has likely found what they were expecting: bagpipes, kilts, tartans, and highland dance. However, they might have also stumbled on a uniquely Scottish tradition which is the Caber toss. It looks like the mix between a contest of strength and an attempt to hurriedly construct a home. It is fun to watch and the competition consists of a person attempting to flip a long log end over end. The event is scored based on how straight the caber falls away from the thrower.

A failed but valiant attempt at a Caber Toss.

The caber toss was the focus of a recent Netflix docu-series called Home Games which focuses on unique games. With the surge of interest in tossing a caber, many people are trying to understand how it became a sport. Join us as we explore some theories on how the caber toss became a sport.

Lumberjacks Started the Caber Toss

One theory is that Scottish lumberjacks who had to cross small chasms or rivers would throw shaved logs as a makeshift bridge. Like any activity done by bored men, soon this activity became a competition. This theory makes a lot of sense given that Scotland was covered by forests 2000 years. In the previous 500 years, there has been significant amount of lumbering. It is also true Scotland is mountainous and full of rivers and chasms. While this theory is credible, there is little historical evidence for this origin story.

Soldiers Started the Caber Toss

Another theory holds that wooden poles were crafted and used to cross moats during attacks on castles. Scotsmen are renowned soldiers and it certainly is likely that they developed tools to cross moats. However, the tossing of the caber did not arise until the 16th century, and by the 16th century moats were not commonly used in Scotland. The invention of effective siege instruments in the 16th and 17th century changed how castles designed defenses. This theory also lacks any strong historical evidence.

Whiskey Drinkers Started the Caber Toss

Most historians agree that the lack of evidence for other origin stories points to the true origin of the caber toss: a bet after a long night of drinking. That may not be entirely accurate. However, it is true that most historians believe that a caber toss began only as a display of strength. There likely was no practical purpose for the event, but it served simply as a way to compare strength. After all, the Scottish are also great inventors and there were better ways to build makeshift bridges. Also, why would lumberjacks risk losing the product of their labor down a river or chasm?

All of this evidence points to the fact that the caber toss started in the same spirit it continues: a display of strength. If you would like to check out the sport in person, find your local games with this tool. You might have to wait until after COVID-19, but the wait will be worth it.