An exhausted but happy Inverness Highland Games touring party arrived back in the Highlands on Wednesday with the applause of more than 100,000 Basques still ringing in their ears.
Led by Scottish MSP Rob Gibson and Highland Councillor Roy Pedersen, the tour was sponsored by the Basque Regional Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig in support of the development of sporting and cultural and linguistic links between the Basque Highlands and the Scottish Highlands. The touring party consisted of Highlands Dancers, the Caledonian Canal Ceilidh Trail Band, the Highland Youth Pipes and Drums Band, Instrumental Band, Grousebeater Sound System, local DJ Andi Candoo and performers from Eden Court who brought Tour Mascot Jacobite Jess and the three Haggis People to life.
The Highlanders were based in the village of Segura in the Basque Mountains and were officially welcomed by the Regional Governor in San Sebastian. An evening festival was held in their honour at which Basque and Scottish performers combined for the first time to entertain the large crowd. On Saturday, the group were joined by The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Big Rory and Ochie the Dog and heavies from Australia, Japan, Germany and Belgium and the current Scottish Junior Champion Kyle Randalls of Grangemeouth in staging a full scale Highland Games and concert in Ordizia.
On Sunday, the show moved to Pamplona as part of the Naforroa Oinnez Festival which is one of the biggest festivals, both physically and in terms of the entertainment on offer, staged in Europe. The purpose of Naforroa Oinez was to raise funds for the building of a Basque language High School. Helped by the high profile that had been achieved by the images of the Inverness Highland Games performers that had appeared on television and on the front page of newspapers across the north of Spain and Southern France, this was achieved when record crowds appeared.
Current Inverness Highland Games Champion Aaron Neighbour of Australia emerged victorious after two days of intense Highland Games competition and then announced that he would be retiring from competition to concentrate on his preparations to be selected to compete in the 2012 Olympics.
The tour ended with the presentation of a medal to Tour Manager Gerry Reynolds after the organisers announced that the Inverness Highland Games Arena had been voted the most popular by the spectators, who had visited the six arenas situated around the 7.5 kilometre site.
Highland Councillor Roy Pedersen said " The purpose of the tour was to further connect our communities through music, sport and language and this has been achieved extremely successfully. Each of the groups on this tour combined superbly to give our hosts a taste of the Highlands that they will never forget and were a credit not only to Scotland but themselves.”