Dunoon welcomed thousands of people today as the world’s most spectacular Highland Games finally kicked off.

Visitors from the four corners of the globe have been pouring into the town and surrounding area over the last few days in the run-up to what is one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the Scottish calendar.

The action began early when the Scottish National Highland Dancing Championships kicked off at 08.30am.

Today’s competitions – which included the qualifiers for Saturday’s World Highland Dancing Championships – saw 436dancers in 10 categories battle it out for some coveted Cowal silverware.

Among the winners were: Aisla Gocan-Wright from Ontario, Canada who won the premier category for dancers aged 11 years, picking up the Elkington Challenge Trophy and this year there was a three way tie between Sophie Strachan from Forfar, Alexa Bianconcini from Glenrothes and Eilidh Gammons from Helensburgh who all ended the day on the same points to win the May Falconer Memorial Trophy for the best Scottish Dancer (resident) in Events 8 to 15.

It wasn’t all about dancing today, because the entertainment kept going into the evening with the ever-popular 5K Cowal Run taking place from the Crazy Golf course at West Bay at 7.15pm.

More than 90 athletes signed up to take part and were cheered on by spectators lining the route.

Speaking on behalf of the Cowal Gathering Board Fraser McCowan said he was delighted by how the event’s first day had gone.

‘The eyes of the Highland dancing world are once again on Dunoon,’ he said.

‘Highland dancing fans from all corners of the globe are watching the action not only in the Stadium, but also online as the Gathering broadcasts all the dancing competitions by live stream.

‘The feedback from our online audience is already very positive and the excitement is just going to be heightened over the next couple of days as we get nearer to crowing our new world champions.’

‘Even a bit of wet weather failed to dampen the spirits of competitors and spectators, most of whom come prepared for rain at some stage of the proceedings!,’ he added.

‘We’ve got a packed schedule for tomorrow and Saturday with something for everyone to enjoy, from Highland Dancing, pipe bands, solo piping, heavy athletics and ceilidh music to stunt bikes, axe throwing, kids’ entertainment or any of the other many attractions the Gathering now boasts.

‘I’m delighted with how the first day has gone, and we very much look forward to welcoming everyone back again tomorrow for another day of spectacular entertainment.”

Ian Laister, Managing Director at Bakkafrost Scotland, said:

“We’re back again in full swing, and as the headline sponsor of the Cowal Gathering, we are honoured to take part and provide our support to such a significant event for both the local community and visitors who travel to attend an event that celebrates Scottish culture and tradition.

“Best of luck to everyone who is taking part and thank you to everyone who came and made the event so much fun.”

A full list of the results of all today’s action will be posted on the Gathering website – www.cowalgathering.com – as soon as possible.