ON A SUMMER'S day in 1856, a gathering was organised at a park in Alva where gymnastics took place.

More than 160 years later this has evolved into the Famous Alva Games.

During the Victorian era fresh air and exercise were seen as vital to the health and well-being of the population. Sports clubs were on the rise and in Alva there was a gymnastics club.

The first games was a simple affair with a ring erected on the outskirts of the village where participants showed off their gymnastic skills.

However, on February 2, 1856, James Johnstone of Alva House gifted a park to the people which was specifically for the annual gymnastic competition.

The day began with a procession of 1500 people headed by a band followed by the formal opening. In his speech Johnstone said he wished part of the ground to be used for cricket in the summer and football in winter.

From these small beginnings, the games grew year on year. In 1871, cycling was introduced for the first time. Quoits was played, at the suggestion of Johnstone, and wrestling became a feature.

Both have now disappeared from the programme of events, as has the high jump, pole vault and horse riding. Today, the sports include athletics, weight lifting, tossing the caber, and hill races.

This once local concern has become international with competitors coming from as far afield as Canada, the USA and Australia with prizes for the various sporting activities.

The largest prize goes to the winner of the 90m sprint which is open to all. The local Alloa Bowmar Pipe Band usually forms part of the entertainment and there is Highland dancing. A fun fair is also hosted in the park, along with various trade stands.

Alva itself is not left out. Shopkeepers dress their windows during the games and the prize winners of the Best Dressed Window Contest are presented with a cup plus certificates and cash prizes.

Although traditionally held on the second Saturday in July, it has not always been the case. There have been times when it was held in August, and not necessarily at the weekend, with records showing the Games held on week days, but this was changed after World War I when it was decided they should revert to the original idea of the second Saturday in July.

The only time the games have not taken place has been during the two world wars.

On Saturday July 14, 2018, Alva hosts the 162nd Alva Games.