This weekend Michelle, Miriam, and I attended the largest gathering of Scottish clans in the United States which was held for the 54th year at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. Located in the Appalachian Mountains near Linville, Grandfather Mountain stands along the Blue Ridge Parkway at nearly 6,000 tall in the Highlands of western North Carolina and provides a background for the games that is strikingly similar to the glens and bens of Scotland.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Scottish Highland Games, you need only to picture hundreds of tents—some representing clans (families) of Scotland and others belonging to vendors of various Scottish paraphernalia and fare—all arrayed around an enormous field where numerous competitions take place throughout the day between kilted [bag]pipers, fiddlers, and combined bands while Border Collies alternate in herding sheep and ducks following their kilted handlers’ whistles, even as athletes in kilts and tank tops toss long-handled sledge-hammers, stones on chains, sacks of hay using pitch forks, and the ever-famous caber (about the size of a telephone pole), at the same time as dancers of all ages prove their agility in both Highland sword dances and country dancing more reminiscent of (and providing the origin of) American four square dancing all for thousands of others to watch and cheer them on. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games also feature three venues for music performances throughout the day running the gamut from traditional ballad singers to modern Celtic punk rock in rocky groves surrounding the field. Another unique element of the GMHG is retaining more traditional track and field competitions including pole vault, long jump, and a marathon through the highlands.
Although I never missed the San Diego Scottish Highland Games, the last time Michelle and I attended the games was in 2002 when we went to the Kalamazoo Scottish Festival in Michigan. It was especially great to be at the games again, both because having Miriam with us made the family connection all the richer and because of these being the
granddaddy of North American games (though still dwarfed by the games in Antigonish, Nova Scotia).
We arrived in the mountains Friday afternoon and, after checking in at our hotel in Blowing Rock, we visited The Blowing Rock. Although a little hazy, we had great views over Linville Canyon and the layers of Appalachians stretching beyond in every direction. After walking around the town of Blowing Rock feeling somewhat out of place due to the overwhelmingly posh cars both on and lining the streets, we finally landed at the Six Pence Pub where we had a delightful dinner and drinks within walking distance of our lodging.
Early Saturday we donned our highland garb including Miriam in her Velcro kilt (from her grandma), jumped on the road, and headed up to Grandfather Mountain. Despite the dearth information posted ahead of time concerning the logistics, especially the need for all who were not camping on-site to park more than two miles away and tediously shuttle in with ice chest and stroller on a school bus, we made it to the games without too much of an ordeal and headed off to the Buchanan tent to claim a space. Though neither Michelle nor I knew anyone else in attendance, we were welcomed as family in the Buchanan tent which was sponsored by the oldest clan association in Scotland, the Clan Buchanan Society. For those trying to figure out what Casad has to do with Buchanan, you need only to know that my mother’s maiden name, Cormack, is a registered sept (family, division) of Clan Buchanan. My mother’s father’s family emigrated from Buchanan lands on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, Scotland, in the 1830s before settling in Ontario, Canada. Thus I wear the Buchanan kilt.
After setting up base camp in the tent, we roved around and watched the games, listened to piping, and met many folks whose hearts Miriam stole quicker than ever in her mini kilt. We found a Scottish vendor selling among other things my favorite candy bar—Crunchie—which went well with the shrimp Scotch eggs, shepherds’ pies, and shortbread I’d made for us to bring along. Of course we also enjoyed listening to excellent music, among whom we particularly appreciated Clandestine and Alex Beaton as well as the thundering Celtic rock band, Albannach, all arranged by Celtic Force. Miriam seemed quite content with the day although she had a bit of an uncontrollable crying just as the heavens burst open in the late afternoon raining out the rest of the day. Rather than trying to keep Miriam calm in the extraordinarily lengthy queue for the return school buses, I put Miriam in a carrier and we all hiked down to Linville, arriving much sooner (though wetter) than all but two of the buses.