Blaring bagpipes, astounding athletes and tons of tartans converge in western North Carolina on July 10-13 for the 59th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
As the Games approach their sixth decade, they hearken back to the rich cultural traditions of Scotland in a setting not so different from the mountains and glens 3,600 miles away.
The deep blue peaks of the 5,946-foot Grandfather Mountain tower above meadows ringed by 170 colorful tents. The color is augmented by thousands of Scots decked in their finest tartan plaids, and the energy is amplified by the sounds of bagpipes and kettledrums echoing across the moor.
The event begins Thursday afternoon, July 10, with border collie sheepherding demonstrations, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies.
“The Bear” pits roughly 700 runners against the steep switchbacks of Grandfather Mountain in a five-mile run that climbs 1,568 feet from the town of Linville to the mountain summit. It’s followed Saturday by another test of extreme endurance as the Grandfather Mountain Marathon winds from Appalachian State University in Boone to the site of the Games in Linville.
But the Games truly get under way at the torchlight ceremony on Thursday evening, where representatives of more than 100 clans announce their families’ participation in the gathering. The “raising of the clans” proclaims that they have once again convened to celebrate their heritage.
Guests often bring dinner or purchase concessions at the field to enjoy a picnic at the opening ceremonies.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are filled with competitions in traditional heavyweight Scottish athletic events; highland dancing competitions; bagpipe band parades; piping, drumming and harp competitions; sheep herding demonstrations by Scottish border collies and concerts featuring a wide variety of Celtic music.
The nation’s top Scottish athletes clash Saturday in traditional heavyweight events such as “Turning the Caber” and “Tossing the Sheaf.” In the caber toss, athletes flip a telephone pole-sized log end over end. The sheaf toss challenges athletes to loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a bar more than 20 feet high. Other ancient tests of strength await the brawny professionals, including highland wrestling, the hammer throw and various weight throws.
Events are repeated Sunday for amateurs and athletes 40+, also offering spectators opportunities to witness the “kilted mile,” clan caber toss and clan tug-of-war.
On Friday night, the Celtic Jam at MacRae Meadows highlights traditional and contemporary Celtic music, followed by high-energy bands at the Celtic Rock Concert on Saturday night.
Musical guests in 2014 include Brian McNeill, John Doyle, Seven Nations, Ed Miller, Chambless and Muse, The Freestylers of Piping, The Red Wellies, The Good Set and Jamie Laval. Many of the groups also perform during the daylight hours in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games’ Celtic Groves.
Throughout the weekend, visitors can learn about their own Scottish history and genealogy at clan tents or browse the open-air market for Gaelic and tartan gift items and a variety of concessions, including traditional Scottish meat pies.
Youngsters enjoy participating in highland wrestling clinics and competitions, foot races and tug-of-war battles.
In addition to the flurry of activity at the Meadows, a Scottish Country Dance Gala is planned for Friday night at nearby Lees-McRae College to highlight the traditional ballroom dance style.
Whether you’re new to the Games or a return visitor, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games offer a hearty “céad míle fáilte” — a hundred thousand welcomes!
IF YOU ATTEND
- Adult admission to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is $15 Thursday, $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday. Tickets cover all activities in the meadows, which on Friday and Saturday last from early morning to midnight. Tickets are $5 each day for children ages 5-12, and children younger than 5 enter free.
- Tickets purchased at the entrance must be paid in cash.
- Four-day passes are also available online at www.gmhg.org. Adult passes are $75, and children’s passes are $20.
- Parking is available at the Games on Thursday and Friday on a first come, first served basis, with overflow parking at shuttle lots in Linville. Public parking is NOT available at the Games on Saturday and Sunday.
- Shuttle service is provided for a fee between MacRae Meadows and satellite parking areas in Linville, Newland and Boone. The Boone shuttle runs during the day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, while the Linville shuttle runs Saturday and Sunday and the Newland shuttle runs Friday and Saturday (subject to change). Shuttle fees vary depending on the distance between the lots and MacRae Meadows. Buses do not run in the evenings.
For more information about the Games, visit www.gmhg.org or call (828) 733-1333. For lodging and travel information, contact the High Country Host visitor center at (800)438-7500 or highcountryhost.com.-