By David Coulson. July 11, 2018. GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, NC— An invasion force of friendly folks in kilts, some playing bagpipes, and carting around other Scottish accouterments will occupy the High Country from Thursday through Sunday, but there is no cause for alarm.
All photos from 2017 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, courtesy of www.gmhg.org
It’s just time for the annual tradition of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which will be celebrating its 62nd edition when McRae Meadows welcomes these high-spirited visitors and locals for another fun-filled, four-day run.
There will be a little bit of everything on tap again for young and old alike, from exceptionally diverse music to a variety of athletic events, dancing, and other interesting competitions. It is always a time for those of us with Scottish roots to reconnect to our heritage and for those who are just interested in this rich culture to explore its truly rich legacy.
The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games have long been recognized as one of the best examples of the unique Scottish traditions it perpetuates and this local heirloom continues to get better through the years.
Things kick off on Thursday afternoon at 2 p.m. with a thoroughly Scottish event, a whiskey-tasting excursion at the Best Western Lodge in Banner Elk.
From there, McRae Meadows will become the center of attention at 4:30 p.m. with a leisurely picnic where visitors can bring their own treats, or partake of the wide variety of available concessions, many highlighting the best Scottish traditions.
Another event on Thursday includes the colorful sheepherding on the field with border collies. Traditional Scottish music and entertainment will also be featured.
Athletic competition will begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday with the running of the Bear, a grueling, five-mile trek from Linville to the top of Grandfather Mountain for the 800 runners who must endure a demanding climb of 1,568 feet to the finish line.
The opening evening will finish with the scintillating, torch-lighting ceremony and the announcing of each participating Scottish clan’s arrival at the games.
Highlights on Friday, starting at 9 a.m., will include opening ceremonies, the beginning of the traditional Scottish athletic competitions, music and dance exhibitions, more sheepherding, a Highland wrestling clinic for children, the opening of the children’s tent and field activities, Highland dance competition and a harp workshop.
There will also be the opportunity for visitors to explore the Scottish Cultural Village, the history and genealogy studies tent and the Lochaber Trump singing competition.
One of the highlights of the games each year is the Celtic rock concert, which runs from 6:30-11 p.m. Among the performers will be crowd favorite Seven Nations, Scottish Octopus, and Rathkeltair.
At 8 p.m. on Friday, Williams Gymnasium at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk will feature the popular Scottish Country Dance Gala.
Saturdays at the games are always special and the taxing Grandfather Mountain Marathon will begin the day from its start at Appalachian State University’s Kidd Brewer Stadium to its conclusion, 26.2 miles later, in McRae Meadows.
Considered North America’s most difficult marathon, the course features many scenic locales, including the Blue Ridge Parkway as it works through a net gain of over 1,000 feet in elevation and a total climb of over 3,000 feet due to the rolling terrain of the venue. The final 13 miles are particularly difficult with the last part of the course being almost completely uphill.
More athletic competitions, including track and field events like the kilted mile, traditional Scottish events such as the caber turn, the 16-pound clachneart stone toss, 28-and-56-pound weight throws, tossing the 16-pound sheaf and Highland wrestling. Another highlight is the clan tug-of-war.
There will also be plenty of music, fiddle, piping, drumming and harp competitions, massed bands, Highland dancing competitions, and more sheepherding on Saturday.
Saturday evening is set aside for the Celtic Jam, from 6:30-11 p.m. at McRae Meadows, featuring such artists as Alasdair White, Seamus Kennedy, Atlantic North, William Jackson and Grainne Hambly, the Piper Jones Band, Ed Miller, Chambless and Muse, Marybeth McQueen and Brothers McLeod.
Sunday will begin with an emphasis on the spiritual as a Scottish worship service takes center stage and includes the Kirkin ‘O’ the Tartans and traditional religious music.
There will be a children’s border collie demonstration, more Celtic music, a Scottish fiddling workshop that will be followed by a jam session, as well as more athletic and dance competitions.
Things will end with the parade of tartans, who will march behind massed pipe bands as this classic event comes to an end for yet another year.