The 57th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and Gathering of Scottish Clans brings the color of hundreds of tartan plaids and the clamor of half a dozen bagpipe bands to the North Carolina High Country Thursday through Sunday, July 12-15.
The Grandfather Games are considered America’s grandest games because of the spectacular mountain setting that is so reminiscent of Scotland, according to games officials.
The deep blue peaks of 6,000-foot Grandfather Mountain tower above a meadow ringed by 130 red, blue, yellow and green striped tents. The color is augmented by thousands of Scots decked out in their finest tartan plaids, and the energy is amplified by the sounds of bagpipes and kettledrums echoing across the moor.
The Highland Games begin Thursday afternoon, July 12, with a sheep dog demonstration, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies.
Many people choose to bring a picnic dinner or buy concessions at the meadows to enjoy during the evening events, according to officials.
The opening ceremonies begin at dusk with a torchlight ceremony, where representatives of each of the 80 clans and 15 societies announce their family’s participation in the gathering. This “raising of the clans” proclaims that they have once again come together to celebrate their heritage.
Prior to the torchlight ceremony, 800 runners will participate in a 5-mile footrace called “The Bear,” that climbs 1,568 feet in elevation from the town of Linville to the summit of Grandfather Mountain.
The next test of extreme endurance is the 44th running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon on Saturday, July 14.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are filled with competition in heavy-weight Scottish athletic events; highland dancing competition; bagpipe band parades; piping, drumming and harp competitions; sheep herding demonstrations by Scottish border collies; and concerts featuring a wide variety of Celtic music.
At the center of the activity, the nation’s top Scottish athletes clash in traditional heavyweight events, such as “Turning the Caber” and “Tossing the Sheaf.” The first requires an athlete to flip a telephone pole-sized tree trunk end-over-end, and the second challenges athletes to loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a cross bar more than 20 feet above the ground.
Other ancient tests of strength awaiting the professionals are highland wrestling, putting the stone, the hammer throw and various weight throws.
On Friday night, the Celtic Jam highlights traditional and contemporary Celtic music at MacRae Meadows, and on Saturday night the Celtic Rock Concert serves up encore performances from some of the higher energy bands.
Among the performers at the Celtic on Friday night are Tuatha Dea, Cutthoat Shamrock, Jil Chambless & Scooter Muse, Colin Grant Adams, Saor Patrol, Uncle Hamish & the Hooligans, Chelsea House Orchestra, Lisa Lynn and George Tortorelli and Ed Miller.
All of these groups perform during daylight hours at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games’ Celtic Groves.
Tuatha Dea, Uncle Hamish & the Hooligans, Saor Patrol and Cutthroat Shamrock also perform Saturday night at the Celtic Rock Concert.
In addition to the many activities taking place at MacRae Meadows, there will be a Scottish Country Dance Gala at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk on Friday night. The event begins at 8 p.m. and runs until midnight. Admission is $30 for dancers and $10 for spectators.
Among the many sights and sounds of Scotland to be found on MacRae Meadows throughout the weekend is the popular open-air market set up adjacent to the parade grounds.
Merchants sell Gaelic and tartan gift items, while concessionaires sell Scottish meat pies to give visitors a taste of the highlands. There is also a tent set up to help guests trace their Scottish roots and learn more about their heritage.
Adult tickets are $15 Thursday, $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday. The 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 to 12, with children younger than 5 free.
Tickets are available at the field on the day of the event.
Four-day tickets are also available online at http://www.gmhg.org. Adult four-day passes are $55 and children’s passes are $20.
Parking is available onsite at the games field Thursday and Friday on a first-come, first-serve basis, with overflow parking at shuttle lots in Linville.
Public parking is not available at the field on Saturday and Sunday. Shuttle service is provided between MacRae Meadows and satellite parking areas in Linville, Newland and Boone.
The Boone shuttle runs during the day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Linville shuttle runs Saturday and Sunday, and the Newland shuttle runs Friday and Saturday.
Shuttle fees vary depending on the distance between the lots and MacRae Meadows.
For more information, call (828) 733-1333 or visit online at http://www.gmhg.org.
For lodging and other travel information, contact North Carolina High Country Host at (800) 438-7500 or http://www.mountainsofnc.com.