There is something in the mile-high air at Grandfather Mountain
that keeps athletes and Scottish descendants returning to the annual Grandfather Mountain Highland
Games, coming to MacRae Meadows July 11 to 14.
Maybe it’s the world-class athlete who heaves the caber end over end, or the finely tuned runner that tackles an all-uphill run.
Perhaps it is the traditional bagpipe music and the heritage appreciation programs that promise a taste of Scottish life one weekend out of the summer.
GMHG general manager Thomas Taylor said it is likely a combination of all the above.
“I’ve seen the games grow dramatically since I came on 28 years ago,” Taylor said. “It was nothing like it is today. A lot of (similar) games have gone out of business, but we continue to grow, and that is because of our individualization and a lot of younger generations … becoming more involved with Scottish culture. This has gone from a small gathering of clans to an international event.”
Taylor said the games appeal to more than direct descendants of Scotland. As he put it, “Everyone has a little Scotch in them.”
“We will have four tents set up where people can actually come by and trace their heritage,” Taylor said. “If they go back far enough, they can find a Scottish ascendant. If you go back five generations, or 32 ancestors, odds are you have some Scottish ancestry.”
The games begin Thursday afternoon, July 11, with a sheep dog demonstration, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies, according to a news release.
Opening ceremonies begin at dusk with the “raising of the clans,” in which representatives from each of the 100 clans and 16 societies announce their family’s participation in the gathering.
Prior to the torchlight ceremony, runners will take their marks in the grueling five-mile uphill footrace, called “The Bear.”
The rest of the weekend event will consist of weightlifting and Scottish athletic events, such as turning the caber and tossing the sheaf, the first of which requires the athlete to flip a telephone-pole-sized tree trunk end over end. In tossing the sheaf, athletes must loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a crossbar more than 20 feet above the ground.
Other contests include highland wrestling, putting the stone, the hammer throw and various weight throws.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday also promise music and dancing by day and by night. For a complete lineup, click to http://www.mountaintimes.com/music/articles/Highland-Games-After-Dark-id-024275.
To round out the weekend, the games will also feature a highland dancing competition, bagpipe band parades, piping, drumming and harp competitions, sheep herding demonstrations and more.
But the event brings more than just Scots to the High Country. Over the years, the games have proven to be a boost to the Avery County economy during the summer months.
“There was a study completed about 10 or 15 years ago that said the games brought in $2 million or $3 million,” Taylor said. “Today, I’d say it’s probably between $5 million and $10 million.”
Festivalgoers will notice a couple of logistical changes that are designed to keep the flow of traffic on and off the mountain a little smoother, Taylor said.
“The biggest thing (we have changed) is the free shuttle bus services from all locations,” Taylor said. “We tried that last year with AppalCART, and it worked really well. So far, everyone has been really positive about that.”
Adult tickets are $15 Thursday, $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday. The tickets cover all activities in Grandfather Mountains’ MacRae 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 admitted 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 $75, and children’s passes are $20.
For more information, call (828) 733-1333 or visit at http://www.gmhg.org.