At the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Scottish clans
don’t just gather — they celebrate.
Their reason? Try four days of heritage, family and fellowship, combined with music, food and athletics, all nestled in the high, cloud-shrouded highlands of Grandfather’s MacRae Meadows.
To call the GMHG a colorful event is an understatement, as Scots clad in their finest tartans take to the track with bagpipes and kettledrums, surrounded by some 170 tents that represent the storied families that make the pilgrimage year to year.
It all returns to Grandfather Mountain in Linville July 10 to 13.
“We’re not the biggest games,” general manager Thomas Taylor said, “but we have the most clans participate.”
Taylor attributes much of the appeal to the scenic setting, reminiscent of the Scottish highlands.
“If you have ever gone up to the main entrance and looked at the mountain as a backdrop, the setting is very beautiful, very similar to Scotland in terms of terrain and mountains,” he said.
And it’s cooler, he added, noting that the average temperature during the games is a pleasant 72 degrees. But Grandfather shares another similarity to Scotland.
“Rain is very commonplace,” Taylor said. “An outdoor event like this is at the mercy of the weather, but we’re fortunate that the rain and fog eventually burn off.”
But it takes more than rain to dampen spirits at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, as the event’s attendance records can attest. On average, Taylor estimates some 25,000 people visit the games throughout their four-day course, but with so many activities to offer, he’s hardly surprised.
The games themselves start Thursday, July 10, at 4:30 p.m., with a picnic, border collie sheepherding demonstrations and Scottish entertainment, to be followed at 7 p.m. by the running of The Bear, a foot-race that sees roughly 700 runners tackle a five-mile run from Linville to Grandfather Mountain’s summit — a course that climbs 1,568 feet in elevation.
The official start, however, is Thursday evening’s Torchlight Ceremony, one of Taylor’s favorite displays of Scottish heritage and pride. The ceremony sees the “raising of the clans,” in which representatives from each family proclaim that they’ve returned to celebrate their heritage.
“It’s really colorful and spectacular,” Taylor said.
On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visitors can roam MacRae Meadows, where they’ll learn about their genealogy at various clans’ tents, observe the four-legged feats of sheepherding Scottish border collies, take in the sights and sounds of roving bagpipers and kettledrummers, purchase souvenirs from an open-air market and enjoy authentic Scottish cuisine from the games’ various vendors.
“We have about 10 different food vendors, including Don Cameron’s British Foods, meat pies, House of Douglas Bakery and, of course, funnel cakes, hot dogs, hamburgers and barbecue,” Taylor said.
Folks can also expect something new on the menu this year.
“Scottish Cottage will be serving barbecue haggis,” Taylor said, noting that the Scottish delicacy is somewhat of an acquired taste.
There’s even fun lined up for the wee ones, including junior Highland wrestling competitions, foot races, tugs of war and less competitive activities.
One of the most popular highlights, however, is music, a personal favorite of Taylor and his wife, Sheila.
“We try to visit all the groves and listen to all the groups,” Taylor said, adding that the games’ new music director has upped the ante, as far as entertainment goes.
Aside from the traditional bagpipes and kettledrums marching throughout the grounds, the games are bringing high-profile musical acts for the evenings, including 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 whom will also perform during the daytime.
“We’re really getting a bunch of world-renowned Scottish entertainers,” Taylor said. “It’ll be more traditional this year … and we’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback (on the lineup). Quality is key.”
Friday night’s Celtic Jam, running from 7 to 11 p.m., will feature more traditional tunes, while Saturday’s Celtic Rock Concert will crank it up a notch, from 7 p.m. to midnight. Separate tickets are also available for those who wish to attend the concerts and not the games.
On Saturday, spectators can witness some of the nation’s top Scottish athletes competing in traditional heavyweight events, including turning the caber and tossing the sheaf. In the former, athletes must flip a telephone pole-sized log end over end, while the latter sees them slinging a 16-pound sack of hay over a more than 20-foot high bar.
Amateurs and athletes older than 40 will compete in similar events on Sunday, along with track and field and group competitions, such as the clan caber toss and clan tug-of-war.
A Sunday morning worship service will start the games’ final day at 9 a.m., to be followed by the ever-popular Parade of Tartans, “which is pretty spectacular,” Taylor said.
“There’s something for everybody,” he added. “It just depends on what your interests are.”
Those interested in all things Scottish needn’t look any further.
Admission costs $15 for Thursday, $20 for Friday, $30 for Saturday and $15 for Sunday, with admission covering all activities in the meadows. Children ages 5 to 12 are admitted for $5 each day, and children younger than 5 get in free. Tickets purchased at the gate must be paid for in cash.
For tickets to individual events, such as the concerts and dance, and advance four-day passes ($75 for adults, $20 for children), visit http://www.gmhg.org, or call (828) 733-1333.
Parking will be available at the games Thursday and Friday on a first come, first served basis. On those days, overflow parking will be available at shuttle lots in Linville.
Public parking will not be available during the day on Saturday and Sunday, and festivalgoers must utilize one of several shuttle services offered from Boone, Linville and Newland to MacRae Meadows.
The Boone shuttle ($10 round trip), departing from Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, will run all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Linville shuttle ($5 round trip) will run from a lot off N.C. 105 on Saturday and Sunday. The Newland shuttle ($5 round trip) will run from the Avery County High School on Friday and Saturday.
Proceeds from Linville and Newland shuttles will benefit the Crossnore Volunteer Fire Department. Handicapped transportation is also available.
Shuttle service will not be offered for night events, which offer general public parking on site. Those attending the entire day and night are asked to shuttle off the mountain by 5 p.m. and drive back for the evening’s entertainment.
No pets, private golf carts or bicycles are permitted on the Highland Games grounds. The GMHG is also a family-friendly event, meaning a drug-free environment will be strictly enforced.
For more information on the 59th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, including camping, competitions and sponsorship, visit http://www.gmhg.org, or call (828) 733-1333.