Highland Games return July 8-11
The 55th 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 Highlands Thursday through Sunday, July 8-11.
The Grandfather Games are considered America's grandest Games because of the spectacular mountain setting that is so reminiscent of Scotland. The deep blue peaks of 6,000-foot Grandfather Mountain tower above a grassy green meadow ringed by 167 red, blue, yellow and green striped tents. The color is augmented by thousands of Scots luxuriously costumed in 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 8, with a sheep herding exhibition, Celtic entertainment, the running of "The Bear," and the opening ceremonies. Many people choose to bring a picnic dinner or buy concessions at MacRae Meadows to enjoy during the evening events.
The opening ceremonies begin at dusk with a torchlight ceremony where representatives of each of the 115 clans 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.
Returning this year on Friday, July 9, is the Grizzly Bike Ride, a challenging route with 7,000 feet of climbing completed over 65 miles. The ride begins at Grandfather Mountain with cyclists traveling throughout Avery County, including a 2-mile dirt road up the backside of Beech Mountain.
This year, a 30-mile ride is being added to the weekend's athletic challenges. The 30-mile ride is a shorter version of the Grizzly without the Beech Mountain climb, but a scenic and challenging route that includes the Blue Ridge Parkway. Entrants are encouraged to pre-register, but registration on the day of the event will be available. The ride is capped at 200 entrants.
Completing the trifecta of extreme physical challenges is the 42nd running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon on Saturday, July 10. A special prize will be awarded to athletes who complete all three grueling events.
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 brawny 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 performers at the Celtic Jam and Celtic Rock Concert on Friday and Saturday nights, and in the Celtic Groves each day, is a percussion group named Albannach, which delivers a heart-pounding tribal rhythm that makes people get up and dance.
Other Celtic groups include Clandestine, Mother Grove, Teribus and Brother. More traditional Appalachian and Celtic folk musicians appearing at the Highland Games include Ed Miller and friends, Colin Grant Adams, Blessed Blend, Forget-Me-Nots and Celtic Connection.
In addition to the many activities taking place at MacRae Meadows, there will be a Scottish Country Dance Gala at Lees-McRae College on Friday night. The event begins at 8 p.m. and runs until 12 a.m. Admission is $25 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 bazaar 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 5-12, with children under 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 4-day passes are $55, and children's passes are $25.
Parking is available on site 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. Shuttle fees vary depending on the distance between the lots and MacRae Meadows.
Tickets to the off-mountain evening events vary by event. 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.