You Have Never Experienced a Highland Games Until You Accidentally Experience One While in Scotland
We heard the first undeniable notes of the bagpipes before we saw the colorfully clad pipers. We were finishing up our breakfast of donuts and thick steamy hot chocolate at the local Spar (supermarket)when the Highland Games marched down Main Street. The bagpipers and drummers were all dressed in plaid kilts. The predominant colors blue, green, purple and red in different patterns that represent the different tartans of each clan. The pipers and drummers wore tams that matched their kilts, knee high white wool socks and black shoes. As the parade passed by it seemed that the entire town joined in and we followed this parade of people up the hill.
At the top of the hill there were tents, colorful booths, and several mini platform stages around a field that was encircled by a gravel track. As we filed in, a bagpipe competition kicked off the Games. Some of the music was so haunting it made you want to cry, but most of it had us dancing. After that there were so many events happening at the same time that it was hard to decide where to go first.
There were men in kilts, muscles bulging out of black t-shirts, throwing 56 lb (ca. 25 kg) balls attached to sticks they called cabers. Other men threw heavy metal balls with the ease of a young boy tossing the newspaper on the front lawn. Another event that had the participants fling large iron hammers made me think of the Marvel comic book character, Thor. There were people of all age groups running 100 m and 800 m races. Young girls performed wearing kilts, matching socks and little black shoes with their hair pulled back in a bun or braided in a crown around their heads danced to the tune of bagpipes. Some of them danced solo, while others danced with a partner or in a group stepping high, leaping, legs kicking fast and slow. Crafts and clan specific items were for sale, there were even some tent games including a mechanical bull that many of our group tried out.
One of the highlights of the day was when the call went out for anyone from overseas to join the games in a one lap race around the track. We quickly scrambled to the starting line and joined this international group of travelers, becoming a part of this local Highland Games. One of the men in our group had a cast on his leg that his young daughters had decorated with little multicolored jewels, he joined us in the race, cast and all. The crowd went wild and nicknamed him the “bedazzled boot highlander” as they cheered him on.
Looking down on the town below us with the loch to the left. Scattered red, blue and green boats bobbed on its waters with their sails up headed out to sea. The neighboring lush green hillside was dotted with sheep, horses and grazing cows ignoring our large and loud group of highland gamers. The music of the bagpipes drifted away with the wind filling the air with the history of its tunes on the day we became a part of the Highland Games and found kinship in a town in Scotland.