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Grandfather Mountain Highland Games Begin

The wee-ones get to enjoy themselves too, as they race each other at the Grandfather Mountain Highland games.

Linville – Bagpipes, kilts and tartans representing dozens of Scottish clan families will once again gather for four days of festivities at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) in Linville, North Carolina July 8-11, 2021. This will be a weekend of family fun and filled with amazing athletic events, beautiful traditional Scottish ceremonies, Highland and country dance, Scottish spinning and weaving, 

Celtic music, parades, and  plentiful Scottish food vendors—all at MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain.

Stephen Quillin, the president of the GMHG, has attended 26 Highland Games around the world and finds “the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games the best he has ever attended.” He is so glad they are allowed to have a live event this year. “This is the largest number gathering of Scottish clans and families in the world,” he said. A row of tents holds Scottish families and clan members who gather to talk about their history, exhibit their family tartans and show clan artifacts. The weekend has had record attendance year after year and attracts approximately 30,000 to 40,000 people. This year unfortunately some adjustments have been made due to the pandemic, with limited tactical activities and no large indoor gatherings. Sadly, the Chieftain to the Games, Sir Alexander Matheson, and his wife Katharine will not be allowed to leave Scotland, nor will some of the other heads of clans and event judges. Of course, the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games will observe guidelines and safety precautions for everyone in attendance at the July event, as set by the state of North Carolina and the CDC.

Athlete Aslynn Halvorson of Anderson, S.C., turns the caber at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.

The Torchlight Ceremony on Thursday night will start the 65th Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. The Saltire Cross is recognized as Scotland’s ancient symbol. A living cross of light represents all clans and families who participate. As the torches burn brightly together in the gathering darkness, the haunting sound of pipes flows into the night.

Friday and Saturday will be filled with Highland dancing competitions, border collie demonstrations, Scottish fiddle and harp competitions, Gaelic singing, sprints, track and field events. The sounds of bagpipes and drums will be heard throughout the weekend. Outside of MacRae Meadows is a children’s tent to allow children to try their hand in the caber toss, tug-of-war battles, sheaf toss, foot races and other friendly competitions. In addition, there are live readings, face painting, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts and a drawing contest. At the large blue and white tent found on the main field, there is an astounding Highland Athletic Competition to be seen. Here amazing feats are performed. This is a series of six events in which a powerfully-built competitor must compete in all six. This includes the Hammer Throw, Weight Toss of Height and the Sheaf Toss as well as The Caber Toss. In the caber toss, athletes flip a telephone pole-sized log end over end. The sheaf toss challenges athletes to loft a 16-pound sack of hay over a bar more than 20 feet high. Very seldom does one have an opportunity to see such prowess. The Highland Athletics field has now opened the competition to women, hosted by the Elite Women’s Competition—by invitation only. 

The Thursday night torchlight ceremony kicks off each Highland Games, as representatives of more than 100 clans announce their families’ participation in the gathering. Photo by Jim Magruder | Magruder Photography.

At 10:00 am on Sunday, a special worship service takes place, the Kirkin’.  This is a celebration of Scottish roots with its Presbyterian heritage. This tradition originated in the United States during World War II, when it was introduced by the late Peter Marshall at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. The word ‘Kirking’ comes from the Scottish Gaelic word ‘kirk,’ which means church, and in this usage means ‘blessing.’ A kirkin’ can be thought of as the gathering of families to enter into the House of the Lord to worship and praise. The colorful woven tartans that are displayed during the service are symbols of the love and togetherness of family. 

Later in the day, at 11:30 am on Sunday, MacRae Meadows becomes a pageant of color when more than a thousand marchers clad in full Scottish attire represent over a hundred clans and societies in a colorful parade. They march around the track in the annual “Parade of Tartans.” Only invited clans who are represented at the games with Clan Tents are allowed to participate in the parade.

For this fun-filled weekend, you can purchase advance tickets online at https://gmhg.org/ticketing-and-registrations/. Currently, the Patron tickets are all sold out, but weekend passes are available. Parking on the mountain is limited. The best option is to choose one of the four parking lots with a shuttle bus service to take you up to the mountain—three from the Linville area lots and one from Boone at $10 per person. Guests on the buses are required to wear masks while standing in line and riding the shuttle buses. Be sure to bring a blanket and possibly a flashlight, so you can enjoy yourself in this mountainside setting, as you are entertained. 

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