The 58th 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 High Country Thursday through Sunday, July 11-14.
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 meadow ringed by 170 red, blue, yellow and green striped tents. The color is augmented by thousands of Scots decked out in their finest 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 11, with a sheep dog demonstration, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies. Many people choose to bring a picnic dinner or buy concessions at the Meadows to enjoy during the evening events.
The opening ceremonies begin at dusk with a torchlight ceremony at which representatives of each of the 100 clans and 16 societies 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. The next test of extreme endurance is the 45th running of the Grandfather Mountain Marathon on Saturday, July 13.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are filled with competition in heavyweight 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 the performers at the Celtic Jam on Friday night: Tuatha Dea, Cutthoat Shamrock, Ed Miller, Barleyjuice, Rathkeltair, Thistledown Tinkers, Colin Grant Adams, Chelsea House Orchestra, Lisa Lynn & George Tortorelli and Celtica Pipers Rock.
All of these groups perform during daylight hours at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games’ Celtic Groves. Tuatha Dea, Rathkeltair, Barleyjuice, Celtica Pipers Rock and Cutthroat Shamrock also perform Saturday night at the Celtic Rock Concert.
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 $30 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 open-air market 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 five free. Tickets are available at the field on the day of the event. Four-day tickets are also available online at www.gmhg.org. Adult 4-day passes are $75 and children’s passes are $20.
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. The Boone shuttle runs during the day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Linville shuttle runs Saturday and Sunday and the Newland shuttle runs Friday and Saturday. Shuttle fees vary depending on the distance between the lots and MacRae Meadows.