Boasting bagpipes, Scottish athletics, Highland melodies, Celtic cuisine, crafts aplenty and tons of tartans, the Games hearken back to the rich cultural traditions of Scotland in a setting not so different from the mountains and glens some 3,600 miles away.
The event begins Thursday afternoon, July 6, with border collie sheepherding demonstrations, Celtic entertainment, the running of “The Bear” and the opening ceremonies.
“The Bear” pits approximately 700 runners against the steep switchbacks of Grandfather Mountain in a five-mile run that climbs 1,568 feet from the town of Linville to the mountain summit.
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It’s followed Saturday by another test of extreme endurance as the Grandfather Mountain Marathon winds from Appalachian State University in Boone to the site of the Games in Linville.
But the Games truly get under way at the torchlight ceremony on Thursday evening, where representatives of more than 100 clans announce their families’ participation in the gathering. The “raising of the clans” proclaims that they have once again convened to celebrate their heritage.
Guests often bring dinner or purchase concessions at the field to enjoy a picnic at the opening ceremonies.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday are filled with competitions in traditional heavyweight Scottish athletic events, highland dancing competitions, bagpipe band parades, piping, drumming and harp competitions, sheepherding demonstrations by Scottish border collies and concerts, featuring a colorful tapestry of Celtic music.
The nation's top Scottish athletes clash Saturday in traditional heavyweight events, such as “Turning the Caber” and “Tossing the Sheaf.” 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. Other ancient tests of strength await the contestants, including highland wrestling, the hammer throw and various weight throws.
Events are repeated Sunday for amateurs and athletes 40 and older, also offering spectators opportunities to witness the “kilted mile,” clan caber toss and clan tug-of-war.
For the wee ones, the Games will again host youth highland wrestling clinics and competitions, foot races and tug-of-war battles.
For 2017, event organizers are tuning up the Games’ musical offerings.
Friday nights’ Celtic rock show includes sets by Seven Nations, Nic Hudson, Rathkeltair, Blue Ridge Bass and Piper Jones Band, while the Saturday Celtic sessions feature Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas, Elias Alexander, Eamon Sefton, Maura Shawn Scanlin, Ed Miller, Chambless & Muse, John Taylor and Rathkeltair.
Leading up to the Games, however, performers will lead a series of classes on songs, percussion, whistle and bagpipe.
The courses will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday (July 3-6) at Preacher Rock near the Games campground. There is no cost to attend.
History in Action
Throughout the weekend, visitors can learn about their own Scottish ancestry and genealogy at clan tents or browse the open-air market for Gaelic and tartan gift items.
Guests can take a taste of tradition with a variety of concessions, including Scottish meat pies.
The Scottish Cultural Village will also return, hosting experts to discuss or demonstrate numerous aspects of Scottish culture, including blacksmithing, weaving, spinning, athletics, piping and drumming, dancing and more. Presentations will take place every 30 minutes throughout the weekend.
Adult admission to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is $15 Thursday, $20 Friday, $30 Saturday and $15 Sunday. Tickets cover all activities in the meadows, which last from early morning to midnight Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $5 each day for children ages 5-12, and children younger than 5 enter free.
For more information about the Games, visit www.gmhg.org, or call (828) 733-1333.