Saturday, September 17, 2011

Highland Games are Not for the Faint of Heart

“I’m really glad I wore a rain jacket” I said as I stepped off a bus last Saturday.  I just arrived in Pitlochry, a small city north of Edinburgh, for their annual Highland games, and it was cold, misty, and extremely muddy. The weather, however didn’t interfere with attendence- the field that served as the games’ venue was crowded with participants.

When I bought my ticket, I imagined a small crowd of people playing tug of war and throwing logs.  I thought the Highland Games were dying tradition, kept alive only by a few devotees, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Stepping into Pitlochry was like joining some mad, crowded fusion of a track meet and a festival. 

There were about a million events going on at once.  As expected, men in the center of the field threw logs and had an epic tug-of-war game. More modern sports cycling races (very interesting to watch in 3 inches of mud), and relays were also included.  And it wasn’t just a sporting event- on one side of the field highland bands and dancers performed and for adjudication.

Did I mention that all of this happened at the same time?

Adding to the madness, food and goods stalls ran around the perimeter of the fields. Run by local clubs and charities, they offered cheap homemade food -I bought 3 cupcakes, a hot chocolate, an egg roll, and a juice for less than 5 pounds! What a welcome change from the posh coffeehouses and crowded pubs that I eat at in Edinburgh!

These little shops represented what makes the Highland games so special- a sense of shared community.  While competition was clearly necessary for the games’ existence, more important was a celebration of Scottish heritage.  Even though the crowd was huge, people seemed to know one another.  Several of the events even featured members of the same family competing against one another.  It was refreshing to realize how much these people valued their shared history.

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