LINVILLE, NC — Whether you want to learn more about your Scottish roots or not even a tiny bit of Scottish, you’ll find four days of fun at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games July 7-10.
This is if you like live music, food, highland games sporting competitions, dancing, harp, bagpipes and sheepdog demonstrations and competitions.
The official mission statement of the decades-long tradition often referred to simply as the Games:
“To continue and promote the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and Gathering of Scottish Clans, to foster and restore interest in traditional dancing, bagpipes, drumming, athletic performance, Gaelic music and culture, and to create funds for scholarships to assist Avery County High School students to study at US colleges and universities.”
Below are some highlights from the four-day event.
Historically, torchlight was used to summon clans to battle, according to the GMHG website. The ceremony on Thursday, July 7 signals that the clans have come together again.
“We have chosen to transform this ancient act to symbolize a different kind of appeal to clans,” the site reads in part. “The Saltire Cross is recognized as the ancient symbol of Scotland. A living cross of light is made (from torches) representative of all the clans and families who came to participate.”
As the torches burn together in the growing darkness, the haunting sound of the pipes is carried into the night. The clans have returned to celebrate who they are.
The Bear Race (Thursday July 7) is a challenging 5 mile race to the top of Grandfather Mountain. Registration as the 2022 Bear Race is over, but for many Games participants it has become a much-anticipated spectator sport.
The Bear Race begins in Linville, North Carolina at the corner of Highways 105 and 221. The race turns right off Highway 221 and ends with steep climbs to McRae Meadows, where the Games are taking place. It crosses Highway 221 and goes up the back of the Highland Games track to Grandfather Road for the last two miles, gaining another 1,000 feet in elevation.
The race includes the famous “Forrest Gump” hairpin turn.
Grandfather Mountain Marathon
This marathon (Saturday, July 9) begins in Boone, North Carolina, on the track at Appalachian State University’s Kidd Brewer Stadium. The marathon then winds through the breathtaking NC Blue Ridge Mountains, up the Blue Ridge Parkway and up long, steep climbs to McRae Meadows where you’ll be greeted by the sound of bagpipes and approximately 5,000 spectators.
This is a special worship celebration (Sunday July 10) of the Scottish roots of Presbyterian heritage.
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 the house of the Lord to worship and praise. The colorful woven tartans that are displayed during the service are symbols of family love and unity. The faithful are encouraged to reflect with thanksgiving on their own family and cultural heritage, whatever it may be.
Over 1,000 marchers dressed in full Scottish dress and representing over 100 clans and societies march around the track in the annual ‘Parade of Tartans’ (Sunday 10 July). The combined length of the parade often circles the runway more than three times.
Since the parade began in 1975, it has become one of the most popular events at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.