Grandfather Mountain Highland Games
Thursday morning found me rolling through the mountains on Hwy 105 S. out
of Boone North Carolina towards Linville, a small hamlet at the base of
Grandfather Mountain. The road twisted and climbed through
lush green vegetation dripping in the morning mist. Powerful
thunderstorms had boomed through these valleys the previous night like the
artillery of the gods. In the aftermath, dense moist clouds cloaked
the peaks, spilling down down the mountain sides muffling all sound in
But weather changes quickly in the western mountains of the Carolina and
by the time I arrived to meet with Harris Prevost, Vice President of
Grandfather Mountain, the sun was already burning off the top cloud cover.
We discussed the history of GMHG and I found out that although they are
neither the largest nor the oldest of the Highland Games in the United
States, they are certainly one of the crown jewels. Nestled
below Grandfather Mountain, the location conveys the very essence of the
Scottish Highlands. Natural bowels ring the track and field on
MacRae Meadows, which is buffered by miles of dense woods leading down to
the valley below.
very character of the event is like a family reunion, church social, 4th
of July concert, home town athletics and history lesson rolled all into
one. No noisy midway rides or carny hucksters hyping trinkets
here. Instead, you find a more gentile entertainment that harks back
to a simpler time. The vendors lane is stocked with wools from
Scotland and other Celtic oriented wares and on the whole, I found them to
be of excellent quality.
Although these games are bucolic in nature, running in the background, is
a well oiled machine composed of volunteers and staffers who maintain the
grounds, stage the events and cope very well indeed with the logistics of
moving large amounts of people and material. These unsung
heroes are at the core of why GMHG is the fine annual affair that it is.
of the more notable events occurring on Thursday evenings are the
“Bear” and the “Raising of the Clans”. The foot race know as the
“Bear” kicks off in Linville at 7:00 PM and lives up to it’s fierce
name. This grueling race to the top of Grandfather Mountain climbs
1,568 feet vertically. Truly, it is one of the most challenging, and
beautiful courses in the U.S.
Watching these heroic runners circle the field before heading ever upward
to the summit of the mountain puts you in the right mood for the
"Raising of the Clans". This ceremony is based on
the ancient call to battle for the clans and is a moving experience
whether you are of Celtic heritage or not.
Picture if you will, sitting on a grassy field, surrounded by thick lushly
foliated mountains far away from the noise and lights of civilization.
The sun has passed on and the sky is inky black. Arrayed along the
four lines of the compass stands a representative of each clan, each
bearing a single torch. In the center of the field is mounted the
saltire cross, a symbol of the Scots from times long passed.
It stands man high and in the shape of a pyramid.
the ceremony begins, one by one, the Clan torch bearers come forward
proclaiming their presence with relish. Cries of " Lock
up your women and animals...the MacDuff's are here!", "From the
borderlands, Clan Campbell stands read to answer the call" pierce the
darkness. Some speeches are short, some formal and some a hoot!
As each Clan announces itself, it’s members and supporters roar out,
their shouts echoing up the sides of the mountain as their torch is placed
on the saltire holder.
This continues until the roll had been fully called and the last torch
placed upon the cross. Around this flaming structure the clansmen
join hands forming a great circle and the benediction is intoned. Sitting
there, it was as if you were in a meadow hundreds of years distant in the
highlands of Scotland. With only the flickering of the flames
providing light, the sound of the bagpipes summoned phantoms from the
darkness of time. The great ring stands unbroken, the Scots again
return to celebrate their heritage.