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First Visit to the Grandfather Mountain Scottish Games

By Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, GA, USA

I’ve been attending Scottish Highland Games for over a dozen years and, compared to some of you, I’m relatively new to the trade. But I have attended the Games in Pleasanton, California four times, in Mesa, Arizona once, and many times my wife, Susan, and I have put on our Shaw or Chattan tartans to attend those held in Charleston (SC), Loch Norman (NC), Stone Mountain, Savannah, and Culloden (GA). Living in Atlanta has made the Stone Mountain event a special one for us. (We all keep hoping they will bring back the tattoo, a favorite of many.) We’ve attended the Stone Mountain Games nearly every year, with an exception or two, and have done as many as eight total games in one year. We even took in the Highland Games at Blair Castle one year when we were on our way to Inverness from Edinburgh and saw the flags beckoning us to join the festivities as we drove up the A9.

            There are many other Games I’d like to attend – Williamsburg (VA), Jacksonville (FL), Honolulu (HI), Salado (TX) - which my sister Jennie speaks highly of - Halifax, Nova Scotia, Monterey (CA), Estes Park (CO), Balmoral, Scotland, and anywhere in Canada. There are others I’d like to be a part of, but there has always been one I made sure I avoided like the plague. For over 12 years, I succeeded staying away from the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games (GMHG) until July of this year.

 There is a simple explanation. I had always heard what great Games were put on at Grandfather Mountain with huge crowds, fine hospitality and wonderful receptions, but the kicker was the awful traffic jams getting up and down the mountain for the Games on Saturday and Sunday. I have heard one, two and three hour traffic horror stories by those who attended. I’m one of those drivers who will go 20 miles out of the way to keep from sitting in traffic for ten minutes. Having heard the stories about how long it took to get up Grandfather Mountain, I had vowed never to attend. Yet, I always wanted to go to that mountaintop because of the good things I had heard over the years about GMHG. Deep down, the Grandfather Games were at the top of the list of games I’d like to attend but knew I never would because of the traffic. Then something happened.

This past March, while speaking at the Scottish Heritage Symposium on the campus of St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, NC, the Games at Grandfather Mountain came up. I mentioned I had never been because of the awful traffic problems associated with the Games and my phobia about traffic jams.

Little did I know that was about to change!  This is when I met Ross Morrison and Frank Vance. They immediately spoke up and let me know that Susan and I were invited to the upcoming Games in July as their guests. Not knowing who they were or their connection to Grandfather, I later asked Bill Caudill, the very talented and award-winning piper in charge of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews College, about the two men. He informed me that Ross Morrison was President and Frank Vance was General Manager of GMHG. Big cheese, no less!

I didn’t really think much about it until some months later when a big envelope appeared in the mail bearing the “Chieftain Patron” package they had sent us to be their guests. I was between a rock and a hard place. I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, and I didn’t want to sit in traffic two hours up and two hours down the mountain both days. Susan, my better half, (listen up men, there are many reasons they are our better halves), let me know in no uncertain terms that two hour traffic or not, we would honor the invitation of Ross and Frank. I went off muttering and wishing I had never heard that old saying that we do not bite the hand that feeds us.

For you old hands at attending the Grandfather Mountain Games, this is an all too familiar story from here on in. We made our way to North Carolina with a stop for lunch at the French Quarter Café in Black Mountain, just outside Asheville. Do yourself a favor and put this place on your “to do” list while in that area of North Carolina.

Thursday night saw many events, but the Torchlight Ceremony was simply awe-inspiring. A huge thunderstorm popped up during the ceremony, however, as the clan representatives were lighting their torches, but the ceremony progressed through a huge downpour. When lightning started flashing and lighting up the sky all too frequently, someone in the Clan Chattan tent mentioned that she felt for those guys on the field because they were not only getting soaked, but also they were holding metal torches as lightning flashed all around. It was very dangerous for the torch-bearing clan representatives who were determined to make this a spectacular show. Then, it dawned on me - I was sitting on a metal chair! I spontaneously got out of the chair and moved my fanny to a safer place in a faster than normal fashion.

We stayed at the Hampton Inn in Boone and found that room costs (gouging) were similar to those charged while attending the Augusta National. Friday was a glorious day weather wise, as was the whole weekend after Thursday night’s stormy affair. That morning we wandered around beautiful downtown Boone for an hour or so, found the Row By Row Bookshop (great name!) and bought a couple of books about Robert Burns.

By staying in Boone, we opted to travel the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Games, a decision we never regretted. Even with restricted speed limits of 35 and 45 mph, we made good time. The traffic jams must have been on the other side of the mountain because we had none. Having a “come and go parking sticker” was a big help. The remainder of our day consisted of watching more game events, visiting friends at the various clan society tents, and having a great lunch of “Susan’s World Famous Chicken Salad” that she made for the trip. We were then off to find some homemade ice cream and seeing as much as we possibly could of everything that was going on. Scots know how to celebrate the simple things in life with or without a wee dram or two.

Friday night we attended a rip-roaring reception for Patrons and Sponsors at the Broyhill Center on the Appalachian State University campus in Boone. Whatever accolade one could use to describe this event - wonderful, the best ever, or mighty good - go ahead and use all three and add any other that you can think of because it was as good as it gets. The buffet tables were flush with numerous and tasty heavy hors d’oeuvres, and the water of life was in abundance. We were able to commandeer a table in the back of the ballroom and enjoyed our food and drinks, the fellowship with friends, old and new, and, after the Scottish music was concluded, there was a wee bit of dancing to some “oldies but goodies”. I even did a number or two after ample coaxing from my wife.

Saturday morning dawned all too early for some of us after the night before, but it was cool and refreshing on top of the mountain, just what we needed to get the day off to a good start. I doffed my hat to those running from downtown Boone to the top of Grandfather Mountain. Yes, some ran, some jogged, some walked, and a lot of them did all three. I can still say, though, that I have never seen a happy, smiling face participating in one of these events! One guy directing traffic spotted my Furman University windbreaker as we waited for some runners to pass and let me know he liked everything I was wearing except the FU jacket. I figured he was an App State man and replied that his team had beaten our team a few times, too. People keep forgetting that Furman has only 2,500 students.

That morning we made sure we went over to hear Carl Peterson perform. I just had to hear his rendition of how Santa Anna was killing our boys at the Alamo so - as Santa Anna put it – Texas would always remember the Alamo. And, by God, Texas and the other soldiers did just that! I spent a good bit of time visiting Ward Weems and Rennie McLeod at their book tents picking up a few books for my Scottish library. My, how time slips away at a great games’ site, sun shining brilliantly with a cool, crisp breeze blanketing the mountaintop.

Other than at Pleasanton, I’ve never seen so many events at a game site. There was so much to see and enjoy at these Games. Most games have different venues for the events, but Grandfather has more in the center of the huge field than any I have ever seen. It was like being at a three-ring circus, sitting in the middle ring. Frank and Ross proved to be great hosts. On Saturday, Frank invited us to walk the grounds with him, and I wondered how on earth he kept up with everything the way so many people stopped him with their questions, comments, suggestions, a complaint or two thrown in (after all, we are Scots) and the numerous pages he received on his telephone.

Before you knew it, it was time to pack up for the drive back to Atlanta on Sunday. As we made our way down the mountain, we discussed the pros and cons of the Games. The former far exceeded the latter. No contest! My old fear of traffic jams never materialized, and I guess the old wives’ tales about the traffic are just that. GMHG are going to be hard to beat by any Game, anywhere. You couldn’t ask for two better people to be in charge than Ross Morrison and Frank Vance.

The book, Cold Mountain, will be out as a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law on Christmas Day. Charles Frazier’s book is now a classic Civil War odyssey. It is one of my favorite stories of all time, not just another favorite Civil War story. It appeals to me because it is about a man who only wanted one thing after being caught up in deadly combat one time too many - to go back to where he had been before the war. As I write this, looking back on the Games just six weeks ago, I can tell you unequivocally that the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games of 2004 are already tugging at the heartstrings. If I may borrow the line above about Cold Mountain, we are already making plans to go back where we have been. That is what we want and, like Jude Law, the main male character in the movie, that is what we will do! Thanks, Ross and Frank. See you on the mountain next July. (9-2-2003)

First photo:  L-R:  Ross Morrison (President, GMHG), Dr. Ron McGowan (Chairman, GMHG), Frank Shaw, Frank Vance (General Manager, GMHG)
Second photo:  Anne Caudill with young son, Daniel

First photo:  L-R:  Dr. and Mrs. John (Anita) Deegan, President, St. Andrews College, Laurinburg, NC
Second photo:  Mr. and Mrs. Fred (Cindy) Shaw, Clan Chattan USA Trustee and Convener

First photo:  Frank and Susan Shaw
Second photo:  Kate and Richard Graham

Return to October/November 2003 Index Page  |  Visit Frank R Shaw's Page


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