In a Topsy-Turvy World, the Highland Games Bring a Taste of Tradition
For most people, it won’t make much difference that this year’s Round Hill Highland Games will be slightly different than they are in a normal year.
First of all, who really knows what normal means in a COVID-19 world.
And second, how can you really use the word “normal” when you’re talking about a day-long event at a race track that is dedicated to bag piping, throwing curling stones and tossing wood cabers the size of telephone poles.
“This year the athletic events are going to be a little smaller than usual,” said event organizer Cathy Sutherland (who was in quarantine with COVID at the time of this interview, just in case anyone thinks the pandemic is over).
Happily, it isn’t illness that’s taken the top caber tossers and shot putters away from these, the 99th annual Round Hill Highland Games (the games have been at Lime Rock Park in Salisbury, Conn., for about the last five years). The top competitors will be away at the U.S. Strongman Nationals that weekend.
Really, though, part of the charm of the Round Hill Games is the efforts of newcomers and amateurs to learn, with seriousness and determination, how to spin and throw heavy lead balls on chains and how to heave a lead shot putt from their shoulder.
It isn’t just burly Scotsmen in kilts taking part in these shows of strength and grace; the participants are unexpectedly diverse, including many women and many people of different colors and cultures, all joined together by the patterns of their tartans.
So don’t worry that the top national caber tossers won’t be at Lime Rock Park this Sunday, June 26. The gates open at 8:30 a.m. and activities continue until 4:30 p.m.
The schedule of events is a little bit loose-y goose-y but mid to late afternoon is an excellent time to go and see the pipe band competitions (my favorite). In the morning, there are individual pipers and drummers who are performing, and being judged. In the afternoon, though, you can witness the truly lovely and inspiring spectacle of the pipe and drum bands marching in formation, clad in their dressiest tartans and twirling their tasseled drum sticks.
At the end of the day, around 4 p.m., all the bands will come together for a mass parade.
Although the piping is my personal favorite part of the Highland Games, there is more (much more!) to do.
There will be demonstrations of Scottish arts and culture, including live music and Highland dancing. Members of the Norfolk Curling Club will have a tent on the grounds, and will bring their portable stones, so visitors can try a hand at curling.
There will be a variety of libations, including iced teas from Harney & Sons of Millerton, N.Y., and craft beers from Great Falls Brewing Co. in North Canaan, Conn.
There will be a whiskey tasting; you can either come and purchase individual samples, or pay a flat fee and attend an educational talk about how to drink whiskey properly.
Food will be served alongside the whiskey, and there will also be food trucks at the park.
“There won’t be any haggis this year,” Sutherland said, with regret, referring to the classic Scottish dish of sheep innards stuffed with oatmeal.
“There is a supply chain interruption and we can’t get sheep stomachs,” she explained.
Which takes us back to our original point: Our world continues to be abnormal, but the Highland Games are not exactly normal anyway — and yet they are rooted in centuries-old traditions.
Come on down to Lime Rock Park on Sunday, June 26, and be transported to another place and time. Learn more and order tickets at www.rhhg.org.