LAURINBURG — Whether Saturday dawns clear or cloudy, Scotland County will welcome thousands for a day of festive traditions imported straight from the old country.
For the seventh year, the Scotland County Highland Games will be staged on the grounds of the John Blue House, offering an extravaganza of Celtic culture from bagpiping and drumming competitions to heavy athletics and sheepdog demonstrations.
The field will open at 8 a.m. to spectators that at last year’s games numbered more than 5,000.
The Scotland County Highland Games have been held since 2009, two years after similar games on the Flora MacDonald campus in Red Springs were discontinued.
Bill Caudill, the games’ organizer and director of the Scottish Heritage Center at St. Andrews University, said the Highland Games have flourished in Laurinburg.
“We’re doing things right: we have a lot of return visitors and we’re seen as one of the most friendly and inviting events on our circuit,” Caudill said. “This is Laurinburg and Scotland County’s largest tourist event now by far. It’s the one event that can fill up all the hotels that weekend.”
More than 30 athletes are signed up to demonstrate almost superhuman feats of strength, with roots deep in medieval culture. Men and women alike will attempt to throw hammers, flip 20-foot cabers a full 180 degrees, and throw heavy bundles of twine as high as possible.
The piping and drumming competitions will feature 80 solo competitors and 13 full pipe bands, whose arrival in a sea of tartan during the opening ceremonies promises to be a highlight of the day.
The Highland Games also includes a highland dancing contest, where at least one entrant is sure to perform the “Flora MacDonald’s Fancy” in honor of the local heroine.
Nearly 50 clans and societies will be represented at the games, including the honored Clan McLeod. The clan organizations’ presence at the event, Caudill said, is a testament to its following.
“There’s a circuit of these things throughout the eastern United States, coming down south here for the fall for the finish of the season,” he said.” If they have success in recruiting members by flying their colors at an event they come back, and we’re really fortunate to have a good turnout.”
Vendors will offer a variety of wares consistent with the theme, including kilts, bagpipes, Celtic jewelry, and replicas of ancient Scottish weaponry. Scottish specialties will also be available from several food vendors, but the less adventurous will still be able to find pizza, chicken, and other fair food.
After the closing ceremonies, a “kilted rock” concert featuring Rathkeltair and Seven Nations will continue until 9 p.m. That event is free to those already admitted to the Highland Games, and $5 for those joining in after 5 p.m. Food and beverage vendors will remain open.
A Friday evening bagpipe concert with one of the world’s preeminent solo bagpipers will be held at 8 p.m. in the Morris Morgan Theater at St. Andrews University.
An eight-time winner of the Glenfiddich World Piping Championship, Willie McCallum, will perform on Friday as well as judging an Eastern United States Pipe Band Association premier competition for professional bagpipers on Sunday at 9 a.m. at St. Andrews University. Tickets to Friday’s concert are $10 at the door, and Sunday’s competition is free to spectators.
Advance tickets are available at $12 for adults and $3 for children under 13 at the Laurinburg-Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, Bob’s Jewel Shop, and the Gospel Music and Christian Bookstore. At the gate, tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for children. The John Blue House is at 13040 X-Way Road in Laurinburg.
All events will be held rain or shine, and Caudill said that those interested in a day trip to the world of the Highland Scots should not be dissuaded in the event of showers.
“As we say in the Scottish world, there isn’t bad weather, there’s just improper dress,” he said.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.