By David Rogers. GRANDFATHER MOUNTAIN, N.C. — With colorful clan tents circling a red cinder track, featured larger tents and stages with workshops and cultural arts along with food concessions around the perimeter, and all sorts of automobiles, trucks and RVs filling large meadows everywhere nearby, the July 6-9 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games is in the High Country, to be sure. Unofficial estimates are that 30,000 descendants of Scottish clans and a multitude of public “fans” in search of weekend entertainment have invaded the area in and surrounding McRae Meadows.
Given how warm it was on Friday afternoon, July 7, on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain, one can only wonder what the temperatures were like in the lower elevation Piedmont and Coastal Plains. Even with thunderstorm clouds looming in the distance to the south of the event, everyone seemed to be in good spirits and glad they were at the even that has been held continuously since 1956.
“This is the best of the Highland Games hosted in the United States,” one gentleman said in a definitive Scottish brogue, “because being here in the mountains it reminds us of Scotland. And, as a result, it draws absolutely one of the largest crowds — and, being held in July, the cooler mountain temperatures play a large part in that.”
There are a number of athletic competitions throughout the weekend, including the hammer throw, sheaf toss, and the iconic caber toss, as well as dance competitions. One popular spot on July 7 was the Entertainment Stage, all very cool being, as it were, almost completely in the shade while the midday sun burned in the open areas of the track some 50 yards away.
In the amateur division of the sheaf toss held on July 7, Ross Alewine of Clemson, S.C. made a case for potentially moving up after tossing the burlap bag filled with straw over a horizontal bar 33 feet in the air. Prior to the competition, Alewine’s personal record was 28 feet. The world record for the #20 sheaf toss is just over 37 feet, set by Spencer Tyler at the Chicago Highland Games on June 15, 2019 (Tyler broke his own record, set in February of 2019, at the Queen Mary Highland Games in Long Beach, Calif.
Alewine said he started throwing the sheaf just 13 months ago when he went with a friend to the Greenville (S.C.) Scottish Games.
“I tried it and was hooked,” he told High Country Sports after winning Friday’s amateur division.
Scotland, of course, is also known for its sheep industry and the dogs bred and trained to help tend to the herds. A sheep dog demonstration amazed, if not thrilled the crowd of spectators looking on, the shepherd issue commands with shouts and different whistles, each one recognized immediately by the dogs.
A lot of the featured events of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games are presented and staged on Saturday (July 8), including the professional athletic competitions, track and field events for a number of different age groups, and dance competitions. Things get going about 8 a.m. and last all day.