If asked at which event you might find a ‘lazy stick’, a ‘bottom couple’ and a bunch of men with no underwear, I wouldn’t blame you for jumping to sordid conclusions. Those with knowledge of their Scottish heritage, though, might have the answer: they are a throwing event, a dance move and a traditional dress code for participants in The Highland Games. Maine’s largest Highland Games takes place in the lovely Topsham during the middle of August when the town is overtaken by all things Scottish, holiday cottages are filled with fans, and caber-wielding beefcakes don their kilts.
Almost 10% of the people of Eastport claim Scottish heritage according to the 2007 census, so the games have a huge appeal. Even those with no Scottish roots should find something to entertain them: bare thighs for the ladies, impressive demonstrations of bicep power for the men. Kilts, whiskey, dancing and athletics- what more could you ask for at a summer event? A sheep’s organs wrapped in its own stomach, you say? Your wish may be granted, as you will most likely find haggis on the menu at any highland games event.
Arguably the best known elements of the games are the bagpipes, the kilts and the ‘heavy events’ which include the caber toss and the hammer throw. The latter are basically opportunities to watch men flinging about dangerous objects of various shapes and sizes whilst decorated in their clan’s tartan. Most games also incorporate traditional dancing, crafts, piping and fiddling so there tends to have an atmosphere of feasting and merriment which goes hand-in-hand with historic Scotland. Oh, and let’s not forget the whiskey- a vital part of any authentic Scottish experience.
The first Highland Games took place in the USA in 1836, imported by the many settlers who journeyed from Scotland and Ireland in the eighteenth century. Today, events occur every year across the country from Alabama to Wyoming. In fact, the two biggest games in the world in terms of spectator numbers are hosted by the Caledonian Club in San Francisco and the Labor Day event in Pleasanton, California. The crowds at both are even bigger than those at the Braemar games in Scotland, which is attended by the Queen. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t visit and rent one of the many Scottish holiday cottages in Royal Deeside and see the Braemar games first hand. Obviously the kilt is optional.
The roots of the Highland Games go deep, and it is thought that they predate the Greek Olympics, beginning somewhere around 2000 BC. If you want to be a part of this ancient tradition, why not get practicing for next year? Whether your skills lie in leg-flinging, stick-slinging or looking good in a kilt, take to the fields and wow your fellow Mainers next year.