Taking a stroll through the annual Highland Games on Saturday

By: Beacham McDougald - Special to the Exchange

As you approach the North Carolina Rural Heritage Center in Laurinburg on Saturday, the shrill of bagpipes will filter through the air as dozens of pipers prepare for their competitions. At the main gate you could not miss seeing the 1890s John Blue house, designed and built by John Blue’s fascination of the Mississippi riverboats he had often seen. The house is indeed a “riverboat on land.”

Close by are three 200-year old homes that belonged to early settlers of what is now Scotland County. Unlike the grandeur enjoyed in later years by inventor John Blue, these simple home places reveal a simpler, Spartan, and more humble style of living.

Behind two of the 200-year old homes you will find an area marked off for the children’s versions of the adult athletic competitions. This event is sponsored by the St. Andrews Society of MacRae Meadows on Grandfather Mountain. There, for the children, will be the stone throw, or a more primitive version of today’s shot put; the “hammer throw,” or a weight that is thrown by swinging it in a circular motion; the “caber turn,” or a much smaller version of adults flipping telephone poles for accuracy in how they land after flipping one end over the other, and of course the “tug o’ war” teams that will strut their stuff throughout the day.

As you continue to walk to the main game field, a stage to your right will host Celtic harp, or clarsach competitions, and the hauntingly beautiful Celtic tunes from Scotland and Ireland will fill the air. Across from them are the 1850 restored cotton gin and bale press where a caricature artist, Peter Battaglioli of Myrtle Beach will be drawing personal caricatures of anyone willing to sit for about 7 or 8 minutes. Whether they are wearing one or not, everyone will be sketched wearing a kilt. This is a free amenity, but there will be a container for contributions, of which all will go to the Scotland County Highland Games.

Further behind him and past an open area is the main stage of the Rural Heritage Center, and it will be covered by a tent with a floor carefully sheeted to render it smooth and level. There nearly 100 Highland and hornpipe dancers of all ages will compete throughout the day, as a nearby bagpiper plays their requested tunes.

When you cross the railroad tracks of the John Blue Cotton Blossom Railroad, the 1880s A. D. Gibson country store will be to your right and the welcoming scent of delicious food of all types is being cooked and prepared. Of course there will be traditional American foods, but you should at least try the Scottish fare such as haggis, meat pies, bridies, and wash them down with the No. 1 soft drink in Scotland — Irn Bru — and you owe it to yourself to try onr. In Scotland the young love its sweet, bubble gum flavor, and the adults use it as a cure for hangovers.

Whilst standing amongst all of the food and vendors and on the far side of the A. D. Gibson Store you will see another large, covered stage where the dozen or so pipe bands will be competing throughout most of the day. Their melodies, harmonies, and drums will compete with the pleasing food aromas for your attention.

Nearby and closer to the main athletic field will be a large space for vendors of crafts, Scottish goods, and clothing for people of all ages from T-shorts to formal kilts, jewelry, family tartans and crests.

As you pass the old saw mill heading toward the main athletic field, Highland Brewing of Asheville and Cypress Bend Vineyard of Wagram will be dispensing their different drinks, but only to adults over 21 years of age.

The game field has nearly doubled in size from past years, and it will be surrounded by tents of almost 50 Scottish clans and societies, and bleachers which will seat hundreds.

Here on the main game field men and women athletes will compete in traditional Scottish athletic events. Yes, you will see some of the women “flip” a long “telephone” pole, one end over the other, and compete in many other athletic events.

During their breaks, the popular sheep dog demonstrations with the Border Collies corralling the sheep will keep everyone entertained.

The 10th annual Scotland County Highland Games will have something for everyone at every age. Shuttle service is available from satellite parking areas to the game site, and golf cart shuttles are available for many who may need them on the site.

Just three weeks after our southeastern North Carolina area was devastated by Hurricane Florence, bu we came together to restore and rebuild — and those efforts continue in some areas — but here we have worked and watched as workers and volunteers came together to prove that everything was getting repaired, replaced, and remains coming back together in Scotland County, North Carolina.

Beacham McDougald is a Laurinburg resident and Scotland County historian.

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Beacham McDougald

Special to the Exchange