Bagpipes, swords and caber tossing. Put those together and what do you get? The 2014 Highland Gathering and Games. For 149 years the Bay Area Scots, and Scottish fans, have gathered to celebrate Scottish heritage through clan parades and epic feats of strength.
For two days, Aug. 30 and 31, the Alameda County Fairgrounds were teaming with kilt-wearing patrons sporting their clan tartans (family plaid patterns), Clan “Inebriated” being one of the many in attendance this year. But no matter what clan they represented, all were ready to cheer on the athletes competing in contests of strength.
From caber tossing (log throwing) to the putting of the stone (a lot like shot put), the burly Scotsmen put on an impressive display in the same manner as their ancestors hundreds of years ago.
The grandstands were packed with people competing for a place to watch, from the top stands all the way to ground level. The constant shouts from fans were broken only when a caber was tossed forward and the crowd would respond with a dramatic “oooOOOH!” and deafening cheers when the caber would land on the opposite end and fall, completing a half circle.
Aside from the ever-popular caber toss, various other games were taking place at the same time all across the track. Kilt-clad athletes all throwing heavy weights far distances and high into the air, trying to best each other.
Outside the main event of well-honored tradition, there was plenty more to see at the Highland gathering.
Numerous Celtic bands were featured throughout the event. Brothers, Celtica, Golden Bough and the Wicked Tinkers were just a few of the bands that performed. Cheerful folk songs contrasted with fierce drumming and hardcore Celtic rock.
Scattered around the grounds and in the buildings, merchants hawked their assorted wares. Their stalls boasted anything from weapons and costumes to hearty meat pies and hand crafted goods.
Finally, separated from the rest of the event was the living history. There royalty lounged while knights patrolled the grounds and reenacted battles with other guilds. Besides flashing swords and feasting royalty, there were archery lessons and performances around the stockades.
With bagpipe players parading through the grounds and clans reunited, Scottish culture was celebrated through games, music and historical accounts. The games will return next year for the 150th gathering at the Alameda County Fairgrounds.