Scots Festival at the Queen Mary
The bagpipes were playing, the tartans were on display, the whiskey was flowing, the caber was being tossed… The 25th Scots Festival had come to the Queen Mary.
The Scots Festival’s Celtic Culinary Corner offered a variety of traditional Scottish fare, like scotch eggs, various meat pies, fish ‘n’ chips, and bangers and mash. Special demonstrations were held featuring some of the more “outlandish” Scottish foods – sticky toffee with candied bacon, strawberry beaujolais, smoked salmon whiskey cheese soup, beef brisket, and the infamous haggis. For the less adventurous, meal options also included a pizzeria and a Mexican food truck. Throughout Vendor Valley, visitors could find even more treats – shortbread, jams & jellies, kettle korn, and old tyme ice cream – among the merchant booths, which were stocked with a variety of tartans, Celtic jewelry, old-fashioned weapons, and clan information available for purchase.
In addition to food, the Scots Festival included several pubs – the Barrel Room, Nessie’s Nest VIP Lounge overlooking the Athletics Area, and Greyfriar’s Pub on the Queen Mary – as well as whiskey tastings throughout the day.
After indulging in a meat pie or scotch egg, visitors could take in the sights and sounds of the Scots Festival – stilts performers, Scottish country line dancing, Celtic harp and fiddle performances, and drum or bagpipe competitions. The Scots Festival also featured the Queen’s Court Ceremony, with beautifully dressed entertainers overlooking the events, and sometimes posing for pictures. Every few hours, performers would reenact and demonstrate the Royal Scottish Grey’s calls to arms. The demo was punctuated by gunfire and the occasional cannon blast.
New to the Scots Festival this year was a falconer demonstration spotlighting different birds of prey. Trainers showed visitors the likes of hawks and owls, which onlookers were sometimes even able to touch. The Border Collie sheep-herding demonstration was also a very popular attraction. Visitors got to watch as the enthusiastic and happy dogs excitedly followed their trainer’s directions and kept the sheep together. Followed by a beautiful rendition of several nations’ anthems, the main daily attraction was the Grand Parade of Massed Bands and Clans. Decked out in their clans’ tartans, clan and band members took turns parading around the event playing their drums and bagpipes.
The Scots Festival also had more hands-on entertainment for the wee lads and lassies in attendance. Areas were cordoned off to show children how to shoot a bow and arrow, or toss a caber. An obstacle course was set up for the brave little ones wanting to show off their feats of strength. On the tamer side, children could also enjoy getting their faces painted.
The Highland Games
On the Queen Mary itself, the Scots Festival held a day-long darts competition for teams and singles interested in registering. But, of course, it wouldn’t be a Scots Festival without the infamous Highland Games. Throughout the day, several groups of athletes (both men and women) vied for points in the traditional sports of stones, hammer throw, weights for distance, weights over bar, sheaf over bar, and the famous caber toss. Dating back hundreds of years, these track-and-field-like events tested and honed the strength, skills, and techniques of Scottish warriors.
I really enjoyed the idea that all the athletes were in this together. Each person rotated through different positions during each event; when it wasn’t their time to compete, they either warmed up or helped out measuring another athlete’s distance/height. While waiting for their turn, there was also a sense of camaraderie between the athletes, and between the groups.
My favorite event to watch was the hammer toss. With daggers on their shoes, athletes dig their feet into the ground, and swing a 16 lb (for the women) or 22 lb (for the men) hammer around their bodies several times to gain momentum before letting it go over their shoulders, backward. There were many very impressive throws, the hammer sometimes landing over 70 meters away. In the sheaf toss, athletes take a pitchfork to a burlap sack filled with straw and try to get the sack over a bar starting at 12 feet in the air, and raised progressively throughout the rounds. The crowd watched and cheered as the record (33.3 feet) was almost broken, an athlete last getting it over the bar at 32 feet. The final event of the competition, and likely the most identifiable, was the caber toss – athletes pick up a large, tapered pole and try to toss it, end-over-end, in a straight line. In one of the men’s groups, only two competitors were able to successfully toss the caber, and it was a close call, coming down to how straight the caber landed in front of them. The athletes – and the crowd – cheered enthusiastically.
The Queen Mary Scots Festival was a lot of fun – from the entertainment, to the food, to the Highland Games, there was something for everyone to enjoy. I found the Highland Games especially fascinating and found time flying as quickly as the heavy stones from the athletes’ hands. The Scottish phrase, “Failing means you’re playing,” comes to mind when thinking of the Scots Festival – it’s better to do badly than not participate at all.