FAIR HILL — An overcast sky did little to stop legions of tartan-clad bagpipers, athletes and spectators from taking to the Fair Hill Fairgrounds Saturday to celebrate Scottish culture and heritage during the 61st Annual Colonial Highland Games.
“It’s like St. Patrick’s Day, everyone’s a little bit Irish,” said Jon Dickson, secretary of the Scottish Game Board of Trustees. “Same thing here. The food, the athletics, the massed bands: it gets everybody excited.”
According to Dixon, the Games saw a record year, with roughly 8,000 attendees and a line at the gate that didn’t dissipate until well after noon.
Attendees of all ages romped across the fairgrounds, many wearing the traditional Scottish tartans – or kilts – displaying their clan colors.
For much of the day, the 4-H barns were surrounded by the bagpiping competitions, which featured dozens of individual and group performers showcasing their musical talents before judges.
A former winner of the Games’ piping competition, now a professional touring bagpiper known as Ally the Piper, was one of the headline musicians performing at the Games. According to Dixon, the Games were Ally’s first-ever solo live show, returning to the site of one of the first piping competitions that she medaled in.
“We got her first,” said Dixon.
Alongside Ally, Albannach – a 5-person band hailing from Glasgow, Scotland known for their energetic combination of drums, bagpipes and even a didgeridoo – were another headliner offering live performances for Games-goers throughout the day.
Alongside the piping competitions, highland dancers competed for prizes, as well as the highland heptathlon athletics competition. The athletes tested their brawn in events such as the caber toss and the hammer throw, flinging heavy metal across the Fair Grounds.
A variety of vendors set up all across the grounds, from craftspeople offering traditional Scottish goods – such as tartans and leatherwork – and highland staples like meat pies. The Village of the Clans set up in the midst of the Fair Grounds main arena, allowing attendees to mingle with the clan members near their booths.
Games-goers were offered the opportunity to sit in on scotch whiskey tastings throughout the day. Steve Grant, of the St. Andrew’s Society of Baltimore, hosted the tastings, explaining the background and history of Scotland’s blend of the dark liquor.
“I’m going to have to do that four more times today,” said Grant with a blanch during the day’s first tasting.
Dixon gave credit to the community for the success of the event, such as Crave Eatery for feeding the Games’ volunteers, Elk River Brewing Company for hosting Friday’s Games Nite and all of the community business and organizations that showed up to help out at the games.
“This was truly a Cecil County Games,” said Dixon. “It was all the people of Cecil County coming together to celebrate.”
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