Magic, Mystery, a little Whisky, and a Cat

Summer Solstice at the Highland Games

I’m celebrating this summer solstice at the Chicago Highland Games. Our favorite son, Kris, will be taking care of the place while we are gone.  He would rather be coming with us, but –hey, life’s hard.


In the wee hours of Friday morning, we’ll drive away from our cozy house in the woods through the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill to St. Louis. There, always supposing our GPS gets us to the right place, we hop a train for Chicago.


By the time we navigate Amtrak, the Chicago Metra, and get a shuttle to our hotel, we’ll need a couple of hours to get the lay of the land–find the coffee urn, the breakfast nook, the closest liquor store, the path to the Games. Take a quick shower and get psyched.

At about 4 p.m we shall wrap shiny green bracelets around our wrists. These magical plastic tokens ensure the gatekeepers will let us into the ground (Scots are picky about stuff like that), that we get good seats for the music and events, that we can buy booze. I assume they also ensure that when we fall in a drunken stupors beside the pub tent or the porta-potty, a member of the event staff has already been tasked with the chore of collecting our battered remains.  We have a string of red beer tickets which we will guard with our puny lives until Saturday evening when we will give away whatever we have left.

When you approach one of these events, the first thing you hear is the distant keening of the pipes. Then you get a whiff of Highland beef cooking over a grill. The music gets louder and soon the pipes , the fiddles, the general buzz of semi-sober Scottish people settle down to a constant, happy roar. Kilted people of both sexes abound and lots of women and men in period dress.



We will eventually make our way to Clan Row. Each clan displays their flag, their tartan, and whatever Scottish bits and pieces are near and dear to their little plaid hearts. Lots of history here.  We look for the Rosses and for the McLaurens, since those are our family affiliations.

The MacDonalds are always in attendance—wi’ their fancy 3-tiered tent, the bastards. Actually, very nice people—despite their heritage. At the Calling of the Clans, the MacDonalds generally start off their introduction with something like: The Macdonalds took part in every battle fought on Scottish soil (because we usually started them.)

The Campbells set up their tent next door to the MacDonalds with a sign between that reads: The Feud is and a little movable bit reading On on one side and Off on the other.

During the games, my list of things to do includes the following–look for pictures of all this next week.

  • Eat a Highland Rib Steak Sandwich!!
  • See the Clydesdales—a new thing this year.
  • Listen to Cleghorn—this is a Celtic group from (strangely) Texas and they are just wonderful.
  • Listen to Skerryvore—Never heard these guys before but they are supposed to be the bomb.
  • The music will range from traditional to Kilt Rock .   Nothing is much better than sitting in the front row in the pub tent drinking Guinness and listening to a fantastic bunch of Celtic musicians. Most of them do it more for love than for money.
  • Watch the caber toss—my favorite event. Highland Games events often involve tossing bulky, heavy objects for no good reason. The rules are few, making even first time spectators experts after the first toss or so. The more you drink, the more sense it makes. I think Mike Myers said that most Scottish food and entertainment started as a dare. Haggis and the caber toss are prime examples.
  • Whisky tent—I got tickets so we can get in early. So excited. Not sure what brands will be in attendance but last year Laphroaig, Balvenie, Bunnahabhain, and several others were there. it’s a chance to get a taste of the expensive stuff.  Honestly, I judge the taste along with the liberality of the sample. Some of those people act as if they would prefer to hoard it in a cavern beneath a loch rather than dole it out to the general populace. Others get into the general gaiety of the event and dole it out.

And that is the end of this long post.  Have a blessed Summer Solstice. I’ll post Highland Games pictures and interviews soon.


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