Every year I attend the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in Linville, NC. It is one of the largest gathering of Scots in the United States (and probably the world for that matter), so needless to say I really try to never miss it. If you've never been to a Highland Games, you really should do yourself a favor and check one out. I recommend three that are within driving distance of East Tennessee (click on the name for their websites:
I know there are more than those three, but those are the ones that seem to get the best reviews. The one at Gatlinburg is far smaller than the other two, but has a nice, homey feel to it. I've never been to the Stone Mountain Games, but EVERYONE says it is the nicest one. They have a seperate grove in the woods for the Clan Tents, and usually they have some sort of military tattoo, which is cool.
But the Granddaddy of them all is Grandfather Mountain, "America's Braemar". I'm not going to post about all I saw and did there, but I will tell you that it's big fun when the Meadows-side campground gathers all the pipers and drummers and "invades" the Across-the-street-side campground. What insues is the world's largest marshmallow fight, and then an impromptu concert by the pipers and drummers.
David Ross, my favorite historian and author was brilliant as usual, and my only regret is not getting to see more of him. I did manage to video about 80% of one of his presentations though, which is great. Albannach, an intense Scottish Tribal music group of a piper and several drummers was also great, but I only got to hear them do a couple of numbers.
The highlight of this year's games, as usual, came almost as a fluke. Every year I like to visit the tent of Hyde and Heddle Leatherworks. Ron Gray is their master artist, and I wear one of his leather bracelets EVERY day if you'd like to see some of his handywork. Just as every year I went by his tent Saturday night before the concerts and saw his wife working on some leather goods with a needle and thread, and asked if they could repair a sporran I had recently purchased. Not only did Ron repair it, but he actually improved the sporran's design on the back so that it would last longer. He did it in a very timely fashion, and charged VERY LITTLE for the work he did.
As I was in the tent I noticed a neat mug holder that matches my bracelet that attaches to your kilt belt, so I picked that up. I also found a really cool little wooden whistle that plays a full octave to add to my collection. I learned the full scale in about 10 minutes, as it's very similar to an ocarina. I also picked up a NICE black belt that Ron's associate made (I'll update this blog with his name after I can find his business card. He was a great guy too, and also a Southern Baptist to boot).
But off to the side on Ron's workbench was the most beautiful piece of leatherwork I've ever seen. It was a "Rob Roy" style sporran (more of a pouch than a useless decoration). The shape, design, and coloring were absolutely stunning, and I knew I wouldn't be able to afford it, but I also knew that would be MY sporran for the rest of my life. It was unfinished, but still more beautiful than any sporran I had ever seen. After a short phone call (as they have to be on top of the mountain because of sporadic cell phone signals...hello Verizon...Can YOU hear ME now???), I convinced Traci that I had just found my lifetime sporran. She agreed I could get it, so I immediately ran back to the H&H tent and told them I wanted it. It was a STEAL at only $55!!! Most CHEAP sporrans are around that price. To get a hand made sporran like that could easily run upwards of $200 or more.
Well, I had the honor of watching Ron finish the sporran's back part, which was really cool because now I can tell my kids I actually watched the maker make my sporran. If you are into leather stuff or if you need a new bracelet, belt, or sporran, do yourself a favor and drop a line to Hyde and Heddle Leatherworks. You won't be disappointed! I'll add pictures in a later post.