Real Men Wear Kilts!

Even this morning we debated the merits of attending the New Hampshire Highland Games.

  •  The pros: the New Hampshire games is one of the largest, most well-attended games in the world, it’s close to our campsite and it’s freaking awesome.
  • The cons: at $35 a ticket technically we were already overbudget and we hadn’t even left the RV.

As should always be the case on this trip, ultimately the opportunity to experience something new and exciting won out despite the cost, and we were in the car driving to Lincoln, New Hampshire. Just between you and me – don’t tell Victoria – I probably would’ve paid $70 just to see the caber toss.

We arrived at the Highland Games shortly after ten o’clock, and immediately headed to the parade grounds to watch pudgy middle-aged men struggle with years of bad posture, to preen in formal jackets and kilts to bagpipe music in the drum major competition.

The sound of bagpipes and drums were a persistent delight at the games. Originally used to scare the hell out of the English on the battlefield, to me the bagpipes have always led me to introspection; their forlorn sound and melancholy melody always seems to bring me peace. Perhaps I was a Buddhist bagpiper in a previous incarnation?

Following that, we strolled through the clan village and Celtic marketplace. Neither of us are of direct Scottish decent, so we were both a bit lost in the sea of family crests and genealogy. But the pastries in the adjoining marketplace and the free samples got us right back on track.

The official souvenir program was ridiculous. Forty something pages of fluff – applause and thanks – with little direction for the people who mattered, those of us who paid $30 per ticket (and then an additional $5 for this recycle-bin filler.)

After much struggle, we found our way over to the athletic field for the heavy games. The heavy games consist of five to seven games and the New Hampshire Games are actually the site of the World Championship. The first event was the stone put, which is roughly the same as today’s Olympic shot put, but the competitors use, you guessed it, a stone.

When the athletes took a brief break, we attempted to get in line for the whiskey tasting. Sadly, We didn’t discover until we had walked the entire length of the games, you needed tickets, the tickets were $20 each and the tickets were sold out weeks in advance. Horrible program guide 2, the Callahans 0. We walked angrily back to the athletic field annoyed and craving scotch.

Once we were reseated in the cushy grass, our good humor returned. And our mood got even better when we realized we would soon be witnessing what we had come to see: burly men wrestling with, and then throwing 140 pound telephone poles; an event also known as the caber toss.

The object of the caber toss is not distance, but to have the caber fall directly away from the thrower after landing in what is known as a “perfect” 12:00 throw. If the throw is not perfect, it is scored by viewing the caber as though it were the hour hand on a clock. A caber pointing to 11:00 would yield a better score than one pointing to 10:30 but would be the same as a 1:00 throw. If the caber is not flipped, and falls back towards the thrower, these are the lowest scores you can have, and are judged by the angle the caber achieved (obviously ALL below 90 degrees)

But mainly it’s just cool to see a dude flip telephone poles like some kind of comic book super villain.

First up were the amateurs who were unable to turn the caber even once. You see, tossing the caber requires not only immense amounts of brute strength, but also athletic ability and technique. The professional highlanders were up next and about to show us how it is done.

The caber toss made our day and it’s what the Highland Games are all about. Similar to the strong man competitions shown on a loop on ESPN, many of participants are accomplished collegiate track and field stars. Check out the video below:

We wished we had more time to have experienced the cultural portion of the festivities since the Highland games have a lot to offer. Music, dancing and Celtic heritage are everywhere to enjoy. Maybe when we go to Scotland!

For more information about next year’s game click here.

Other images below: