Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Scots Festival and Highland Games in Long Beach

Today I went to the Scots Festival & International Highland Games XXIII down at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. I've been wanting to do the a Scot's Festival for many years so when I heard one was doing to be near me I got a group of friends together and we went down. Joining me for the festival was Liz, Leo and Cait.

Scots Festival honors nearly fifty Scottish clans & vendors throughout the weekend with professional and amateur competitions in piping, drumming, massed bands, darts, Highland dancing, and Highland athletics. The Scottish Highland Games, a pre-cursor to today’s Olympic Games, were designed to test the strength, skill and technique of ancient warriors by face offs.

I enjoyed the music and foods but I really wanted to see the Highland Games and they didn't disappoint.

Caber Toss - In Gaelic, caber simply means pole, and the objective of the caber toss isn’t about distance, but style and accuracy. The athlete rests the caber against their shoulder while clasping their arms around it. Then they try to lift if off the ground while keeping it perfectly balanced. Once the caber is lifted the athlete begins to run, building momentum, before tossing the caber. Caber toss is judged with the aid of an imaginary clock face on the ground, with the thrower facing the 12 o’clock position. Points are deducted according to the number of degrees that the caber is off from the perfect 12 o’clock mark.

Throwing the Weight (for height & distance) - Throwing the weight is divided into two separate categories: throwing for distance (with a 28-pound weight) and throwing for height (with a 56-pound weight). Throwing for distance involves the thrower to grasp the weight in one hand, spin around three times and toss. Tossing for height involves a high jump-style bar, which is raised after each successful attempt. Strength, speed and coordination are key to successfully competing in throwing the weight.

Putting the Shot - Derived from the “stone of strength,” which saw clansmen compete in tossing stones for distance, putting the shot is an excellent test of strength. With weights weighing anywhere from 16-to-22-pounds, athletes would lift the stone in one hand in front of their shoulders, run to gain momentum and release.

The Hammer Throw - Originating in the granite mining quarries in Scotland, workers would compete by tossing actual sledgehammers. Although athletes no longer toss hammers, today they use an iron sphere attached to a chain, the goal of the competition remains the same – toss the hammer as far as you can! In the event, the thrower stands with his back to the mark, swings the hammer around his head to gain momentum and then releases it over his shoulder.

Sheaf Toss -Similar to the weight toss, the sheaf toss consists of competitors using a pitchfork to hurl a burlap bag stuffed with straw over a horizontal bar. Each competitor has three chances to toss the sheaf cleanly over the bar without touching it and the bar is raised after each round.

Both men and women participate in the games. I wanted to see as much of the games as I could but you had to pick and choose which ones you were going to watch as they had several competitions going on at the same time. So while the women were doing the Hammer Throw the men would Toss the weight for height and though everyone was in the middle grassy area you could really only watch one event at a time. I tried to watch a bit of each event (mostly men, as I couldn't resist a guy in a Kilt). I think my favorite was the Caber toss.. this is the most recognized Highland game and loads of fun to watch, though a few of those cabers fell back towards the crowd and gave us a bit of a scare.

Another favorite was the Toss the Weight for Height. It's crazy that these guys would throw a 50+ pound weight over their head and try and go over a bar and then stand perfectly still has the weight dropped back down missing their head by inches.. so crazy, but fun to watch. But overall it was a great time. Next time I'll get there early enough and rent one of those tents on the side of the field so you can just lounge around and watch the games while drinking and eating.

All the Scottish shops were great, I was tempted once again to buy a Kilt as they had authentic ones that were really nice and pricey. I had to do alot of self control and now buy everything I saw as there were so many awesome "fantasy" type items. I did buy a nice blue and silver ring and a really nice silver tree charm for a necklace. I couldn't find the kind of necklace I liked but I have an awesome tree charm.

Towards the end of our visit we sampled some Scotch Eggs and Welsh Cakes. I actually had Scotch Eggs in England when I visited there a few years ago but this was the first time having Welsh Cakes and I have to say they are extremely tasty. We watch a bit of sheep herding and did a maze at the end of our visit.

I had a great time and I hope to make this an annual thing.  You could never go wrong with guys in Kilts throwing big sticks around :)

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