More than 30,000 turn out to Loon Mountain for NH Highland Games

Union Leader Correspondent
September 23. 2018 10:05PM
Clan Pringle of western Maine, including, from left, Austin Crow, his uncle, Ray Pringle and grandfather Ralph Pringle, was one of many families of Caledonian descent who attended the 43rd annual New Hampshire Highland Games & Festival this weekend at Loon Mountain Resort. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

LINCOLN — To the delight of attendees, the blue and white of the Saltire once again flew high over the largest Scottish cultural event in North America as Loon Mountain Resort hosted the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival this past weekend.

Now in their 43rd year, the Games and Festival are the showcase of NH SCOT, a Concord-based nonprofit whose mission is preserving and promoting Scottish culture for future generations.

Given the enthusiasm evident at this year’s event, it is clear that Scottish culture is alive and well in the Granite State, something that delights Teri Wiltse, who is NH SCOT’s executive director.

NH SCOT has 600 members from 17 U.S. states and “a couple of countries,” said Wiltse on Saturday, the middle of the three day Highland Games and Festival.

She expected that 35,000 people would come to Loon over the weekend for food, dance, music, humor, storytelling, sheep-dog trials, culture, and, of course, the heavy athletics.

Opening ceremonies for the Highland Games and Festival began with the dedication of a memorial paver stone for Gordon Webster, a Concord man who once was the queen of England’s personal bagpiper.

Born in Bathgate, Scotland, Webster served in the Scots Guard Regiment for 24 years, the last five as the 9th Sovereign’s Piper. While attending the NH Highland Games and Festival, he met his future wife Lezlie and upon retiring from the English army, relocated to Concord.

With his wife, Webster, who died from cancer on March 29, was the founder of the NH School of Scottish Arts and he will be remembered as a true friend of Scottish culture and all who love it, said Wiltse.
Above, former Concord resident Jay Wheeler puts the stone on Saturday during the heavy athletics competition at the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival at Loon Mountain Resort. U.S. Army veteran, Wheeler was severely injured, and eventually lost both his legs below the knee, following an Army training exercise in 2004. (JOHN KOZIOL/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

Falling squarely into that group are three generations of Clan Pringle from western Maine.

Led by patriarch Ralph Pringle and his son Ray, both of Buckfield, the clan was also represented by Austin Crow, who is Ralph’s grandson and Ray’s nephew, and is from Leeds.

Dressed in regalia that included a variety of weapons, a claymore sword and pistol among them, the Clan Pringle, Ralph recalled with a wistful smile, was once “a bloodthirsty bunch.”

While their violent ways are now long tempered, the clan, said Ralph Pringle, still likes to reflect on their heritage, something they accomplish by going to the Highland Games and Festival.

“I love it. I live for these three days,” said Pringle, who since 2006 has come to Loon in a kilt and carried a powder horn on which he has engraved the names of his grandfathers, going back to William Pringle (1745-1829), the clan’s first member to come to what were then the American colonies.

Gillecriosd Mason, a 64-year old teacher from North Bay, N.Y., has travelled to Loon for many years, starting way back, when the Highland Games and Festival was a mere acorn, not the oak tree it has grown into today.

“I was here at the second games when the road down to Lincoln was just dark mills,” said Mason, adding “The transformation of this place has been amazing.”
Left, as a surprised spectator looks on, Braidy Miller of Tennessee competes Saturday in the professional class in the Heavy Weight For Distance. (JOHN KOZIOL/Union Leader Correspondent)

Mason began playing the bagpipes in 1983 and is now an accomplished virtuoso. On Saturday, he competed in the Piobaireachd, which he called “the classical music of the pipes,” performing the 260-year old “In praise of Morag” while David Bailiff of Oxford, Pa., followed the score and recorded Mason’s accuracy to it.

The Highland Games and Festival has “a wonderful atmosphere” that keeps bringing him back, said Mason.

Wiltse is thrilled with the camaraderie and diversity of the Highland Games and Festival, which, at the risk of sounding cliché, she said, has “something for everything.”

If your passion is music, dance or the heavy athletics, you can gorge on those alone, said Wiltse, or you can cherry-pick things to do from a robust schedule of events.

“Last year we sold tickets to people in 48 states,” Wiltse said, and then as this year, the Highland Games and Festival once more attracted the most accomplished expressions of Scottish culture in all fields of endeavor.

The heavy athletics again featured an-invitation only roster of elite athletes, headlined by Scotland native Lorne Colthart, who won the 2017 World Caber Toss Championship.

Wiltse said the Highland Games & Festival is a great reflection on New Hampshire and “I am very proud that this happens in our state.”

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