Groups of pipers can be found practicing around every corner.
Photo Credit : Elie MacLennan
I had the pleasure of attending the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival last year with my wife and some good friends, and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories of my paternal grandparents. Johnny and Mary Darroch used to regale me with their tales of growing up in Scotland, speaking and singing with their lilting Scottish brogues that hadn’t faded in the fifty years they lived in Brooklyn, NY. Thanks to them, my appreciation for this festival comes from a very deep and personal place.
That said, you don’t have to own a kilt or know what haggis is to have a great time at this Scottish-themed festival at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, NH. The New Hampshire Highland Games is as much about enlightening fun seekers from all walks of life as it is about stirring the pride of direct descendants and distant relatives of Scottish people.
An exhilarating blend of music, pageantry and raw power, this annual festival has entertained legions of guests since 1975. You’ll feel the excitement the moment you step off the shuttle bus (parking is offsite in Lincoln) and the distant sound of bagpipes, punctuated by bass drums, invites you to join in the revelry. The walk across the Pemigewasset River Bridge is short, but it may as well be the Atlantic Ocean itself for all the Old World sights that await you at Loon Mountain Resort.
The festival area is an organized and expansive sea of distinguished looking gentlemen in dress tartans, country dancers high-stepping between crossed swords, and burly men in kilts tossing a variety of heavy objects on the athletic field. And then, of course, there are the pipe bands—dozens of them. Twenty-five or so bagpipers can be seen marching in unison with snare drummers, tenor drummers, and bass drummers. Music is everywhere—from concert tents, pubs, and lodges to the open air. There are sheepdog trials and music competitions, clan parades and cultural seminars. You can do as much or as little as you like, and for an extra fee, indulge in whisky tastings, mixology evenings, and beer tastings.
Sooner or later, you’re going to get hungry and that’s where the New Hampshire Highland Festival really shines. You’ll find a wide variety of authentic Scottish fare including lamb stew, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and pastries, plus more adventurous offerings like meat pies, sausage rolls and yes, haggis. (If you’re unfamiliar with that traditional Scottish dish, I highly encourage you to Google it before deciding whether you want to sample some.)
There’s an endless array of sights, sounds, and activities for little ones (this year, children under the age of 14 are admitted free with an accompanying adult) and multiple pubs and beer tents for folks 21 and over—all with the White Mountains providing the perfect scenic backdrop. The full schedule of events is on the Festival Web site so you can choose the day(s) that interest you most and plan ahead. That said, the true beauty of the New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival is found in idle wandering, people watching, and just taking in all the culture, talent and dedication on display.
So if you’re like me and want to spend a few days immersed in the customs and memories of your grandparents; or you’re just looking for a different kind of late summer adventure, check out The New Hampshire Highland Games and Festival. It’s as close as you can get to Scotland without leaving New England.
This post was first published in 2013 and has been updated.