For it is Scottish blood within my veins – travel diary

“I feel a sort of reverence in going over these scenes in this most beautiful country, which I am proud to call my own, where there was such devoted loyalty to the family of my ancestors – for Stuart blood is in my veins.”
Queen Victoria, journal entry in 1873

It’s been a few years since my family really became invested in our Scottish heritage when my mom became interested in tracing her family’s history through ancestry websites.
We already knew quite a lot about our backstory, thanks to record-keeping from other older relatives.

I am blessed to have a grand-aunt (on my mom’s paternal side of the family) who sat down with her mom, my great-grandmother, and recorded the stories my great-grandmother would tell of her years as a little girl growing up in North Florida, of her falling in love with my great-grandfather (despite her own father’s refusal) and of running away to elope with my great-grandfather.
Throughout those stories, she also spoke of her own parents – her father was an Irish or Scottish immigrant and her mother, while an immigrant as well, we’re less sure of ‘where’ she came from (I grew up being told that she was possibly dutch, but the ancestry trees seem to specify that she might not be from the Netherlands).

My great-grandmother also married the son of an immigrant, who had been either Scottish or Irish (we’re thinking Scottish, likely of clan Johnston).

Meanwhile, on the other side of my family, my mom’s maternal great-great-grandmother and grandfather were McKinnons and definitely Scottish.
Today, it is their clan who we mostly relate to on my mom’s side and it is their history who we have been very capable of tracing.

They came from Clan MacKinnon, a Highlands Clan which is owned the isles of Mull and Skye.
The MacKinnons supported the Bonnie Prince Charles during the Jacobite Uprising – and when the uprising was squashed under the heavy foot of the British Empire, the MacKinnons lost their clan lands.
I’m….incredibly proud of them.
It is from them that I have ancestry with warriors who supported Robert The Bruce as well as a great-great (keep saying that, times ten or so) grandmother who was a rumored seer or witch – probably a seer, based on what is written about her.

On my dad’s side, we associate with Clan Hunter, a Lowland Clan with roots that stretch back to when a Cumbrian king (David I) first came to Scotland.
While its a little difficult for us to trace our roots on my dad’s side – and we most likely have plenty of French and English mixed into the family tree on that side, we’ve taken in our history with Clan Hunter as well.

So attending Highland Games, meeting with other people of Scottish heritage and taking part in Scottish traditions has become a special part of remembering who we are as a people, a family and as individuals.
My parents and a few of my siblings have attended a few games, but last weekend’s 47th Annual Stone Mountain Highland Game was actually my first Highland Game – ever.

I kinda knew what to expect – there’d be tartans everywhere, we’d watch the games, view booths. But it turned out to be…so much…more.

Day One

Saturday, Oct. 19

Photo Oct 20, 12 52 43 AMPhoto Oct 20, 12 58 26 AMPhoto Oct 20, 12 55 35 AMPhoto Oct 20, 8 07 59 AMPhoto Oct 20, 8 07 06 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 14 50 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 12 30 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 09 51 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 11 32 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 05 29 AMPhoto Oct 20, 1 02 46 AMThe first day at the Highland Games was a Saturday – a soaking wet, rainy Saturday.

We jokingly mentioned that the weather was “truly Scottish,” due to the overcast skies and constant drizzle (that sometimes released into a downpour). Altogether, those weather conditions resulted in sloppy mud everywhere. The main entry into the games eventually looked more like a muddy medieval road than an actual pathway where humans were supposed to walk.

We practically spent the whole day under our individual umbrellas – and I still managed to become completely drenched. Due to the fact that a cold front had blown through (those not familiar with southern winters and autumns – we don’t have constant cool weather. We have cold fronts where it randomly dips low into the temperature scale only to pop back up to the 70-80s in a week), it was cold and it was rainy.

I spent the majority of the day bundled up tight in a wool skirt, a scarf, and a cardigan. By the end of the day, the bottom of my skirt was soaked and my cardigan was heavy with cold rain.

Outside of the cold and the rain, however, I visited a lot of pleasant booths and ended up buying two handmade pens from a lady as well as toy knight-dragon sets for my little brothers (and two keychains with the emblem of Clan Cameron and Clan MacKinnon on them).
It was also this day when I finally got my first taste of Scottish haggis, sticky pudding and shepherds pie – and I’m hooked now. I can’t wait for the next Highland Game, primarily so I can eat more food.

The games themselves were pretty amazing to watch – I’m no expert, but it was certainly interesting to watch massive poles (“cabers”) be vaulted across a field and a sack of hay be thrown into the air.

Photo Oct 19, 7 38 49 PM

Photo Oct 19, 7 39 56 PM
Aren’t these ceiling panels in the public house absolutely stunning?!

The games and booths closed for the day around 5 p.m., and we planned to attend a ceilidh (pronounced khale-ee) later in the evening, around 8 p.m.
So to make up the time, we drug our soaked, shivering selves to a coffee shop to warm up and try to pour caffeine into ourselves in order to bring us back to life – somewhat – before the ceilidh.

My dad found and steered us towards The Stone Mountain Public House – which is one of the most interesting ‘coffee shops’ I’ve ever stepped into.
This place couldn’t decide what it wanted to be – so it was everything. It was a restaurant that sold tacos, salad, crepes, pasta, and keto-dishes. But it was also a pub and a coffee shop, all within one tiny space.

I had an amazing brown-sugar cinnamon flat white coffee (barely, barely sweet. There was a hint of cinnamon and a brief taste of brown sugar, but was mostly coffee – which is how I like it).

It was warm and cozy, and we spent a good hour talking, warming up and drinking coffee before leaving for the hotel where the ceilidh was slated to take place.

For those who don’t know (and haven’t googled it yet), a ceilidh is a Celtic (both Scottish and Irish) social gathering. There are drinks, music and dancing and Highland Games tend to use the gathering as an ‘after-party’ for game attendees to meet and get to know one another.

We stayed for the whole two hours (despite being exhausted), danced, listened to music from the Stonewall Folk Band and the Blarney Girls before finally trudging back to our campsite for some sleep.

Our Campsite

Photo Oct 20, 9 17 16 AMPhoto Oct 20, 12 48 39 AMPhoto Oct 19, 11 28 26 AMPhoto Oct 20, 5 31 35 PMWe were camped right on the edge of the Stone Mountain Lake. When we set up camp on Friday night, I intentionally set my tent up so that when I opened up my tent door, I would be looking towards the lake (and away from the campsite).

The first day, you could barely see the mountain at all, as it was obscured by cloud-cover. But it was remarkably pretty, to see this big stone off in the distance with the top disappearing into a fog of clouds.

Despite how many people were at the campsite, it was a nice group – we never really had to worry too much about noise (and if we did, I slept through it all on both nights), and everyone seemed really nice and friendly.

After unpacking and setting up camp on Friday night, the skies opened up and poured or drizzled for almost the next 24 hours. While we had prepared for rain (we had a canopy over our table and cook-space and rain flies on all our tents), we did not prepare for the level of mud that resulted.
Apparently, prior to our booking the site, the campground had been under construction – and Georgia has a lot of red clay. So we had mounds of dug-up clay around our campsite. It was unsightly at first, but after the rain came pouring down, the mud ended up getting everywhere. It was piled between our tents and our cars, so our shoes were constantly covered in this slick red mud, we almost slipped multiple times and it was just an awful…awful mess.

Despite the muddy mess that our campsite quickly descended into, the rain, the wind, and we survived Saturday night. Waking up on Sunday morning (the last day of the games), there was still a few overcast clouds and plenty of wind, but it was a much nicer day for the second day of Highland-gaming.

Day Two

Sunday, Oct. 20
Photo Oct 20, 5 32 24 PM
Herding Dog demonstrations.

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My sister-in-law’s clan.

Photo Oct 20, 5 41 16 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 14 14 PMPhoto Oct 20, 5 33 40 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 15 04 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 15 50 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 16 58 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 17 57 PMPhoto Oct 20, 8 21 32 PM

Photo Oct 20, 8 20 34 PM
Me – and the parents with one of the falconers (and his Red-Tailed Hawk) who were at the event.

After a brief morning of overcast skies, the second and final day of the Highland Games was quite sunny and warm (but far from hot – a perfect festival day).

There were also a lot more people in attendance (no doubt because of the nicer weather).
In addition to the games and booths, a Falconer’s booth was set up, with the two handlers showing off their Red-Tailed Hawks and answering questions about hunting with birds of prey.
The second day also had the scheduled Sheepdog herding demonstrations, with a couple different professional herders showing off their dogs’ geese and sheep herding abilities.

We ate more haggis (and Scottish BBQ and Shepherd’s Pie) and were finally able to meet with the people at Clan Hunter’s tent.

Due to the fact that it wasn’t raining, the clans also set up a ‘Garden of Tartans’, with each representing clan hanging up their current tartan for people to look at and walk through.

I met an interesting guy who is developing a “Walking Log.” He hollows out logs, builds shelves on the inside and constructs them to look historic, interesting and eye-catching. The final result is a walking-stick-type-thing that also allows him to hold his valuables during festivals and events.

At the conclusion of the event, there was a closing ceremony that grouped all the visiting bagpipe and drum bands together for one final performance.
The previous day, all the musicians were dressed in heavy black overcoats, so you couldn’t see their individual kilt and tartan patterns. So when they came onto the parade field during the closing ceremony, a beautiful array of tartan colors and patterns from all over Scotland, it felt really special.
They played Scotland The Brave, during which a respectful silence held onto the air.

While the closing ceremony was also reserved for recognizing the men and women who had won the various games and competitions throughout the weekend, it was really the band performance that was the most special and treasured.

We left for home right after the games (as we’d packed up and checked out of our campsite before heading to the game-ground), and it was long after dark when we finally returned home to Florida. I overslept my work alarm the next morning and stayed in a post-vacay funk for the following few days.

But I really, truly enjoyed this trip.

I’m glad I went.

When’s the next Highland Game happening, already?

Photo Oct 20, 8 13 05 PM

6 thoughts on “For it is Scottish blood within my veins – travel diary

Add yours

  1. Sounds like such an incredible experience!!! Scotland has always been one of the places I want to travel to the most (even though I have no knowledge of Scottish heritage in my family) it’s quite a beautiful country and culture…oh and their music takes your breath away.

    Love these photos too.
    cheers.
    k.

    Like

  2. This post is one of the best I have read about the highland games here in GA, and I go to the Stone Mountain games every year. Thanks for that! It sounds like you know a lot about your clans heritage. Do you know what their tartans look like?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do! I actually claim three clans – my father’s last name, my mother’s maiden clan and Cameron, which was the clan belonging to a grandmother. I have multiple tartan swatches for those three clans. ❤

      Like

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