Cobourg Highland Games


by Festival Nomad “Scoop” Correspondent, Judi McWilliams

As we neared Victoria Park, the air was filled with the sounds of bagpipes and drums. Scattered along a walking route different groups of pipers and drummers had gathered to prepare for the grand opening ceremony. The air was filled with a “clashing” of sounds.

Upon entering the park, we were greeted by unique vendors, decorated with colours and all kinds of all things British, Scottish and more.

As we walked through the maze of tents, we came to many tents, where they young highland dancers to practice and change their clothing.

Here mothers and grandparents inspected their dancers and gave final instructions to nervous participants. All led to the excitement of what was about to happen.

We made our way to the parade grounds and to the grandstands that surrounded it. The stands were already jammed with enthusiastic visitors, but we managed to find two empty seats.

It turned out that these were fantastic seats as we could see everything from our vantage point, including a surprise that occurred later in the show.

The opening ceremonies started with one group marching in to the riveting sounds of the pipes and drums. They marched in unison until they filled the middle of the parade grounds. As soon as the last marcher was in place, the opening at the rear of the parade grounds was filled with another group of marchers. And finally, a third group appeared from the top side of the parade grounds and maneuvered its way into the grounds to complete the entire ensemble. What an amazing sight they made.

The music and ceremonies proceeded with marches and dignitaries competing for the attention of the audience that had gathered there. However, all lost the attention when the Canadian Forces Hercules made a slow low pass from the lake, over the beach and trees and over the entire audience’s heads. The biggest surprise was the second pass that was ma! This time almost everyone had their cameras ready for the perfect shot. After the speeches were over, highland dances of all ages filled the parameters of the entire parade grounds.

They danced in unison to a lone piper. The ceremonies over and the crowds dispersing, the Gary  and I walked across the grounds to the beach to watch the herculean feats of the Cobourg Highland Games  “strong-men“… the caber tosses, heavy weights and more!

The shade of the tree lined boardwalk provided much relief from the growing strength of heat of the afternoon sun. As we made our way home, we stopped several times along the route to watch as several bagpipe and drum groups continued their playing and practicing. All to the delight of the many people who were fortunate enough to be passing by! Congratulations to the Cobourg Highland Games and their many dedicated volunteers! Here’s to the next 50 years! 

Cobourg Highland Games… More

Home At Last…


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

You could hear the pipes and drums a mile away! We were on the side of the road just outside Donegan Park and the Cobourg Highland Games.

A few minutes before we had stepped out of our front door and walked to the park. No long drive this time! We were waiting for the parade of the Massed Bands to reach us. Over the crest of the hill we saw flags waving. The music was getting louder.

I now know why enemy soldiers feared the Scottish fighters who followed the Pipes and Drums into battle. Slowly the procession advanced down the hill. The sight and sound was exhilarating. As they came closer, the music seemed to become more intense. The flag bearers passed, flags blowing in the wind.

Then came the bands! The pride and concentration on the faces of the players was inspiring. Bands from all over the region were placed together to form 2 massed bands. The Drum Majors leading the bands swaggered past us, backs straight, maces held proudly. Closely behind the bands were the Boy Scouts, marching to the rhythmic beat of the drums. Finally, the parade had passed. People following the parade swarmed to the festival entrances. Luckily we had purchased our wrist bands earlier. What a great way to start the 44th Annual Highland games and festival . Bring on the dancing girls…

The Highland Games…

After entering the festival grounds, we spied a large group of canvas shelters. On closer inspection, each was occupied by several girls dressed in traditional Highland Dance costumes. They were waiting for their turn on the dance stage.

The Highland Dancing competition was in full swing. The stands were full of eager parents and friends. Each time competitors took to the stage; there was a loud response from the appreciative crowd. There are five levels of Highland Dancing – Primary, Beginner, Novice, Intermediate and Premier. We were in time to watch the Beginners. The concentration and determination on these young competitors’ faces was inspiring. Each dancer wanted to show how well they had learned their lessons. From the dancing we moved across the park through a concession area.

This area housed mainly Clan booths and Scottish regalia. While we were looking at the booths, we heard a loud announcing the crowning of a new Knight. We decided to investigate. An unruly crowd was seated in the stands listening to the Medieval MC describe how a young noble could become a Knight of the realm.

The “Chosen One” (a boy from the crowd) was decked out in a Knights costume and then given the Royal treatment. After the Knighting, a young “Princess” and 2 “Lords” were drawn from the audience and costumed appropriately. Apparently both wanted the fair lady’s hand.

A challenge was issued and two Knights appeared ready to fight on behalf of his “Lord”. Swords in hand, a great fight ensued. The crowd loved it and cheered for their favourite. Finally, after much sword play, a winner was declared! The show was over, but the music beckoned…

The Highland Games Continued…

Next to the Medieval Knights was the refreshment tent. Aengus Finnan was on stage performing. Finnan is a well known local songwriter/singer who has worked tirelessly to promote Folk music and the Shelter Valley area.

He was born in Dublin, Ireland but raised in Shelter Valley. (just east of Cobourg). He was the founder of the Shelter Valley Folk Festival which is held each Labour Day weekend. Right next to the refreshment tent were the Heavy Events. There are two divisions, amateur and professional. Each division competes in several different events. The event include tossing a sheaf of hay over a bar using a pitchfork, Tossing a 56lb ball or block over a crossbar.

Throwing a big wooden pole (caber) into the air and hope if lands pointing away from you and not landing on your head! And, finally, Throwing a 56lb ball or block as far as possible. Both men and women compete separately. With all that said, this event is spectacular.

The strength and concentration needed to perform any of these feats is amazing. We watched the amateurs compete. I can only wonder how the professionals performed.

We heard a dog barking and followed the sound to the sheep…

Walking About the Highland Games…

We decided to take a walk around the festival grounds. In between the main staging area and the Heavy Competitions area were booths selling all kinds of items such as… jewelry, Teddy Bears dressed in Scottish outfits, souvenirs with clan names and Scottish costumes, all making the festival much more interesting.

From there we walked back towards the Highland Dancers. Part way there we saw a sign pointing to the sheep shearing compound. A heavily laden sheep was being held in an upright position between a man’s legs.

The man was describing how sheep had been sheared for centuries and that they needed to have this done to stay healthy. The clippers he was going to use were man powered. He asked for volunteers for the audience to turn the crank. Several boys and girls raised their hand and he asked them to come forward to help.

Each one in turn powered the clippers until the sheep was fully shorn. It was very interesting to see the shearing process, especially using the old fashion clippers.

On our right a Scottish Border Collie lay under its trailer waiting for a turn to herd the sheep.

From here we wandered towards the festival entrance. On our way we came across the livestock area. In one of the pens stood two magnificent Clydesdale Horses.

Another pen housed two Highland Cattle. Their shaggy coats glistening in the sun.

What a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Tired, but ready for our next adventure, we walked home from the Cobourg Highland Games.

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