Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Highland Games in Inverness

As I noted previously, the Navigator wanted to go see a highland games while she was in Scotland. Here in Aberdeen, the games in Tomintoul. We agreed on the day before the games that we wanted to go, but when I contacted rental car companies, only one of them had an available vehicle, and it wasn't going to be ready until 3:00 PM - basically, we wouldn't have even gotten to Tomintoul in time. As we were trying to figure out what to do, I ran across this website. Looking chronologically, I discovered that Inverness - a mere two hours away on a train route that runs multiple times daily - was holding its annual City of Inverness Highland Games that day. The choice was obvious.

After grabbing breakfast, we narrowly caught the train, and enjoyed a leisurely ride to Inverness. From there, I drew on my brief experience in Inverness from a few months ago to get us quickly down to the fields. In fact, we were at the games before we could have gotten the rental car. We saw a bit of Inverness Stone tossing before walking further into a car park to have a look at some of the booths. I was a bit disappointed that there weren't any vendors - I realize that the vendors of Scottish paraphernalia in Scotland are literally available on the high street, but still! - but we did find a really cool exhibit of rescued birds of prey. You could pay £4 to hold one of the birds for a few minutes and get your picture taken with it, so I, of course, held the peregrine falcon, the varsity team captain of the assorted birds of prey.

From there, we made our way back to the main event. Navigator went to one of the chow trucks and got chips and cheese - a Scottish specialty, and I was quite proud of her for it! - and took a seat in the stands. We watched the hammer throw, and they had a dance floor with various Scottish dancers displaying their skills. There were foot races, and wrestling (which seemed to consist of a lot of throws). The main event that everyone goes to the highland games for is, of course, the caber toss. Navigator spotted the pile of cabers on the other side of the field, so we made our way over there and sorted out a couple of seats. We watched the high jump competition, which was near us, and watched the weight over the bar event from across the field. When they started taking the cabers to the side we'd come from, we moved and found a couple of seats.

Not unlike Jungle Recon's mustache (Warning: Extremely NSFW), the caber toss is synonymous with everything badass. I hate the Olympics, which I think is a colossal waste of money, a false spectacle of peace and understanding, and packed with worthless games; but as I watched the events of the highland games, and especially the caber toss, I thought to myself, "This is the kind of stuff they need to have on the Olympics." The caber toss requires a thrower to go from a standing position to a sort of squatting position, with the caber (a giant log) upright the whole time; then, they lift it from the bottom, using their shoulder to counter-balance it. At that point, they get a running start, toss it, and - if they've done it right - get it to flip over. If it doesn't flip, it doesn't count. Navigator was starting to get hungry, and it was turning from a warm day into a hot evening, so she set a cut-off: we would leave at 6:20 PM, or after the first successful caber toss, whichever came first. At about 6:18, after one caber had already broken in half and another had been cut down because it was just too heavy and long for any of the competitors to toss, one of the throwers finally got a flip, and we were on our way.

We had some time to kill, so we went to the Filling Station near the Inverness train station (after snapping a picture of a war memorial outside the train station that I'd missed my opportunity to get a picture of back in March, pictured above). We enjoyed, among other selections, an appetizer of fried haggis bites with sweet chili sauce - not exactly what you'd expect at an "American" restaurant, but delicious just the same. We arrived at the train station just in time for the 8:00 train, only to find that the 8:00 train apparently didn't exist. (The train schedule brochures are actually kind of tough to read.) With another hour and a half to kill, we decided to take a stroll and find a pub on the River Ness. We were unable to find any available outdoor seating, but found a great spot inside the Columba Hotel, where we were shortly joined by a fetching young DJ playing some great tracks from the 1980's. After a gin and tonic and a chat with the DJ about how great the music in the 1980's was, we were back up the hill to catch the 9:30 train.

Once aboard the train, we were joined in short order by a big group of drunken chavs, who were allegedly serving troops in the British Army. They were rowdy, and one guy in particular was doing a lot of singing - mainly faux African hits from pop culture, such as Circle of Life from The Lion King - and both Navigator and I found it entertaining enough to record clips on our phones. With a bit of deterrent supervision by a transport police officer (and following a couple of lectures and a booze confiscation by the train's conductor), the lads departed. Navigator and I had a nice, somewhat sporadic conversation until late in the trip, when we were joined by another group of drunken chavs from Inverurie who promptly poured a bottle of "Fanta" - they admitted that it was mostly vodka - into a couple of huge cups. Apparently, Scottish law has recently changed to prohibit the consumption of alcoholic beverages on trains after 10:00 PM. That original constable, now joined by a second constable, immediately knicked one of the lads. Apparently they'd all lied to the copper about their beverage's alcohol content when coming onboard the train. The guy who got picked up was very distraught, but it was tough to feel too bad for him.

Once we'd arrived back in Aberdeen, Navigator and I made our way back home as quickly as we could in order to get rested up for the next day. We had a pretty big agenda for Sunday, to match our big agenda for Saturday.

1 comment:

  1. FYI, there is no groundwork in Scottish backhold wrestling, and you lose if you let go of your grip, so that explains why there were a lot of throws. There's just not a whole lot else you can do from that position to get a guy down.