Who can resist the wee, wee waggle of the kilt?
Pluff Mud Chronicles
By Prioleau Alexander and Charles W. Waring III
Charleston’s Scottish Games now take place in November, an event where Heidi and I have been regulars for many years. As I recall, the wretch and Rob Salvo were manning a Charleston Mercury VIP tent at my first games.
It was at my second games when my Scottish pride got the best of me — well, that and a couple Scotch whiskies — and I decided it was time to immerse myself fully in the proud heritage of Clan McAlister. I strode into the tent where they offered custom kilts and announced my need for one in my clan’s tartan.
I was measured and presented a bill. After looking at the bill, I wondered if I’d bring shame to my clan by fashioning a kilt out of an old bedsheet. I asked the vendor if the price was in U.S. dollars or perhaps some Celtic money where “500” equaled, like, $125 USD. Much to my dismay, the price was in dollars, and I left wondering if my debit card would crack under the weight.
After securing my kilt, the following games were far more enjoyable; I wasn’t a tourist… I belonged there! Slowly I acquired all the accoutrement needed to achieve the true-Scotsman look, and every year was more festive as I strode the grounds, eating haggis, sipping Scotch and feeling like William Wallace.
One year Heidi and I ventured up to Grandfather Mountain for their games, where I ran once again into the wretch, fully adorned in his MacRae clan’s mufti. I was greatly looking forward to these games, as Charleston’s games used to be held in early September, when the heat index settled in at about 94-degrees … not exactly wool kilt and woolen socks weather. Grandfather Mountain was going to allow for “cool Scottish weather,” and Heidi and I would explore the games in comfort.
We arrived at the games, and the weather was miserable. Cold, windy, foggy, with a drizzly rain falling all day. Spying the wretch in the crowd, I asked what he thought about the weather, and he responded, “This is fine Scottish weather!” It occurred to me he was right. It also occurred to me how happy I was my ancestors left that dreadful country.
Years later, Heidi and I traveled to England for a church conference, and a week was set aside to visit Scotland. I had grand visions of sitting “with me ancestral blokes” in a pub and conversing about life in the Highlands. I considered taking my kilt, but since we were backpacking, the additional 12-pounds of wool didn’t make the cut.
After about a day, I realized my vision of chatting with “me blokes” was simply a dream. First, I didn’t understand a word anyone said for all seven days. Second, as soon as “me blokes” heard an American accent, they wanted to beat me up.
I didn’t let that ruin our time there, and we made a pilgrimage to the “village of Glenfinnan on the banks of Loch Shiel,” a must for every fan of the movie Highlander. From there we drove north all the way to Fort Wallace, which is pretty much the end of the road. That evening we popped into a pub and found the entire place packed with football hooligans watching what appeared to be a very important match. Every head in the place turned to size me up and ogle my bride. There were exactly zero other women present. I whispered to Heidi, “follow me.”
We sauntered to the bar, and I informed Heidi of the situation: “The only reason we’re at the bar right now is because I’m a man, and I my pride couldn’t let those 80 maniacs sense my fear. The wise move would’ve been for us to run out the door screaming. We’re going to have one beer — consumed as quickly as possible — we’re then going to walk slowly to the door. Once outside, we’re going to stroll casually to our lodge, then barricade the door.”
When the time came to head back to London, we made our way south to the border, and stopped at a B&B. We chatted with the owner, who asked if we enjoyed the Highlands. We both gushed about their beauty, and the uniqueness of the experience.
“Wonderful!” she said. “Most people don’t get to see them.”
“Who could come to Scotland and not drive up to see the Highlands?” I asked.
“They do, but they can’t see them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean they literally can’t see them. The whole region is usually covered in fog and rain.”
I later found out that Mel Gibson’s film Braveheart had to be filmed in Ireland, for this exact reason.
I would, of course, recommend any Charlestonian attend the Scottish games at some point — there’s fun, food, libations, huge men throwing telephone poles and an annual event where a shepherd demonstrates his dogs herding sheep and then repeats the process using ducks. Perhaps best of all, you can enjoy a wee taste of Scotland surrounded by intelligible people who don’t want to beat you up.
I am Angus, not Charles, as I have written about Scottish games and so forth for many years as Angus Hamilton McCord Calhoun MacRae. I once started poking around in my mother’s genealogy papers and found I was related to more than a few clans; eventually I chose two of them and added them to a pair from my father’s side to form my Scottish nom de plume. Long before I was Angus and wearing the MacRae hunting tartan, I had swerved into my great grandmother’s autobiography and a few articles about her love for all things Scottish and her Clan Mar roots on her father’s side. Then, I heard the rumors about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s sword and somehow that great grandmother Daisy was connected to it. All this took place about the time I went to my first Grandfather Mountain Highland Games with a cadre of very festive sorts and then attended my first banquet of the St. Andrew’s Society with 500 of Charleston’s finest. So, just a bit less than 30 years ago, we had a motivated wretch who was glad to wear the plaid.
I must say that my first association with the games was not at all that interesting but weird for reasons of proximity. The year was something like 1974, and I was hunting deer with my late father in the eastern section of Middleton Place, now known as the Woodlands Nature Reserve. In what should have been quiet countryside, I kept hearing some strange sounds and then my father explained that I was hearing someone announcing this and that for the Scottish Games across the road. Fast forward to college and there was a group of guys at Sewanee called the Highlanders, and they wore kilts at the football games and seemed to enjoy a good time. After I earned my last credits to graduate at a summer program at Oxford, I went up to Aberfeldy in the Scottish Highlands with my father and John Daughtridge to chase the red grouse. I saw a world that was hard not to love. I’ll save my Scottish travel, fishing and hunting stories for another day, but let’s be rather clear that I was “all in” every moment I visited Scotland.
On this side of the pond, the clans do a respectable job of continuing various traditions that are a bit odd for the average citizen to appreciate, but you can take it to the bank that all the ladies love men in kilts. The most average chap becomes a wee bit Sir Sean Connery when donned in his clan’s dashing tartan. Those not part of the traditions of Scottish attire often needle those who embrace the wee, wee waggle o’ the kilt — with apologies to Sir Harry Lauder — and ask what is worn under it. Every good Scotsman knows there is but one right answer: “Woot do ya mean by worn, laddie? All is in fine working order.”
Prioleau is wise to mention the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, which really come close to being the real deal when the temps are cool in July in the WNC Highlands. The mood is set when you have a car full of friends in Highland attire who are listening to something authentic such as Will Fyffe (“I Belong to Glasgow”) or the pipes while zipping around curves climbing up to Linville. If you have friends with a tent at the games, you are in a better position to enjoy the event, but most clans are quite hospitable … unless you are asking Clan Donald about Clan Campbell (see Massacre of Glencoe, 1692). The people-watching experiences are legendary; strong personalities often express themselves in dress in ways that defy explanation, though most attending are simply sporting a kilt or something Scottish. Blue face paint was in at the games for a few years after “Braveheart,” but even Mel Gibson has a shelf life. Those going overboard are known as committing “Brigadoonery,” which you may look up online and enjoy for a good laugh.
At the very least, you may learn about the history of various clans and enjoy hearing the pipes and various Scottish entertainers. Scottish dancing is another option, and the heavy athletic competitions are fun to view as well. You might get pulled into a tug-of-war contest with your clan but beware of competing against the late Baron Fain’s Clan Douglas; they always had a network of big chaps who looked like they ate Englishmen for breakfast. If you are looking for a piece of the Highland outfit, you will find vendors with lots of options. I have always appreciated making new friends through networking at Grandfather Mountain with one of my clans and having a chance to hear authentic Celtic music while having a sip of fine Scotch, taking in a breeze with highs in the low 70s and looking at spectacular mountain views. Those moments are rare, but they are engraved into my Stone of Scone of Highland experiences. Pray for good weather for the Charleston Games and memorable times for one and all.
If we had space, we’d tell more, but there will be more space and more stories in the 32nd month of the Charleston Mercury Newsletter, available only by subscription by going to our website. The wise participants will receive the feature “Crab Pot” — where the liveliest parts of the “Pluff Mud” bubble over to tantalize all. To make sure you don’t miss out on all the action, subscribe today to the digital Charleston Mercury Newsletter.
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51st Annual Charleston Scottish Games
By Angus Hamilton McCord Calhoun
This year’s games will be held Nov. 5 at Riverfront Park in North Charleston. For all the reasons noted in our nearby article, do dive into this festive event. To inquire about tickets, visit www.charlestonscottishgames.com.