Bellingham Highland Scottish Games are Glen Winchester's cathedral

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 5, 2014 

Caber tossing? Hammer throwing? Haggis eating?

And why are the Bellingham Highland Scottish Games held in Ferndale's Hovander Homestead Park?

Glen Winchester can tell you more about the Scottish traditions in Whatcom County than nearly anyone else.

He and his family have been involved the Bellingham Highland Games for about 20 years. Winchester became president in 1999 and "retired" about six years ago to become the executive games director.

He says it takes about 20 full-time members of the Bellingham Highland Games Association to present the annual event, now in its 54th year, which takes place Saturday and Sunday, June 7-8.

And why are they called the Bellingham Highland Games if it happens in Ferndale?

The Highland Games started in 1961 at Battersby Field in Bellingham, Winchester says, and moved to Civic Field a few years later and then to Hovander Park in the early '80s.

"Each move was for more room and better spectator interaction with the events," he says.

"At Hovander, you can walk through the grass and watch the dancers or pipers or wander down to the athletics area," he says. "You can also browse through all of the vendors selling unique local and international items. And clan booths have people that would love to help you trace your lineage -and hopefully find you have a wee little Scottish blood in those veins.

"Hovander Park is wonderful for the games, and people that have been to Scotland say how much the park reminds them of being back in Scotland again."

The event features competitions in Highland dancing, solo bagpiping, pipe bands, drumming, athletics and kids' games. Competitors come from all over the Northwest; there have even been some from Japan, Australia and England, Winchester says.

It's a fun family destination, because once inside the gate, almost all of the events are free.

Winchester says a longtime favorite event is the massing of the bands at opening ceremonies, when all of the pipe bands gather together and march on the field playing as one large band.

"It's truly soul-stirring," he says, "and you need to get there before noon for a place since the field fills up fast with people just waiting for this wonderful event."

A popular athletic event is the caber toss. "These muscular giant men try to flip a 'telephone-pole' equivalent end over end," Winchester says.

There's also an ale and wine garden offering beverages from Whatcom County breweries and wineries.

Here's one of Winchester's favorite memories:

"One morning I got up early and most everyone was still sleeping. Off in the distance I heard a piper playing and walked towards the sound and saw a lone piper coming up out of the trees, walking through the early mist from the river, moving across the field, playing 'Amazing Grace.' I imagined that was what it was like years ago in the Highlands of Scotland."

COMING UP

What: 2014 Bellingham Scottish Highland Games

Where: Hovander Homestead Park, 5299 Nielsen Ave., Ferndale

When: Begins 5 p.m. Friday, June 6, with a free ceiligh (party). Festival hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 7, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 8.

Admission: $15 one-day for adults; $10 one-day for children 6 and younger and for seniors 60 and older.

Details: bellinghamhighland.org and Bellingham Scottish Highland Games on Facebook.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or margaret.bikman@bellinghamherald.com.

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