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Dancers, athletes kick up heels at Whidbey Highland games
If it weren’t for a few sensory clues, people in Greenbank may have felt like they had taken a step back in time Saturday.
The blare and honk of bagpipes was one big hint. They could be heard from Greenbank Farm’s parking lot. Another was the kilts. In combinations of blue, red, green, black, yellow, pink and purple, they were everywhere and rightfully so in the context of the Whidbey Island Highland Games held Aug. 10.
Whidbey’s annual homage to all things Scottish — music, food, games, dance, attire — was rife with highland life.
“This is like village Scotland,” said Karen Shelton-Johnson, the chairwoman of the games Highland dance competition. “This is more like being in the country; it’s warm and friendly.”
The games drew people from across Washington and even beyond the international border with plenty of Canadians making the journey south to compete in weight tossing, Highland dancing, archaic sword fighting, bagpiping and of course, caber tossing.
Grunts and yells could be heard throughout the morning as modern-day Highlanders competed in various athletic events, including weight over the bar, weight throw, hammer throw and stone put.
A family from Overland Park, Kan., made the stop one of its last before returning to the Midwest. The three Lindsey children — Graeme, 16, Quinn, 14, and Piper, 10 — took a special liking to the edgier activities like axe throwing. The siblings lined up about 12 feet away from three different tree rounds for targets and hurled their axes.
“When we saw this 4,000 miles away, we thought, ‘Why not?’” said Susie Scott, their grandmother.
Graeme had the best toss of the three, sinking the axe head into the round several times, while Quinn managed just a few. Their sister, Piper, however, only hit her mark once.
Though a bit anachronistic, a few sword fighters stretching from 10th-century viking to 14th-century knight donned their helms and armor and clashed for spectators. Only one of the warriors came as a Scottish knight. After one bout, Wayne Wright of Bellingham grabbed his side, wincing as he removed his helmet.
“It does hurt,” Wright said. “It is exhausting in there.”
Once the fighters opened the ring to children, the line instantly grew 10 deep. Several of the would-be warriors came straight from the Highland dancing competition, many of them girls still wearing their kilts and competition number, and tried their hand at sword play.
Highland dancing ran all day at the games, from 9 a.m. until the closing around 5 p.m. The traditional dances started with beginners and featured world-class Highland dancers in the afternoon. For the beginners, performing on stage was a true delight.
“It’s really fun to be in competitions and get prizes,” said Flora Cummings, 9, of Lake Forest Park.
Flora, her 6-year-old sister Elinor, mom Judith Cummings and dad Dale Cummings later performed as the Fiddle Fitted Cummings. Judith Cummings, a Scotland native, said similar events back home are much larger and she enjoyed the Whidbey games for its toned-down nature.
“It’s a lot smaller and more intimate,” Cummings said.
Wares were plentiful, from flags with Scottish family seals and crests to fully-functional handcrafted longbows.
Vendors reported decent traffic and sales, said Highland Games Director Jessica Larson. At one point, the ATM machine needed to be refilled at Greenbank Farm (most of the food vendors and the beer garden, which opened at 10:30 a.m., accepted only cash).
About 2,000 people came through ticket entrance for the event, an uptick from previous years.
"The numbers have been slowly increasing over the years," Larson said.
"The sunny weather, I think, helped."
Next year, the Highland games leadership will look at finding more space for the athletic events, Highland dance competition and the main stage.
"As we get more people showing up, we're trying to make sure we add events next year," Larson said.