I like Pitlochry. It’s a small Victorian town in the middle of Scotland with not much more than its charm and its location to work with. It seems to be punching above its weight. There’s a festival theatre, a salmon ladder, mountain walks, the smallest distillery in Scotland, highland nights, the odd ceilidh, numerous cafes – one of which serves pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, and a whopping number of events.
I’d been jumping around all week talking about the highland games. I’d indulged in some puerile sniggering about caber tossing – is one called a caber tosser? But really, I was looking forward to something familiar, but in a more traditional setting. In Paeroa, New Zealand there are highland games once a year. It’s a huge event with pipe bands coming from around the country. People I’ve known my whole life organise it. It’s lovely; though I can’t remember the last time I went.
This one was at once similar, and remarkably different. It had the same events; the same banter over the tannoy, even the burger stall seemed to be selling the same things...though I’d imagine these days Paeroa would be selling something more exotic.
What was different was, of course, that this is Scotland. It’s not the offspring of the diaspora re-enacting the games. It has been going on since 1852. I don’t care what you Europeans think; that’s an awfully long time.
Small towns being what they are, virtually the first people I saw were ones I already knew. They, I’m quite sure, thought I was crazy to be quite so enthusiastic about the day. They’ve not known me long enough to know that I love a tradition, that I love to find out the history of events like this, that the idea of a community creating an event that has lasted for more than a century is astonishing. There were people from far away, that’s true, and probably none so from so far away as me, but it did feel like a local event.