ARARAT, Va. — One could be forgiven for mistaking the rolling hills of Ararat, Va., with those of Scotland Saturday.
The haunting sounds of bagpipes filled the air as Scotland’s sons and daughters converged on Laurel Hill, the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace, for the sixth-annual Scottish Highland Games.
An old-country athletic competition, this year’s Games featured a parade of tartans highlighting all styles of plaid, a gathering of clans, and — of course — kilts, bagpipes and other music and entertainment.
Always a crowd favorite, the heavy-athletics competition pitted brawny men in kilts throwing heavy wooden beams (known as the caber toss), stones and hammers.
Competitors say that while the events are more about brawn than teamwork, the athletes themselves have become something of an extended family.
“We really do enjoy these events,” a sweaty Shane Sutherland, of Charleston, S.C., said before he took his turn at the stone throw. “We tend to hang out together and then compete when the time comes.”
And these were no ordinary Joes participating.
Like Sutherland, competitors traveled hundreds of miles to turn out in Ararat.
“We compete up and down the East Coast,” he said. “But it’s more about having fun and challenging yourself than winning. The competition is great, but it’s all about fun.”
Which is easy for Sutherland to say. He won the stone throw event by hurling a 56-pound weight 35 feet, four inches.
This year’s parade of tartans, representing the different clans in attendance, featured a multi-colored tapestry of Scottish heritage. Representatives from clans with names like McAllister, Macmillian and Douglas were on hand, operating tents that offered interested attendees information about the clans’ families and their heritage.
Always a favorite, Saturday’s opening ceremonies featured not only the parade, but a performance of Greensboro-based Triad Highlanders Pipes and Drums. Vocalist Renee Henry also performed the Scottish, Irish and American national anthems during the opening ceremony.
This year’s Games also featured a petting zoo, vendors and crafts.
Laura Steere, from Ridgeway, Va., the operator of the petting zoo, said the event is one of her favorites each year.
“It’s just a lot of fun to let the kids play with the animals,” she said, looking over as a child brushed an alpaca. “These days, kids don’t have a lot of chances to get out and touch animals.”
One person who came out to the event for the first time said it won’t be his last time.
“I was intrigued by the whole process,” said Matt Edwards. “I’ve long been interested in Scottish heritage, and with something like this being right here in our back yard, I thought it was a good chance to come and check it out.
“I’ll certainly be back next year.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.