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Stepping Out

Join in a Highland Fling

Everyone can be a Scot for the day at L.I. Scottish Festival


Old Westbury Gardens’ lush grounds will fill with the sounds of bagpipers as it welcomes the latest edition of the Scottish Festival and Highland Games. The annual spectacle, on Saturday, Aug. 24, brings a wee bit of Scottish flair to the storied estate, co-hosted by the Long Island Clan MacDuff.

With those bagpipes, traditional strength competitions and highland dancing — along with lively entertainment and assorted activities for lads and lasses — there’s plenty end of summer revelry for all ages at this family-friendly event. According to Scottish lore, the games were begun by the ancient highland chieftains to help them select the strongest men for their armies. Those ancient traditions continue today in the form of caber tossing, Putting the Stone, Putting the Sheaf, arm wrestling competitions, piping and drumming.

Long Island had once been home to five Scottish clans. Only Clan MacDuff remains today.

“We consider this to be like a gathering of the clans,” says Clan MacDuff’s Andrew McInnes, the festival’s committee chairman. “This is what they used to do in Scotland all those years ago. Groups of families would come together for games such as Putting the Stone and other various competitions and share food and companionship. We’re replicating that. People come from all over to meet their families here, bring a picnic and stay all day. Many come for a family reunion. It’s the end of summer, a good time for everyone to gather.”

Now in its 59th year, the event has evolved into popular family festival as much as a cultural event. “There really is something for everyone,” says McInnes. I always say ‘bring a blanket and a folding chair, find a shady tree and stay for the day. Consider this to be your home for the day’.”

While it has become a broad-based family fair, with birds of prey, a petting zoo, pony rides, an Britsh car parade, and even a parade, of Scottish dog breeds, those traditional elements continue to be a main attraction, especially the caber toss and pipe bands.

The caber is a long, tapered pine pole or log. The “tosser” balances it vertically by holding the smaller end and then runs forward and tosses it so that it turns in the air with the larger end striking the ground first. Ideally, the pole strikes in a strictly vertical position, and competitors are scored based on how closely the throw lands at a 12 o’clock position. The objective is to have the caber turn in the air and have the other end strike into the ground.

“The caber toss is always a big draw,” McInnes says. “We usually have 30 to 40 people involved, starting in the preliminary rounds and moving into the competition.

He notes that in recent years more and more “lassies” have joined the competition. “There was never significant interest until recently. “We’re pleased that women want to participate.”

Competitors also can try their skills at Tossing the Sheaf, and Putting the Stone. Tossing the Sheaf involves flinging a bale of hay over a horizontal pole with a large pitchfork. Putting The Stone, is similar to the traditional Olympic-style shot put, but uses a large stone in which the weight varies.

McInnes refers to the competition as the Heavyweight Games. “It takes a lot of strength to lift a pole that is 150 pounds and 25 feet long. We need strong people to do that.”

“And hurling a 16 pound stone [used in Putting the Stone} is not the for the faint of heart,” he adds.

While the games are going on, a lively lineup of bands and dance ensembles, including those assorted bagpipers, provide a musical backdrop. Three Scottish bands and two Irish bands will perform. “They add so much flavor to the festival,” says McInnes. “The opening ceremony at 12:30 is quite special [with a grand march down the North Lawn]. It’s truly impressive to see all the bagpipers marching together.”

This year’s entertainment roster also includes the Celtic rock band Bangers and Mash, with their blend of Celtic rock, southern Rock and folk; along with Scottish and Celtic dancers doing varied interpretations of traditional highland dance and step dancing.

Kids can find many activities just for them. They can try their skill at their own version of a caber toss, with light cabers (actually tubes), participate in sack races and an old-fashioned tug of war.

When it’s time for a break, check out the Scottish products available for purchase and sample such Scottish delights as meat pies and haggis.

And, as always, Scotland’s fascinating culture is showcased throughout the day at the Scottish Heritage tent and Clan tent, along representatives from St. Andrew’s Society and other organizations.

Long Island Scottish Festival and Highland Games

When: Saturday, Aug. 24, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. $20, $18 seniors, $8 children.

Where: Old Westbury Gardens, 71 Old Westbury Rd., Old Westbury. Free parking is available at Westbury High School, with shuttle bus service to and from the festival.(516) 333-0048 or www.oldwestburygardens.org or www.liscotsorg.