Scotland · Travel

Scotland Trip: Day 2 – North Berwick Highland Games

At half past four in the morning, the alarm rang in the flat in Edinburgh in which we were staying. Only Jacqueline responded, and went out without disturbing the rest of us for her much-anticipated morning run up Arthur’s Seat, a steep mountain in the middle of the city. She came back with gorgeous sunrise photos and tales of the many drunk festival goers still wandering the streets. As the rest of us were waking up, Jacqueline was at the car rental office at the train station ironing out details for the rest of the trip. She returned to the flat as the rest of us were showering and getting ready for the day ahead.

We walked down the street towards the train station, stopping at a small café for a selection of buns and rolls for breakfast. Once navigated down to the station concourse, we bought our tickets and found the platform in the rather confusing station. We were heading to North Berwick, a small town on the coast to the east of Edinburgh. On this particular Saturday, North Berwick were hosting their annual Highland Games, and we were going along to catch in on all of the festivities.

The train ride was half an hour, rolling along the hill above the sea. When we were pulling into North Berwick, we could see various islands sticking up out of the sea as large rock outcrops. The station itself, while lacking any main supporting buildings, was beautifully decorated in train-themed flower pots. There was a shuttle bus from the station to the Highland Games, but we opted to walk through the centre of town to look at the many small shops and cafés. On the far side of town, we walked up a hill past a golf links course to reach the Games, hosted at the local rugby and cricket club.

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It took a little bit of work to find the entrance; the roadway was filled with coaches and people milling around in kilts practicing their bagpipes and drumming. Once inside, and armed with a program, we went straight to the dog agility display, but only manage to catch the second half. There were about a dozen dogs, all of different breeds, going through obedience exercises and then running the hurdles in an obstacle course.

Once the display was over, we wandered over to the Highland Dancing tent. Here, there was a stage with a dozen dancers, mostly girls, who were performing a jig around a sword and scabbard laid out in a cross pattern on the floor. All were wearing kilts and loose corsets in the traditional Scottish style. Ages ranged from about 5 to over 20. Some short distance away sat an older woman at a table, staring at the dances intensely and then making notes on the page in front of her. This was a serious competition, and the performers were being judged on their technique. After the group had finished, they left the stage, and another group would come on to perform the dance again. Each group got studied by the judge, but we didn’t stay long enough to understand the full details of the competition.

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The next event to watch was the series of heavy events. We stood at the fence for a while waiting for it to start, and Annalise and Krittika went off to explore a little. At a Highland Games, the heavy events are strong-man and strong-woman events, all performed in kilts. At North Berwick, there were a dozen guys and three girls, not just from Scotland, but from as far as Poland and Canada. The first event, which we watched in the entirety, was the Scots-style Hammer Throw. Unlike the Olympic hammer throw, in the Scots style, the feet do not move throughout the throw. The hammer is essentially a sledgehammer, with a heavier head. It was a tight competition, the lead changed several times and the event was only won on the last throw. Jacqueline and I stayed for the subsequent shot put event, while the other two went exploring again.

After the shot put, we decided it was time to find some lunch, and so wandered around the venue. I ended up having a pulled pork bun with apple sauce and a sausage roll, followed by a bag of doughnuts for dessert. We found the other two again in a portable grandstand watching the pipe band competition. This was probably the most prestigious part of the whole day, as groups had come from around the world to show of their bagpipe skills. Group by group, the bands would march into the ring, stand in a circle and perform their piece, then march out again. There were four judges, one marking the drummers, two marking the bagpipes, and one marking the ensemble. However, they didn’t tell us the scores, so it was all somewhat arbitrary to us.

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The time had come to leave North Berwick. Ideally, we would have stayed longer to see the top pipe bands and the caber tossing, but we needed to be back in Edinburgh to pick up our hire car. We walked along the beach back to the train station, stopping briefly at a pet shop for Annalise to pick up some souvenirs for her upcoming trip back to New Zealand. Soon enough, we were on a train and before we knew it, back in the railway station at Edinburgh.

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We found our way to the hire care office in the car park at the station, and picked up the keys to the vehicle. We would be leaving the car in the car park overnight as we planned to pick it up early the next morning; before the office would have been open. Stuck with a few hours of free time, we searched the internet for suggestions for food. Krittika found a cocktail bar and restaurant a few minutes walk away, and so we headed for it. As a Fringe venue, it looked busy from the outside, but we were able to get a table in the restaurant. I had a gourmet beef burger, others had some gourmet ravioli and chicken.

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Annalise left early to find some food more to her taste, and the rest of us followed shortly after. We made our way to a theatre in the New Town, which was hosting the Fringe show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Jacqueline, Annalise and I queued up inside early while Krittika waited outside for Megan to join us, whose bus had been running late owing to the craziness of the Fringe. They later joined us inside, and we managed to get front row seats in the large, 750 person theatre.

The show was based directly from the now decades old television show by the same name. There was one host, Clive Anderson, with four improv comedians on stage performing a series of short skits, based on audience suggestions. In rotation tonight was Greg Proops (from the original run of the show), Mike McShane, Josie Lawrence and Cariad Lloyd There were numerous skits as in the show, probably the most amusing being one where two comedians play out a scene faux speaking a foreign language, and the other two provide a comedic  dubbed translation in English. The language chosen was Welsh, which Cariad knew how to speak.

Halfway through the performance, Clive, the host, came looking for volunteers from the audience. I had my hand up, and he came and chose me and Annalise from the front row. He brought us up onto the stage and handed us each a microphone. He explained that I would be providing the sound effects for Greg Proops, and Annalise would be providing the sound effects for Cariad. The scene was to be two police officers arriving at a house for a raid.

The first challenge was when they attempted to radio HQ, but I didn’t know what to say so I made a crackling sound into the microphone. Next, they tried to get out of their car, which meant imitating car door noises, which Annalise and I both took vastly different approaches to. Outside the car, they found dogs and a snake, which meant barking and hissing. Next, Greg tested his gun, which meant making the locking and loading sounds, but I preemptively made him shoot his gun. He fired it a few more times, but the noises I made made it sound like he emptied his cartridge. They went and listened to the door, after which I called ‘help’ from behind the door. Next, they tried to call for back-up, but they claimed Annalise’s phone sounded like an 80’s rotary phone. So Cariad claimed that she had an iphone, which she was ‘going to play music on’, which forced Annalise into singing. Finally, Greg knocked down the door, which meant making a crashing noise and I made a soft miaowing sound from inside, which he said indicated a ‘sad cat’. Finally, he wanted to call out with his bull horn, but I heard the words ‘fog horn’, and made a fog horn sound instead. He tried again, narratively explaining how he was going to use his bull horn to call into the house. I cottoned on and made him call out to “come out with hands up”, after which Clive ended the skit and we left the stage to the applause of the crowd.

But the night wasn’t over yet. A little later on, Clive came to the audience again asking for another, female, volunteer. Jacqueline had her hand up, and got picked, even though she was sitting next to me and I had already been on stage. She walked up onto stage and sat on a stool in the middle of the stage. Clive explained that Mike McShane would improvise a song to her. He asked a few questions to Jacqueline, querying where she was from, what she was studying, what her hobbies were and what she would like to do in the future, which she said was to fly around the world. Clive told Mike to sing a rock ballad using the responses to her questions, to which he happily obliged. Jacqueline relished in being on stage, and mimed responses to his song. He ended by singing about flying around the world, to which Jacqueline put her arms out like a plane and spun around on her chair. All finished, she thanked him and left the stage to come back and join us. There were only three opportunities for audience members to be on stage among the 750 people in the theatre, and as a group we had snagged all three.

Once the performance was over, we left the theatre and went to a Thai restaurant and had a few more bites to eat. Annalise, Krittika and Megan went out to a speak-easy bar, but Jacqueline and I were really very tired, and opted to head back to the flat. The others followed later, having gone out for some deep-fried Mars Bars later in the evening.



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