There was a certain amount of high anticipation on my part, along with my mother and daughter, as we attended our first Highland Games in Pleasanton, CA on Saturday. Upon first reflection, one would think…men in kilts…enough said. But nothing really prepared me for the whole experience that attending such an event would entail.
From the moment we arrived at the back gate and entered what at the time I didn’t know was the Living History area we were able to watch men in armor hacking away at each other with their swords. I can only imagine how hot they must have been given that the heat of the day at 10:30 in the morning was already reaching an unbearable 77 degrees!
Feeling a little overwhelmed with the area we were walking around, we stopped to watch two guardsmen (father and son) as they gave a demonstration of fighting with a rapier. I was so enthralled to actually be witnessing these men wield a weapon that it didn’t even occur to me to get out my darn camera. This was the beginning of what would be a day of research for me!
Meeting up with others from my local Romance Writers of America chapter, we walked around some of the areas including the grandstands and even watched a dog herding sheep for a while. Caber tossing…good grief…a Scottish tradition of tossing a log close to 19 feet long and weighing maybe 175 pounds end over end is no small feat and yet you can’t help but feel the elation of the crowd when it’s done right!
Deciding to branch off, we went back and forth to various areas until we found some shopping. My daughter had to buy some MacLaren shortbread that I swear tasted like this side of heaven. It’s hard to say if it may have tasted that good because one of my families in my stories just happened to be from clan MacLaren or because well…it just tasted so darn good. If you were in search of anything Scottish, you could find it there and we enjoyed browsing through all the vendor stalls.
Somehow our feet wandered back to the Living History area and personally I could have just stayed there all day. If you have never experienced a re-enactment guild then I highly recommend you see one at least once in your lifetime. These people were deep into their characters…and I mean deep! There were all walks of life from nobility, to guardsmen to Mary Queen of Scots, to serfs, to Vikings. Yes, it was all there before me like a little piece of paradise satisfying what my soul had been craving and it had just landed in my lap like a prize for the taking. All I had to do is reach out and grab it!
There is something to be said to be walking by a gentleman who gives you a courtly bow and calls you my lady. Yes, people, my heart was truly in heaven and I felt completely in my element. Everywhere I looked was a constant reminder of my own inner thoughts over the years of saying I was born in the wrong century. My books began calling to me even while I watched another demonstration from the St. Andrew’s guardsmen performing tactical maneuvers as its Captain moved his troop in various scenarios for our viewing pleasure. Hearing Gaelic for the first time kind of sends a thrill through you and I could only wonder if the man’s voice was hoarse after calling out his orders to his men after the day was over.
We also were able to witness a knighting and I honestly did not expect to see such a ceremony and all the steps that went along with it. I learned from my critique partner after she talked to one of the guards that the knighting wasn’t just for show. The man had earned the honor through his deeds to become a knight of St. Andrews. If anyone ever thought these people didn’t take these things seriously as they go about with their re-enactment, they would have learned differently that day.
No Highland Games would be complete without watching various bands and we did that too. One in particular was called Celtica that we sat and enjoyed: bagpipes and Rock and Roll – what a fantastic combination – who knew? They were so good my daughter is now the owner of both their cd’s.
Towards the end of the day, feeling completely wilted from the heat, we had one last chance to watch two young guards of St. Andrews practicing again. My camera clicked away even as I thought to myself: COVER ART! One, tall with long hair past his shoulders, reminded me completely of my character Aiden in my first manuscript If My Heart Could See You. I’m thinking his story may just have to be next. Watching the other gave me the impression of the son I named James to my characters Riorden and Katherine. They’re from my time travel For All of Ever. I already have visions of him in my head all grown up hopping through time as he goes to visit his mother’s modern friends and coming back to the 12th century with his booty: an arm load of Twinkies and Ho Ho’s for his two younger sisters. The mischievous young imp! Katherine will NOT be pleased…
Getting back to my mother’s that night, I sat down to enjoy a nice cold beer after being out in the scorching hot sun all day long and contemplated the day with a smile. I began to realize, as I finally had a chance to look over the program, just how much we still missed. We never got anywhere near some of the exhibits and more shopping opportunities. There was just so much to do and only so much time. *big sigh*
Men in kilts…yes my eyes were indeed happy today while I enjoyed watching those who partook and celebrated their Scottish heritage both young and old alike. Seemed like everyone was of Scottish descent while attending the festivities as even I claimed the right by marriage. Opening my laptop, the keys began to click and clack as I finally was able to get past the writer’s block I had been suffering from for the past couple of months on my latest work in progress. The Highland Games gave me that little extra push I needed to get me back into my story and was just what I needed.
I think my daughter and I may have left a little piece of our hearts back there in Pleasanton with those games. The only thing I could offer her the next day was an arts and wine festival. It wasn’t nearly as fun as the day before as we continued to think of handsome men in period costuming. I believe we’re going to be ruined for awhile but just think of the story lines we’ll be writing about in the months to come!
Next year…we go both days. Trust me when I tell you, one day just isn’t enough!