Bill Leslie's Carolina Conversations

Grandfather Mountain Highland Games

Posted July 9, 2009

How many of you have been to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games? What were your impressions? Please share your experiences. I will be heading up to Linville tomorrow to help emcee the 2009 games. It’s something I look forward to every year. In the book Blue Ridge Reunion I wrote about my very first encounter with the Grandfather Mountain games as a child. I am attaching watercolor images of Grandfather Mountain. My father painted these pictures in the 1960’s.

I would love to hear your stories about Grandfather Mountain. Here is mine.

I recall the haunting strain of bagpipes in the distance and the huffing and puffing of runners on the road in front of us. Our 1957 Chevy was moving at a snail’s pace. We were stuck in a mountain traffic jam. My father had failed to check the schedule. This was the weekend of the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain.

As a child all I wanted to see was the Mile High Swinging Bridge as advertised on television. My father just wanted to be in the quiet beauty of the High Country. My mother simply desired a cool respite from the heat and humidity of Morganton. As a family we took several trips to Grandfather Mountain. This favorite tourist destination has a tremendous “wow” factor even more so today with its handsome environmental museum and upgraded wildlife exhibits.

Still, the view at the top is what really grabs you. You feel like you’re on top of the world at Grandfather Mountain. The swinging bridge is a thrill in itself but I dearly love the hiking trails of Grandfather Mountain with their steep twists and turns and demanding ladder climbs. Grand views await those hearty enough to finish. Today my family continues to enjoy hiking here. I often kid my children Lauren and Will that the only reason they wanted to study at Appalachian State University was to be near Grandfather Mountain.

I became close friends with the late owner of Grandfather Mountain, Hugh Morton. In 1992 Morton told me he never felt like the owner of the mountain but more like the legal guardian. He said: “I don’t think I’ll get to heaven if I ever do anything to desecrate this mountain.” Morton could have made an immense fortune developing this mountain but by granting conservation easements to thousands of acres he has protected the natural beauty of the area for generations.

I have the pleasure of returning to Grandfather Mountain every summer to hear those bagpipes again on MacRae Meadows. I put on my Leslie kilt and help emcee the annual Highland Games in July. In 2002 I performed in the Highland Games with my Celtic fusion band Bragh Adair.

I traveled to Scotland for a WRAL Television news series titled “Tar Heel Tartans” in which we looked at North Carolina’s rich Scottish heritage. I interviewed dozens of people in Edinburgh, Inverness, Culloden, Aberdeen and on the Isle of Skye. The consensus was clear. If you want to see the best Highland Games in the world, complete with Celtic pageantry, powerful athletes, graceful dancers, highly skilled musicians and a knock-your-socks-off view you go to one place: Grandfather Mountain in Linville, NC.


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  • donnaaa Jul 10, 2009

    Don't miss David Ross or Albannach if they are there this year. O'migoodness!

  • stephoney Jul 9, 2009

    I grew up in Foscoe and my parents still live there. Every summer growing up we could hear the sound of the bagpipes coming from Grandfather. As a "Mc" I was always treated kindly by the visitors who came from all over to the Highland Games. My claim to Scottish heritage may stem more from these nostalgic memories of where I grew up than from bloodline.

  • bleslie Jul 9, 2009

    grichardson: Hello Morgantonian!

    hppyhourhero: good luck on The Bear! That's a tough run! Are you doing the marathon Saturday?

  • hppyhourhero Jul 9, 2009

    I am heading up this afternoon and running "The Bear" tonight...The 5 mile run up to the summit of G.M....Let Games Begin!!!

  • grichardson05 Jul 9, 2009

    In the early eighties, while visiting my parents in Morganton, I attended the Sunday morning worship service held at the Highland Games. One thing that sticks in my mind was the singing of Amazing Grace accompanied by bag pipes. My favorite hymn, a beautiful setting, wonderful people followed by time with my family. What more could I need for that day. Now that my parents have passed, the memory is more precious than ever.

  • bleslie Jul 9, 2009

    Thank you for sharing your poignant story Glomae.

  • Glomae Jul 9, 2009

    Visiting Grandfather Mountain always awes me. As a young child on my first trip to the mountains, I remember seeing Mildred the Bear and walking across the swinging bridge. I haven't walked the bridge in years! Guess I am a little "chicken" now that I have gotten older.

    On a sad note, the mountain holds a somber place in the hearts of my family. While enjoying her anniversary with her husband, my cousin slipped and fell off one of the cliffs. Sadly, she didn't survive the fall. It just reminds us all to cherish each moment that we are given and appreciate all of God's wonderful creation.

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