You can’t have Highland Games without having the pipes and drums. A large array of bands had turned up to compete. There was a small arena in which they would perform their routine while a group of judges would walk around and score them on whatever is considered important in these competitions. The pipes would play, the drums would drum, they would change formation and the drummers would wave their sticks around. It was all good fun.
Teams had traveled from all over the place. Some had come from Canada. While they were waiting their turn, they would find a space nearby and run through their performance. It was often more fun to walk amongst the groups while they were doing this and see what they were up to. It is slightly more amusing to look at people dressed up in highland clothing – clothes that are designed for use in the Scottish climate – while they are in the California sun. I imagine they were roasting.
A focus of the Highland Games in Pleasanton was the traditional sports thought of when you use the term Highland Games and the most famous of these is tossing the caber. The event took place on the finish straight of the horse racetrack. Everyone stood in the grandstand while the athletes did their best on the track. (This did mean that the barrier was in the way of most of the shots.)
The guys taking part were some big fellas. The goal is to flip the pole end over end. They get a run up going – no mean feat while balancing a large pole by one end – and then heave it in to the air. The pole is tapered and they hold the thinner end so the thicker end hits the ground and, if there is enough momentum, the thinner end will arc up and over. This is not easy to do and the guys were having a lot of trouble. I think we came in at the end of the competition so probably missed some of the earlier (and presumably easier) throws. The celebration when they made it was something in itself. I don’t think I would like to get on the wrong side of any of these guys.
Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton are home to more than just the Alameda County Fair. They also held the Highland Games. This was a mix of Celtic sports and other rural activities from the UK. Part of that included some sheep dog trials. A variety of owners and their dogs took turns in herding a group of sheep around a variety of obstacles and in to a pen – all done against the clock. I love watching sheepdogs at work. They are so controlled in the way they move and keep the sheep where they want them. We have seen them in action for real while in the UK and they really do know what they are doing.
In a more controlled environment such as a show like this, things are a little different. There are people all around them and you can’t help but wonder whether the sheep are beginning to learn the routine after a while. Then again, I have crossed paths with sheep on the hills and they really are the dopiest of creatures so expecting them to learn is probably a stretch. My favorite pose for the dogs is when they are crouched down on the ground waiting for the next sign to move. They look so intent.