Sleepy Blairsville, GA seems like a really unlikely place to learn anything about Scottish heritage, but every summer for the last 17 years it has become *the* place for Scots to congregate and compete, drink and share Scottish fare during the Scottish Festival & Highland Games.
This is an absolutely fantastic way to spend an afternoon, even if you know next to nothing about Scottish heritage. You can learn about (and watch!) Highland Games, as well as meet a host of animals that play key roles in Scottish life, such as birds of prey who are used to hunt. On our visit we got to see a Harris hawk (left) and a red-tailed hawk (right), both who are common birds for use by falconers and austringers.
Since I am also keenly interested and involved in dog sports, I particularly enjoyed watching the sheep herding demonstrations. Border Collies are a Scottish breed and arguably one of the most important herding breeds as a foundation of many other herding breeds. Writings as early as the 16th century reference the flawless herding dogs who responded to their handlers by voice and whistle, and those same herding methods are still used today. It is absolutely amazing to watch these dogs combine their natural instincts with their impeccable training to accomplish complicated herding tasks.
While most would expect to find these dogs herding sheep, the truth of the matter is that these bright animals will herd pretty much any livestock – and even unruly children. One of the demonstrations included herding ducks, which would seem to be particularly difficult for anything other than the super-smart Border Collie.
I loved watching this particular dog work – he had a unique way of moving at a very low crawl. Even though he was barely moving above the ground, he had no problem moving quickly and maintaining agility.
Of course there were also sheep to herd – and at one point, there were four dogs on the field at once being handled by a single handler. If that sounds like chaos, remember that they are being controlled by whistles – a different whistle for left, right, hold – and that each dog has its own set of unique whistles that the handler has to remember! Sometimes I have a hard time remembering the name of the dog I’m yelling at, I can’t imaging keeping up with whistles for FOUR.
If you’ve got a summer afternoon to spare, I highly recommend making the trip to visit the games – you won’t be disappointed (even if you’re not into dog sports). There are so many activities to watch, vendors to visit, clans to learn about, and best of all, Scottish foods to eat!