42nd NH Highland Games & Festival celebrates Scottish traditions, food, music and athletics

Hafthor “Thor” Björnsson, aka “The Mountain” in The HBO Series ‘Game of Thrones’ to return for this year’s games

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Festival attendees can immerse themselves in scottish food and beverage. New to this year’s games, The NH Highland Brews & Bites.

CONCORD, NH­ – Known as the largest Scottish cultural event in North America, the 42nd annual NH Highland Games & Festival will be held at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, NH from Friday, September 15, to Sunday, September 17, 2017. The NH Highland Games & Festival is one of the most diverse Highland Games in North America, showcasing rich history and Scottish traditions through piping, food and drink, athletics, dance, and musical offerings.  

A fan favorite, Hafthor “Thor” Björnsson, known for his portrayal of Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in the HBO series ‘Game of Thrones,’ will return for this year’s games. Thor will try to break his record in the Loon Stone Carry Challenge on Sunday afternoon. There will be an official autograph and photo session with Hafthor on Friday, September 15, from 2:30 pm to 4 pm.

Björnsson began competing in Strongmen competitions after an ankle injury ended his professional basketball career. He currently holds the World Record for the 56lb Weight Over Bar Competition with a height of 19’4”. He was the runner up in the Arnold Classic in 2017 and the winner of WoW Stronger. In 2014, 2015, and 2017, Björnsson claimed the title as Europe’s Strongest man.

Learn about the Scottish culture – no passport required

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Dancers will compete in Highland and National dances, including the Sword Dance, Highland Fling, Sailor’s Hornpipe, and Flora MacDonald’s Fancy. World-class dancer Laura Donlan will be teaching a free Highland Dance class on Friday and Sunday during the festival.

More than 65 Scottish clans will attend the Clan Village, where festival goers will learn more about Scottish heritage specific to individual clans. Each year, one is chosen as the festival’s Honored Clan. The Honored Clan distinction is based upon how many years the clan has participated in the festival, the visual quality of its booth display, and how hard they work to promote the festival. Whether the clan hosts an Annual General Meeting is also taken into consideration. The Honored Clan this year is Clan Donald, one of the oldest and most famous Highland clans, and the world’s largest. Its motto in Latin is “Per Mare Per Terras” or in Gaelic “Air Muir s’Air Tir” meaning “By Sea By Land.”

NEW this Year

The NH Highland Brews & Bites: A Beer Pairing Dinner is new to the schedule this year, and will be held at the Mountain Club on Loon Saturday at 5:30 pm. This dinner features two Innis and Gunn beers (both aged in oak barrels) and from three local breweries: Moat Mountain Brewing Co (North Conway), Great North Aleworks (Manchester), and Smuttynose Brewing Co. (Hampton). Appetizers and other complementary menu items will be served. This event is sponsored by Amoskeag Beverages and is a separate ticketed event – not included in festival general admission.

Try-it classes, educational seminars, and workshops will occur throughout the weekend, where attendees will learn about specific aspects of Scottish history and culture. Try-it classes are free and will be available for five hours each day. Opportunities this year include bagpiping, stone lifting, dancing, fly fishing, cooking demonstrations and more:

  • Glasgow’s Gary Maclean will be giving daily cooking demonstrations at the Season’s Restaurant at the Mountain Club on Loon.  The 45-year-old Maclean has won numerous national and international culinary competitions. His most recent successes include winning MasterChef: The Professionals, in 2016, where he battled 47 other professional chefs during the 7-week competition. Maclean will also be hosting separate dinner events in other parts of New Hampshire in the week leading up to the festival. 
  • Learn about fly fishing in Scotland and see a demonstration of Spey casting. Spey casting is a fly-casting technique that evolved in Scotland in the mid-1800s and is named after the river Spey – one of Scotland’s premier salmon rivers. The technique is particularly useful when fly fishing where there is little or no room behind the caster.
  • World-class dancer Laura Donlan will be teaching a free Highland Dance class on Friday and Sunday during the festival. All ages are welcome to participate and learn the historic tradition.
  • Professional stone lifter Martin Janscics will introduce visitors to the challenge of strength and skill involved in lifting heavy stones.
  • Nothing is more closely associated with Scotland than the bagpipes. This year at the Games, visitors will have an opportunity to try piping under the guidance of Lezlie Webster, an award-winning Scottish Highland piper and a Games piping competition judge. 
  • Burgess Hay, a Scottish bagpipe maker will be presenting, “Burgess”- Bagpipes Explained, Come Listen & Try. He will be sharing three types of pipes: Scottish Small Pipes, Border Pipes, and Great Highland Bagpipes.
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Athletes from the US, Canada, Iceland, Scotland and Europe will be competing at the Games in competitions such as Caber Toss, Weight Over Bar, Weight for Distance, Sheaf Toss, Hammer Throw, and Loon Stone Carry. Hafthor “Thor” Björnsson will try to break his record in the Loon Stone Carry Challenge on Sunday afternoon.

Additional ongoing activities include the kilted mile race, open to walkers and runners of all ages and abilities. Registration will take place at the starting line on Sunday afternoon. Attendees will experience the rich history of Scotland by watching reenactments in the Living History section of the festival. Visitors can browse and shop the Vendor Village featuring over 30 vendors selling Scottish goods including kilts, bagpipes, balmorals, and more.

The Games include events such as the highly-anticipated sheep dog trials on Friday morning, as well as pipe, drum, dance, and athletic competitions. Other cultural offerings include whisky and beer tastings, musical performances, and pageantry. Returning entertainment for the games this year include Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Albannach, both known for their eclectic musical performances, and many other performers whose music spans traditional Scottish to “bagrock” – a combination of bagpipe and rock music.

In addition to music on the festival stages, the Games feature Massed Bands on Saturday and Sunday with over 30 pipe bands marching onto the parade grounds to perform in unison. Back as the featured guest pipe band this year is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Pipe & Drum band, a group comprised of active RCMP members and citizen volunteers. The group was the featured guest pipe band in 2012.

The festival offers a youth program that includes crafts, storytelling, athletic games, and demonstrations of music and dance. Through the Passport Program, Children can collect passport stamps when they visit different festival venues.  On Sunday, children are invited to march and show their Scottish pride during the Parade of the Bairns.

Personal Stories

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Hafthor “Thor” Bjornsson of Game of Thrones fame will make an appearance.

Scottish Heavy Athletics will be on full display featuring athletes from the United States, Canada, Iceland, Scotland, and other European countries. Athletes will take part in competitions such as the Caber Toss, Hammer Throw, Weight over Bar, and Stone Carry. Highland Games athletes come from a diverse range of backgrounds. In addition to Hafthor “Thor” Björnsson, participants include:

  • Jamie Gunn, competing in the United States for the first time at this year’s Games. A fourth generation Highland Games thrower from Scotland, Gunn grew up watching his father, a world champion in Heavy Events, and began competing when he was 16 years old. The 25-year-old Gunn was the Scottish Under-25 Champion in 2013 and 2014.
  • Chuck Kasson, who has been throwing in the Highland Games since 2011. The Lincoln, Nebraska native had his first professional season in 2014 when he finished the year ranked 15th overall in the United States. He ranked within the top 10 in 2015 and in 2016, he finished 3rd at the US nationals.

Gunn appeared in “Stoneland,” a Rogue film about the history and lore of Scotland’s ancient lifting stones. The film will be shown in the Concert Tent at 7 PM on Friday. The film’s stars, stone lifter Martin Jancsics and NHSCOT’s own Bill Crawford, will be on hand to answer questions.

Attendees have access to festival grounds from 8:00am to 5:00 pm daily with additional ticketed evening events in various locations on the festival grounds. These events include the Tartan Dinner & Ball, numerous concerts, beer and whisky tastings. A schedule of these events can be found at nhscot.org. Tickets for these events often sell out in advance, and festival attendees are encouraged to purchase tickets soon.

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Experience the variety of fun, lively musical performances at the various venues around the Games. Performers include the tribal sounds of Albannach and, returning this year, Scottish rock/pop band The Red Hot Chilli Pipers. Some concerts are free with admission; some require a paid admission.

NH Highland Games & Festival Ticket and Parking Information

Single day tickets are available online in advance at nhscot.org, or at the gate each day. Tickets cost $20 per person for Fridayadmission; $35 for Saturday admission; and $25 for Sunday admission. Weekend passes for the full festival cost $65 per person and may be purchased in advance through September 14 at nhscot.org, or at the gate on Friday. Admission for children under 14 is free if accompanied by a paying adult. Daytime admission includes access to all daytime concerts, all competitive venues, clan village, seminars, living history, youth program (FridaySaturday, and Sunday), and all Scottish vendors. Evening concerts, dinners, and dances are separate ticketed events from daytime admission. These tickets are available for purchase prior to the festival, and many sell out in advance of the event.

Parking for the NH Highland Games is limited, and event attendees are encouraged to carpool. Visitors should follow parking signs for the games. Bus transportation, at no cost, will also be provided and transport event attendees to Loon Mountain.

Tickets are non-refundable as all events are held rain or shine. No pets are allowed; only recognized guide or service dogs are permitted.


NHSCOT is a non-profit New Hampshire Corporation dedicated to furthering the dance, music, athletics and customs of the Scottish people and continuing the Gaelic culture. For more information about the NH Highland Games & Festival, or NHSCOT, call 603-229-1975, email info@nhscot.org, or visit www.nhscot.org.

About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com. Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!