Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Cowal Highland Gathering

Day 13
This morning was a sleep in day, which meant we didn’t have to rush. Waking up without an alarm was blissful. The rain was coming down this morning, so an even better reason to stay inside. 

Most importantly, it’s Dad’s 70th Birthday! Huzzah! Celebrating a milestone birthday in a new place is the best birthday present! How wonderful to be here celebrating it with him. As we had our morning cup of tea and coffee, dad asked when we’d last spent a Birthday morning together. It’s been awhile that’s for sure, making this one extra special. 

Todd and I made a quick run to the mini mart for supplies and also picked up breakfast from the cafe. The rain took a break, which was much appreciated! 

We met up with the group at 12ish to head into Dunoon for Thor’s official presentation on Clan Ewing at the Dunoon Burgh Hall. The hall had drams of whisky (Grouse) followed by an amazing array of snacks (haggis balls, sandwiches wedges, and more) and desserts (huge merengues, profiteroles), as well as tea and coffee. They also did up some crackers with olive tapenade and vegan cheese for me, as well as vegan sweets. I didn’t expect it, and it was much appreciated. 

I wore the tartan necklace from last year’s Nashville EFA gathering and the tartan scarf Dad bought me. Quite a few men wore their kilts and some women had skirts or scarves. Thor, our commander, wore his kilt and tie, decked out for his presentation. Again, it was a great Ewing family gathering but less mud and trudge today! 

Thor Ewing talked about the history of the clan, the loss of the barony and land, and the various documents that he’d researched to piece things together. He also did a very thorough (and at times confusing) explanation about how easy it is to be confused by the Ewing and MacEwen connections. Am I a Ewing or a MacEwen, people have wondered? We thought we’d been part of the MacEwens for awhile, and I’ve still got a few items I bought in Edinburgh in 2003 to prove it. 

Thor explained that MacEwen is both a name and a patrilineal, ie “mac” also means “son of “, so MacEwen can be used to say “I’m Thor MacEwen” which would mean “I’m Thor, son of Ewen.” It also appears that many different clans began using MacEwen in their documents, so it’s hard to delineate who’s who and what their motivation was for telling their history a certain way. 

The talk ended with Thor being approved, by the Scottish clan council powers that be, as our Clan Commander for another five years. He was disappointed because he’d hoped we’d finally be able to have a Chief and then a crest. Alas, five more years. But we have a tartan! 

I announced to the crowd that it was my Dad’s 70th Birthday, and we all sang happy birthday. All those in tartan gathered for a group photo, which was great!

After the talk, errands were done at the little mini mart, pharmacy, and bank in town. We then came back to the cabin for some quiet, chill time. I’d found a few restaurant menus for dinner with the help of reception, so Dad picked one for his birthday dinner. We called a cab and meandered into Dunoon. The menu was different than online because they had narrowed their menu for the games. That was disappointing but not much you can do about it. The food was good, and that’s what I wanted for dad’s birthday dinner. 

We came out of the restaurant to discover piping and dancers right there in the square. Several other Ewings were out, too, so we bumped into them. A band that didn’t have enough drummers to be in the competition played atop a bar. We walked up the high street a bit and then called the cab for a ride home. 

Day 14
This was to be our first day at the Cowal Highland Games. The shuttles were leaving at 9:30, and they wanted me to navigate the first one so they would pick us up at 9am. (I’ve apparently gotten the reputation as THE navigator to trust, oh dear.)

The problem was the gusting wind and persistent rain. Todd wanted no part of it, so he stayed back. Dad, Margaret, and I geared up with rain jackets, ponchos, and umbrellas. 

Navigating proved to be a double edged sword. They wanted me but then said Dad and Margaret couldn’t come in the first run because there were these other people to be picked up. I quickly responded that I wasn’t going without my family, so other people had to get out. I hadn’t come on this trip to be the person navigating shuttle runs back and forth; it’s not my responsibility to fix an event planning issue (as an event planner myself, I was struggling not to dive in). So I helped get us there once, then abandoned ship (sorry, Denise!). 

We got into the games and figured out the what and where. A cute crowd of preschool kids were walking together, all covered in their bright yellow rain outfits. The bagpipes played continuously for all the Highland dancers as they competed, the same songs again and again! The merchandise tent was empty, so we got our swag. There is even an official tartan for the competition, which we didn’t get. 

We then meandered in the rain to the Clan Ewing tent. Thor had books and tartan gear for sale, so more tartan was bought by these Ewings. Dad had thankfully been eager and bought tickets to the covered stands, so we went up and watched a bit of the dancing competitions. I’m a fan of the Scottish dancing outfits vs the Irish ones. The Scottish are simpler, with standard color kilts, socks, and vests. Even the hair is simple, put up in buns with single tight curls wrapped around it. 

After an hour or so at the games with the chill getting to us, we decided we’d be better off back at the place. I felt empathy for the parents of all the kids competing in dancing and piping today because they were in it for the long haul. There were camping tents set up around the grounds with girls, boys, and parents huddled in together. Spirits seemed to be high. 

Todd had the heaters on and a full pot of tea brewing for us when we returned, which was much appreciated. We were stocked up on PB, beans, toast, and eggs, so we could make do without going back out in the rain. The seagulls are the only ones happy out there. As I type this at 2pm, the rain is still coming down, Dad’s reading, and Margaret and Todd are napping. As I said to Dad, there are worse things than bad weather forcing you to slow down and relax. I always struggle to just chill while on vacation. 

We are saving ourselves for tonight’s “Gig at the Gathering,” which we assume will be a bunch of music, dancing, etc. We will see what the weather looks like later. Perhaps we will just be taking a taxi for dinner. 

Indeed, we stayed huddled in the cabin all day, except dad and I walked to pick up food and laundry. We decided to go in town for dinner to the Argyll Hotel, which we heard from others had great food. So we took a taxi there, and the rain had appeared to quiet down. 

At dinner, we met two other Ewings (all of us identifiable by our Ewing tartan), sisters from Virginia. The dinner was good, burgers, veggie burger, and steak pie for dad, and we had the little dining room all to ourselves. 

By the time we were outside, the rain had picked up again. We had a 15 min walk up the street, which was a bit too much for Todd and Margaret, who were already not happy with the rain, and then we had to walk all the way around the grounds to get in for the gathering. The rain was still chucking it down. 

The Gig was what you’d expect: smoky, loud, beer, music. We arrived at the end of a set, so we didn’t hear any music. We met up with a few Ewings, said hello, talked brief genealogy with a few new people. We didn’t stay too long, as it wasn’t fully anyone’s scene. Dad was in the mood to socialize and wasn’t ready to leave, but he took one for team husband. Luckily, taxis were dropping people off, so we hopped right in one. 

Day 15
Yep, it’s still raining. Last day of vacation for Todd and I. Last and supposedly biggest day of the Cowal Highland Gathering. I swear I’ve experienced more rain in Scotland than in India (though Indians would surely disagree). 

Not sure what today will look like. It’s 8am and I’m the only one up, drinking tea, eating my PB&J sandwich, watching the rain fall. There’s packing to do, of course, as Todd and I are hoping to be on the 8am ferry tomorrow. Yet, it’s also the last day with Dad and Margaret. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being with them. We all don’t get to travel together much, and we’ve been able to do our own things and hang out together. This rain is giving us time to play games, chat, and just be together. 

Todd and I ended up taking the bus into town when it stopped raining. The day turned out to be so pretty! Blue skies and only 10 minutes of rain! We walked up Argyll street and did a little window shopping. Stopped by a local bookstore and bought a few things, including Greta Thunberg’s book.

We ate lunch at a cute pub called The Lorne. It was full of men and women in kilts from the competing pipe and drum bands, as well as families with dancers and kids. It was excellent food, and I thoroughly enjoyed my jacket potato with vegan haggis. 

We then ventured up to the games, where we met up with Dad and Margaret and the rest of the Ewings. The land footprint is pretty small, but they pack a lot in it (Todd couldn’t help comparing it to the Sandwich Fair, which is 3x as big). The games today were a markedly different atmosphere to yesterday’s soggy mess. Today, everyone came out (though much less than usual, we heard) and music filled the air. 

Pipers played for the dancing finals. Pipe and drum bands competed in the arena. Men and women threw shotput, hammers, weights, and cabers (big ass logs). There was a wrestling arena for men and women (men vs men, women vs women). The kids rides kept little ones occupied, as did the dirt bike track. People tried the art of axe throwing. The music tent hummed with song. You could learn about preparing salmon or try ceilidh dancing. A few stalls sold items, like jewelry, wool purses, or dancing gear. 

With pretty weather, I enjoyed being there. We sat in the stands and watched the pipe and drum bands. We drank tea. We people watched. I took photos. We chatted with Ewings as we passed them with their tartan. 

Todd bowed out a bit early, but we stayed to watch the final salute of bands. We watched the men throwing the weights and the women throwing the cabers. We didn’t make it to the end for the bands because the clouds had rolled in and a chill filled the air. We beat the rush and grabbed one of the taxis that was queued up and went back to Hunter’s Quay for dinner. 

Our final meal proved delicious like the other meals; they offer excellent vegan options, which tonight was vegan sausages and mashed potatoes. I had a half pint of Strongbow and ended with a vegan ice cream bar. It was our last meal together, and an early birthday dinner for Margaret. We sat near other Ewings and said a few farewells as they finished dinner. 

Back at the cabin, we smashed our luggage together, trying to make our carry-ons as light as possible. I don’t really care if bags are late tomorrow! We’re off early in the morning, 7:15am to catch the 8am ferry. Thor is driving us and another Ewing to the Glasgow airport, which we are very thankful for! 

Thank you, Scotland, for a wonderful bucket list vacation! I’ll be back for the islands and the northern highlands someday. Dunoon gave us a pretty rainbow as we crossed on the ferry.

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