Highland Highlights

By Loraine Ritchey


The brochure states “ Colchester more than Britain’s oldest recorded town” “for a start “ they explain “Cunobelin, King of the Britons, lived here Camulodunum) from 5 AD making us (Colchester) the country’s power base even before London got off it’s starting blocks. In 43 AD the Roman emperor Claudius marched here knowing that he had to conquer us to establish power in Britain. Another author D.G. MacLennan writes in his introduction to Highland and Traditional Dances “as my purpose is to write about the dances of my own country Scotland, I cannot do better than to begin by referring to the Roman author Tacticus who invaded Britain they were greatly surprised to see a body of Caledonians dancing in and out among upturned swords.”

As I entered the venue at Lower Castle Park for the Scotland in Colchester event, sponsored by Colchester Borough Council and the Royal Scottish Pipe band Association among others, I thought of those Romans from long ago. Two thousand years on and even though the swords were no longer upturned and the fierce Caledonians were now very attractive young ladies for the most part (with a sprinkling of young men), the dances of Scotland were still alive and drawing spectators and at least one person was writing it all down for “Highland Dancing” and "Dancer" Magazine.

“Scotland in Colchester” is not a full Highland Games “ due to the lack of space and the regulations for Health and Safety we cannot have the caber toss and athletics. We are primarily focused on the Scottish arts with the Pipe Band Competitions, Solo Piping, Drum Majors contest, Displays of Scottish County dancing and of course the Highland Dancing competition” stated Pipe Major Willie Alan, the chief organiser.

Indeed the Highland dancing was well underway when I finally found my way through the maze that is Colchester, new developments along side two thousand years of “roadways” left for some interesting travel. I never did find the Lower Castle Parking lot but the kind manager of the Leisure Center gave me leave to park; from there it was a short and lovely walk through the grounds, the sound pipes leading us to the dancing platform.

As Highland dance competitions go, as compared to most in Canada and USA, this was relatively small, but the platform and judge and dancers were all there and the mums and dads. I did notice one or two small differences I could get a “decent cup of tea” and”bacon butty” instead of those rather soggy “Scottish meat pies” we are familiar with in the USA and the coconut shy was in full swing.( For the uninitiated a coconut shy is a carnival game where cocnuts of various sizes atop poles of varying heights; the object is to throw the ball as hard as you can to knock off the cocnut and win a prize). One young lad explained he takes his frustration out with the judging by having a bash at the coconut shy! (Maybe a moneymaking idea in the offing!)


The Reynolds family from Poole took my mother and I under their wing, providing us with chairs to sit and cool drinks, yes! wonder of wonders it was very warm that June day. Mhairi Reynolds, student of Roger Drury School of Dance, patiently put up with my questions whilst getting ready for the next round of competition.

Mhairi’s mum, Eileen who like most Highland mums gets up at dawn making sure everything was OK for the days competition summed up dancing in England and Scotland: “The combination of pouring rain - 12 hour motorway journeys (each way) muddy games fields - midges - more pouring rain - velvet jackets! - Camping (!) - and a grumpy co-driver (Dad) who would rather be somewhere hot and sunny - is enough to test the most dedicated of Mothers and persuade them to stay at home - but don't be silly, I’m a Dance Mum! All reason must leave you when giving birth to a Highland Dancer - I used to think that when a woman gives birth she should automatically sprout an extra pair of arms. I am now convinced the Lord above has played a practical joke on us, and instead of the extra pair of arms, a Dance Mum is endowed with something much more useful: a touch of eccentricity and a peculiar sense of priorities. Does she spend £’s on a 2 week holiday relaxing somewhere foreign with guaranteed sunshine and unwind from the other 50 weeks of the year?

No, of course not - it is much more important to spend twice as much on a trip to Scotland so daughter can compete in some Highland Games - with the prospect of sitting under an umbrella, shivering in the damp clothes which somehow never stay dry when camping in the rain. She will be tired and bleary eyed from lack of sleep as, having arrived in the dark and erected the tent in the rain on an already muddy field, the adrenalin rush from having just driven nearly 600 miles on busy, spray-laden motorways and then misty, single-track mountain roads will not wear off until at least 3 am. This is of course after spending the first week of her summer holidays slaving over a hot sewing machine, as the ever-growing dancer needs new outfits if she intends to breathe whilst dancing. And is she looking forward to this "holiday" - I wouldn't miss it for anything! Too much sunshine and lazing on the beach is a proven health risk to after all - and I still have some of last summer's bronchitis medication to use up before its "use by" date ”

The Highland dancers performed and competed whilst over their shoulders the Scottish Country Dancing Display entertained those near the refreshment tents. Not to be outdone the Sharon Radcliff school of Highland Dancing, Colchester (Sharon.radcliffe@ukgateway.net) put on their own display to a very appreciative audience. These junior dancers did one dance after another and from the looks on their faces thoroughly enjoyed the moment.

The Pipe Bands represented by Grade 4 Grampian Corby , Luton and Dist. Gatwick Cale, Essex Cale, British Airways ( with the British Airways Tartan) . Grade Three, Pride of Murray, Essex Cale, British Airways, Gatwick Cale, Beeton and Dist., Grampian Corby and R.A.F Halton Grade Two Bands: Pride of Murray; University of Luton, R.A.F. Halton and Beeton and Dist. Adjudicators Piping P/M C. Edgar, Drumming D/M J Drysdale. Solo Piping Dr. N.A. Malcolm Smith

Since the date was June 6th and the 60 Anniversary of D-Day I had to leave Lower Castle Park for another engagement commemorating another part of British History in the not so distant past. I unfortunately couldn’t stay for the results, but driving back to London I wondered if the “coconut shy” was doing a bumper trade. For information on next years Scotland in Colchester telephone 01376513076 or contact www.visitcolchester.com. The event is “free” and open to the public.

As always for Questions and Comments, I can be reached at

Loraine Ritchey, 1127.W. 4th Street, Lorain, Ohio, 44052.