Review: 51st Cobourg Highland Games

Note the ample room of last years Highland Dancing

Last year the 50th Cobourg Highland Games got top marks on this blog for an excellent and free 50th anniversary festival. The Heavyweights and Highland Dancers were both great entertainment and the back liks have the ample video and photo proofs. However, ye editor had some concerns that when the festival resumed this year, organizers would have a tough choice to make. The question was whether the Festival would go back to Donegan Park and the $10 admission charge. If the Festival went back to Donegan Park then there would be ample room within an enclosing fence and easy securitysecure the $10festival fee. But the cost would be surrendering Victoria Park’s attractions.

And those attractions are many starting  with the proximity of the big Cobourg Beach, the nearby downtown shops and residences plus the tree shaded park grounds. City and Festival officials went with Victoria Park. But in order to do so and charge $10 entry fee a 6foot-high black fence had to be put around portions of the park. The net result was not so good.
Very tight space for Highland Dances

First, two of the major events, Pipe & Drum Bands & Highland Dancing were strapped for space behind the black iron curtain surrounding the core area of Highland Festival. In contrast,  the Heavyweight events which were on the beach were left open to the public. So too for half of the Pipe & Drum bands where most of the practice areas were outside the fence as was one of the two Pipe Band judging areas.  But as you can see from the screen shot above the Highland Dancing area was most severely curtailed.

Highland Dancing was squeezed the worst by a large hospitality tent area  on the right, band marshaling and practice space on the left and about a dozen Highland Games  sales booths on the backside. Face it, the Highland dancers were tightly squeezed in. And to add insult to cramped space injury, the half-shell stage area unlike last year was cluttered with pop band equipment and advertising posters as seen below:
Not many good lines of sight
The net result was viewing and photo-taking opportunities were few few and far between aided and abated by an overzealous and downright uncivil HDA staff. So last year there were great photos and videos to be had; not so much  this year.

What Went Very Well

Well denizens of  Cobourg Beach had  a glorious day to work with and there were plenty of sunbathers,  water waders, and volleyball players to take advantage of the balmy weather:

In contrast to the Highland Dancers , the Heavyweights had space to spare on the beach and they took advantage of it. The stone toss and hammer throw events in the morning were watched with interest. But the caber toss was especially competitive in the morning with many clear throws.
Ladies Caber Toss

In the afternoon, when the pros tried their hands & muscles at the various events, the show was even better because the  pros provided a little history for each weight event and then some play-by-play narration explaining what the competitors were doing to adjust their tosses or throws for each event and the changing wind and temperature conditions. This narration had results – the size of the crowd watching easily doubled in size during the afternoon.

Now the Highland Games website has a similar explanation of the overall rules of the event but play-by-play strategy alerts proved fascinating  in the Sheaf Throw and Weight Toss events. Also play-by-play was perfectly suited to the situation when all the pros failed to complete a full 270 flip of the monster caber.
All the Pros failed to get a complete flip on the monster caber – 100 lbs and 25 feet high

So to most viewers surprise, the pros just lopped-off a 1 foot long & 5lb chunk off the top of the caber log and recommenced caber tossing. In the interim the play-by-play announcer explained how and why the caber cut took place. Even 5 lbs lighter and 1 foot shorter the pros had a real challenge getting this shorter and lighter caber tossed:
Shorter, lighter caber proves tough to flip
Again play by play narration supplied the insight. The dry sand conditions did not allow the caber on landing to grab-in – and one could see that indeed the caber skidded and kicked up sand as it slid forward on landing. All in all best marks for the Heavyweight events.

One curious shortcoming, the Cobourg Highland Games website still does not have the 2014 Heavyweight results posted and only one picture from the events. Yet last year, PicsofCanada found room for over 4 dozen 800 x 600 photos of the Heavyweight events. Hmmm.

Pipe & Drum Bands: Easy to Meet and Chat with

Because the Pipe Bands were practicing outside the Festival grounds, the extra space seemed to make it easier to chat with members of the bands. The picture taking opportunities were certainly greater:
Band Tuning Up
It was fascinating to find out how the band leaders measured and then tuned up the pipes. Also a little history on the colors and names associated with a clan’s tartans proved a bit bewildering but noteworthy.

Band groups practicing all over Victoria Park
One could not only get great pictures of various practice groups but also find out more about their routines and how they were going to be judged. Just ask around and most band members were happy to answer. But the Pipe & Drum Band section of the Highland Games website has virtually nothing about either topic nor the results of the current or last year and almost no photos. In contrast the 21 page, full color Highland Games brochure given free at the entrance gate does have last year’s Pipe & Drum Band winners and some photos from last year’s competition.

But such a missed opportunity on the website! Participating bands plus their friends and families would return to the website for results and pictures – this would be easy to do on the website and would provide  great additional exposure for the website’s advertisers plus help generate interest for next year’s show.

Band Time R&R
It is not all full  time practice at the Highland Festival. Rather during the course of the day ye editor saw lots of visiting and relaxation among the band members. Also a burning question got answered. Yes, there are more women members in the Pipe &Drum Bands joining in the past 10 years; but more on drums than on the bagpipes. Truly this was an informal survey.

Full Dress Rehearsal
One of the delights of the day was to see the full dress rehearsals. Ye editor lucked out because a knowledgeable band mom was also taking pictures and was happy to answer questions about the caliber of the  bands and how they were being judged and ranked. But neither the festival brochure nor the website explained these facts. Perhaps there is a opportunity being missed here.

The Heavyweight’s live play-by-play narration would not work well for the Pipe & Drum or Highland Dancing competitions. But there is an opportunity to inform the crowd/visitors during change over to a new band level at the testing circles. One could  not only introduce/announce the names of the competing bands at this level but also tell the spectators what the judges would be watching for in the bands routines.

Likewise for the Highland Dancing competition, as the competition changes  from say Highland Fling to Sword Dance, a quick summary of the history & nature of the new dance and what the judges will be looking for would be helpful.  Also this summary of the major dances could be demonstrated & performed by last years winners during the Mass Dance during the Noon Hour celebration.

True, both the free Festival brochure and the website cover portions of these subjects. But again PicsofCanada has seen fit to provide 2 videos and over 2 dozen images of the Highland Dancing performances for 2013 while the Festival website and brochure have no videos, less than a half-dozen photos, and no posting of 2014 results yet. Talk about discouraging return visitors to your Festival website.


Clearly the Cobourg Highland Games organizers still have more work to do on setting the fence around Victoria Park for the festival and allotting space among the performers and sellers. The Highland dancers got the worst area allotment but also the Pipe & Drum Bands labored to make their area allotment work. But both of these groups could take a cue from the Heavyweights and  adopt more live narration to the public at the Noon Hour Meeting of the Bands and Dancers plus major changeovers at their respective competitive sites. At each changeover an announcer could tell the spectators what judges would be watching for in the new level of Pipe & Drum band or the new Highland Dance to be performed.

Festivals & Events Ontario website had over 3 dozen listed events across Ontario for Canada Day. And for July 4th there are 15 festivals and events. The competition among cities and regions for summer tourists and visitors is getting fierce. So the Cobourg Highland festival can ill afford to rely solely on a 21 page brochure to tell visitors among all the adverts and an incomplete schedule of where to go next. The month earlier Apple Blossom Tyme Festival in Colborne charges no admission fee and has a central info booth where visitors can go to find out what are the next events on any day of the weekend festival. Likewise Cobourg Highland festival should not pass up the opportunity to make the Highland Festival website the year-round place to visit with the latest pictures, videos, results and news updates from its three major events. The only solace is Colborne’s Apple Blossom Tyme Festival website does a substantially worse job of providing these same services.

To an extent, the 51st Cobourg Highland Festival lucked out with very good weather, a great show put on by the Heavyweights and a most accommodating group of Pipe and Drum band members. There is opportunity for operational improvements including situating the fence in Victoria Park. But the festival brand is being hampered with mixed info support and a website that simply does not serve well both visitors and Highland Festival participants plus their friends and families.