by Margaret Ferrell
This year, the 2016 Tampa Bay Area Renaissance Festival hosted a theme weekend for the Highland Games. The Renaissance Festival is an annual weekend event that comes to the MOSI in Tampa from February 6th through March 20th. It hosts theme weekends such as Steam Punk, Highland Fling, St. Paddy’s Day, Chocolate Fantasy, Pillage the Village, Time Travelers, Pirates and Pets, Masquerade Balls, and more. Tickets cost roughly twenty dollars for adults, thirteen for children, but parking is free all day.
Once inside the festival, you are bombarded with smells of freshly roasted cinnamon almonds and giant turkey legs. There is also the famous Ren Faire soup-in-bread-bowl, and this year they had Scotts Eggs to offer, which is a large boiled egg that has been breaded, seasoned, and deep fried. There was also bacon on a stick, smoothies, hard cider on tap, and craft beer of all varieties.
The vendors ranged the creative arts gambit from cartoonists, to face painters, tarot readers, performers, soap and scent makers, costume creators, leather workers, artists, sword smiths, puppet masters, and more. It was a field of tents within a field of trees, and shade was plentiful beneath the powerful Florida sun.
Although the crowd was primarily adult, families with children abounded. About half in attendance were in costumes that ranged from elaborate period pieces worth thousands of dollars to homemade pirate costumes with a Jack Sparrow hat. There were also knights, Roman soldiers, Vikings, faeries, trolls, wizards, Robin Hoods, leprechauns, gypsies, Steam Punk characters, dogs in costume, and more. Death itself made an appearance. There was even a talking, living shrub that would insult you. Also, this weekend there were Highlanders everywhere.
To the women in the crowd, the Highland games may seem like just a bunch of men getting together to show off their legs and throw things, but it is a bit more than that. They train for years to toss items that are heavy and cumbersome, such as cabers, cannonballs, clay weighted hay bales, Scottish hammers, and more. Injuries are very serious. This year the games had the first ever Keg Toss, just as a lark, and since most had never trained for such a thing, there were some pretty funny moments. Interestingly enough, it was one of the oldest members, a fireman named Billy, who tossed the keg like it was nothing.
The weights in these games are serious, as they can range from 25 pounds to almost two hundred pounds for the caber toss, and they can be tossed for distance or for overhead height. What makes this a true test of strength is the stamina involved; the men will do these events all day, one right after another until there is a winner for each category. Those who competed this day and made qualifying scores, will go on to compete in the World Highland Games Championships.