WE’RE first in the queue for Renfrew Rose, which is lucky, as she only takes two cars. Valiantly, she plies the Cromarty-nigg crossing, her landing method a runand-hit manoeuvre that rarely fails. Ropeless, she bounces against the pier as we disembark backwards down two narrow ramps. Nervewracking, but it saves the long drive round to the Tarbert peninsula, where soon we’re clambering down a gorsey bank. The Ballone Games has to be the most unpretentious—and aesthetically edifying—of Highland gatherings: a medieval spectacle of tents and games enclosure pegged out in tweed bunting on an emerald sward.
Beneath the clifftop castle, venison burgers sizzle in the drizzle, sack-racers somersault, bales of hay are tossed and the chief strides about in feathered bonnet and golden chain. I judge the sculpture contest: an agonising process as the beach installations are all so good. In the end, Tree of Wisdom gets first prize, Twilight Rocket; Swing of Destiny and Limpet Castle combined second. The piper fails to turn up, but the lassies perform a flawless Highland Fling undeterred. Darkness falls and the melée of Easter Ross farmers, Stewarts from Oklahoma, medal-chested Vietnam War pilot/trump fan and Oxford don reel the night away to Duncan Macgillivray’s band. MM