I’ve been to many a place in my time – from bustling city centers where the sheer energy can give you a caffeine high, to tranquil countryside spots where sheep might be your noisiest neighbors. But nothing, and I mean nothing, quite prepared me for the revelry of the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival.

Massed Bands opening ceremony at New Brunswick Highland Games

First off, Fredericton is a charming city. It’s one of those places where everyone seems to know everyone but pretends they don’t just to keep things interesting. And during the festival, this already lively city takes on an air of cheerful chaos.

As I entered the grounds, I was greeted by the distant wail of bagpipes. I must admit, it’s an acquired taste. The first time I heard them, I thought a cat was having an exceptionally tough day. Now, though, there’s something undeniably soul-stirring about them.

2023 New Brunswick Highland Games Festival

The athletic events were a sight to behold. Men and women, many looking like they could bench press a small car, took part in bewilderingly specific games. The caber toss was my personal favorite, mostly because of the sheer audacity of the thing. “Let’s pick up a giant log and see how far we can toss it!” Who came up with this? And more importantly, how can I shake their hand?

Scotch whisky tasting at New Brunswick Highland Games Festival

Scotch whisky tasting at Highland Games

Now, the scotch tasting was right up my alley. There’s something reassuring about a festival that acknowledges the importance of good drink amidst physical exertion. Each sip was a mini adventure, and I must confess I’m no connoisseur. But I can tell good scotch from the not-so-good based on the number of times I involuntarily exclaim, “Oh, that’s nice!” during a tasting.

Before I knew it, the two days were winding down, and Fredericton was preparing to return to its usual self – which, by any standard, is still quite lively. As I bid goodbye to the festival, bagpipes fading in the distance, I made a mental note to return. After all, where else can one enjoy athletic marvels, flavorful scotches, and the enigma of bagpipes all in one place?

Tour of New Brunswick Highland Games Festival (2023)