Lute and Pillage


Cabers, haggis, Irn-Bru, and mushy peas were all within arms’ reach. The piercing drone of bagpipes floated far and wide. And I felt underdressed by not wearing a kilt.

You guessed it; We had traveled many miles to reach our destination … in Woodland, California.

With all the stories and photos of Scotland you’ve found at Fits and Stops, you’d be right in assuming that I’ve got some deep-seated love for Scotland. So let me answer the three usual questions I get when I mention our family’s love for Scotland:

1. Are you Scottish?

If only! My last name “Oswald” originated in Scotland centuries ago, but most of my family comes lineage comes from the Deutschland. And Nebraska.

2. Then why did you go all the way to Scotland?

Umm. Wanderlust. An abundance of frequent flyer miles. A melodramatic BBC series. And a love for all places green.

3. Seriously?


So when we learned that the Caledonian Club of Sacramento hosts an annual Scottish Games and Festival, we put it on our calendar faster than you can say “Aye!” Our daughter hoped to see some highland dancers. Our son wanted some fish and chips. My wife and I just hoped to relive some memories of a wonderful country.

Ten months later, the weekend of the games was finally upon us! We piled into the family van and drove across the valley to the city of Woodland: a quiet agricultural town which nobody would accuse of looking anything much like Scotland. To its credit, Woodland does boast a county fairground with enough space to host a Scottish festival, and we loved it for that.

We showed our tickets at the entrance and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in the blink of an eye. Almost immediately, we passed a bagpipe and drum corp practicing for the day’s competition. Barrel-chested competitors prepared for the sheaf toss to our left, and on the right, the scent of fresh scones and meat pies wafted over from well-worn food trailers. It was a treat to hear a Scottish metal band (complete with bagpiper) blasting their tunes from a small stage. Impressed, we ventured further in to the marketplace.

The marketplace offered a truly eclectic mix of goods that were only sometimes Scottish. You could easily find a kilt in any number of tartan patterns, or jewelry to accessorize your Scottish garb. One of my favorite stops was a simple import table that offered many of the same snacks that we gorged ourselves on back in Scotland, like Jelly Babies and Chocolate Digestives. Then again, there were far more than enough weapon vendors on the grounds, selling all manner of real and imitation swords and axes from your favorite Hollywood action movies. Everything you needed to smash, pillage, and destroy was available here. Based on the arsenal here, you’d assume that the Scottish invented weaponry. I’m pretty sure they didn’t.

Across the aisle from one such weapons outfitter was a music shop. As a guitarist, I suffer from a strange condition that compels me to wander toward any stringed instrument. This pale tent was filled with violins and mandolins — each staples of traditional Celtic music (I’m not clear on why the toy ukuleles were there though). And so I took a few steps closer. The lute in this photograph hung at the very front of the tent and caught my eye. My daughter ran up to it first, and remarked at how it looked so different from my own guitar.

Curious at what she saw, I took a closer look myself and admired the ornate star woodwork on the lute’s sound hole. I wondered at the strange angle of the head stock, and how the lute strings must be tuned. The battle scars on its wooden surface made me question just how old this instrument really was, or if the guy dressed as a viking a few yards away had recently taken an axe to it. Whatever the case, this expensive lute was a much more convincing artifact of the Scottish isles than the samurai sword for sale across the sidewalk. I took this photograph of the lute as we walked on by, and then moved along to check out the local livestock.

This photo is one of many from that day that recall the strange and fun experience of our long-awaited time in not-quite-Scotland. While the festival was not entirely authentic, there was more than enough genuine Scotland to make some great memories along the way.

Hang this photo on your wall

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Garlic festivals? Reptile fairs? Tell us about the unconventional conventions in your community in the comments below.