Astronaut to drop into Highland gathering

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AN astronaut, who surprised the Dowager Countess of Strathmore with a call from space earlier this year, will have his feet firmly back on earth this weekend, when he takes on the role of a Highland games chieftain.

American Air Force Colonel Alvin Drew thrilled the dowager countess with a call from the international space station in February, during the final flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Alvin had to leave a message on the answering machine because no one was at home.

But he can be assured of a warm welcome this coming Sunday when he joins Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore, in the duties of Chieftain of the Strathmore Highland Games, to be staged in the grounds of Glamis Castle.

The pair met through the Tayside Space School, of which she is patron, and have a mutual friend in former NASA security advisor John Smith, from Kirriemuir, who was able to give the dowager countess the good news that Alvin will be able to make it to Glamis on Sunday – but only just, as he only arrives in this country the day before.

Secretary Angela Webster said Alvin’s attendance was a real coup for Strathmore Highland Games.

“We are extremely honoured that Alan has offered his time to attend our games, especially as he only flies into Scotland on the Saturday.”

Fingers are crossed that Alvin, and indeed all those who are planning to make their way to Glamis for the games on Sunday,will be blessed with warm, dry conditions.

All the leading heavies are expected to be in attendance, with a number of top titles up for grabs.

Strathmore plays host to the Scottish caber tossing and 800 metres cycling championship, while the national open tug o’ war competition will also take place with Glamis Castle as the backdrop.

In addition to the heavy events, running and cycling, there will be Highland dancing, solo piping and a pipe band competition, with the latter having attracted nine bands.

There will also be children and fun overseas visitors’ races, with an array of trade stands located around the main arena, selling lots of goods with a Scottish theme.

Members of the Air Training Corps, 2231 (Forfar Squadron), who are helping with car parking duties, will also operate a display stand, as will the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.

Proceeds from the ringside collection will be in aid of the Diabetes Association.

Among the visitors this year – and they come from near and far – will be a couple of Polish journalists, keen to get an insight into how a traditional Highland gathering operates, ahead of plans to organise a games in Warsaw.

Looking forward to Sunday, Angela Webster said that the games would not be possible without the support of the local business community.

“We are very grateful to all the local businesses who provide us with sponsorship.

“We are aware that it is difficult for many in the current economic climate, yet without their support it would be difficult for us to keep going.”

The games will get underway in the grounds of Glamis Castle at around 12.30 pm, with the City of Brechin Pipe Band leading the parade.

Following an afternoon of keen competition, Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore and Alvin Drew will present the trophies to the winners.

Admission to the games is as follows:- adults, £6; children, students and senior citizens, £3; family ticket, £15; car parking £1.