Mohonk Mountain House

storyArriving at elegant, historic Mohonk Mountain House in New York State’s Hudson Valley, visitors will almost believe they are in the Highlands of Scotland.

The pipes and drums of the Old Country reverberate over the lake and into the woodlands, and there is a ceilidh around every corner, it seems. No, it is not a modern-day Brigadoon, for the adventure lasts an entire January weekend and has done so for 35 years running. It is Scottish Weekend at Mohonk Mountain House, January 22-24, 2016.

“You can feel the excitement from the moment the first bagpipes sound at tea time,” says Mohonk’s spokesperson Nina Smiley. “Guests become enamoured by the music, enthralled by the heritage and, of course, delighted by the kilt.”

Located 90 miles north of New York City, and founded by Albert Smiley in 1869, Mohonk Mountain House is a Victorian castle resort set on 40,000 largely undeveloped acres above pristine Lake Mohonk. Still owned and operated by the Smiley family, it is a national historic landmark with vast meandering gardens and 85 miles of hiking trails.

With an open-air skating pavilion, cross-country skiing and snow-tubing, there is plenty to do on any winter weekend. But on Scottish Weekend, the festivities focus on the old Celtic arts and traditions with performances, demonstrations, workshops, non-stop entertainment, and a healthy helping of the craic. Of the 40 themed programs offered through the year, the Scottish weekend is one of the oldest and most popular.

“The weekend is an exciting immersion into all things Scottish and the best kind of getaway,” continues Smiley. “From bagpipes to kilts, from dancers to drums, from haggis to history, we invite guests to delight in the wonderful world of Scottish Weekend.”

The ever-changing mix of traditional programming and new events attracts many return visitors from New York City, the state and beyond, which contributes to a sense of family and tradition, she adds.

The theme for the January 22-24 gathering is “The Life, Times and Works of Robert Burns,” and the bard’s works will be front and centre at a classic Scottish concert. Also tied to the theme is the annual ceremony in which Burns’ traditional toast to the national food of Scotland is recited.

“Every year the sound of bagpipes fills the halls of Mountain House with a bagpipe procession from the centre of the house to the dining room…”

“It’s then followed by a traditional Address to the Haggis, led by James Fraser and the Schenectady Pipe Band Ensemble.”

The Celtic roots band MacTalla Mor, with its ancient and modern instruments, as well as traditional and original songs, will kick off a welcome ceilidh. The Thistle Hill Country Dancers from New York’s northeastern and Ohio River regions will be performing jigs, reels and strathspeys covering the range from energetic to elegant. The group will also be teaching the basics of country dancing, and participants are invited show off their new skills at a ceilidh.

Pipe Major William Monroe of the Schenectady band, one of the oldest bands in the US, will engage visitors in a discussion of the history, structure and playing of the great Highland bagpipe. Shot of Scotch – a performance group of premier-level Highland dancers who have performed at Lincoln Centre and with the Brooklyn Ballet’s First Look program, as well as at New York’s Tartan Day ceilidhs and parade – will be dancing their way through the weekend with precision and colour.

Information on family tartans and kilt-making will be provided by kilt-maker Bonnie Heather Greene, while those with more athletic taste can take in a workshop by Scottish Highland Games world record holder, Frazer Pehmoeller. Yet another option is a Celtic art workshop led by artist, lecturer and master printmaker, Patrick Gallagher.

No Scottish weekend would be complete without a bit of whisky tasting, so a selection of single malts will be available. Scotch distributor Rick Long will guide aficionados through samplings of Tullibardine’s 225 Sauternes, 228 Burgundy and 500 Sherry (PX) in 20 and 25-year-old vintages.

Mohonk Mountain House boasts more wood-burning fireplaces than any other resort in the US, and Scottish Weekend visitors have a wide range of cottages and rooms to choose from. By Sunday noon, most will be packing up to gather for the singing of Auld Lang Syne, as they are piped into the dining room for a farewell dinner, and perhaps a chorus of another old Scottish standard, Lady Nairne’s heart-felt Will Ye No’ Come Back Again?”