FOR the first time in more than two decades, the sound of bagpipes will not echo through the Upper Hunter following the cancellation of the 2020 Aberdeen Highland Games.
President Charles Cooke and his hard-working committee made the heart-breaking call this week, even though the popular event wasn't scheduled to take place until July 4.
Unfortunately, in the uncertain world in which we currently live, the members felt they had no choice but to announce their decision sooner rather than later.
"Once news surfaced about the threat of coronavirus, we thought about putting it off," Mr Cooke said.
"Then, as a result of government regulations, and the need to take every responsible precaution to contain COVID-19, we decided to cancel this year's Highland Games.
"It is regrettable that we've had to take this action.
"But, the health of the nation comes first - and we must do our bit to help alleviate the pandemic.
"So, we wanted to let people know as soon as possible."
Mr Cooke said a number of aspects were taken into consideration, too.
"We average between 5000 and 7000 locals and visitors each year," he explained.
"And, even though July is still three-and-a-bit months away, the committee had to fall into line with the government's rulings.
"No one knows what it will be like by then.
"That's why we made the call now.
"People can't, or won't, travel, while the Highland Games attracts an older demographic, who is at most vulnerable to COVID-19.
"We also had to think about our stallholders.
"The bulk of them were locked in by the end of January.
"Some booked in from South Australia, Victoria and Queensland.
"It wouldn't be fair to them to leave it until the last minute."
Mr Cooke said the committee's energy was focussed on 2021.
"In 2019, we celebrated our 20th year," he stated.
"So, while this cancellation is disappointing for everyone, we've been very fortunate [in the past].
"Great crowds return to Aberdeen every 12 months, they book their accommodation in advance - it's a major drawcard for the Upper Hunter.
"We'll be back bigger and better than ever."