Borders History Common Ridings
The annual Common Ridings and Festivals held in each
town are survivals of the old practice of riding the towns boundaries
to preserve burgh rights and to prevent encroachment by neighbouring
landlords. Long after they ceased to be essential, they continued in
commemoration of local legend, history and tradition.
Community spirit is symbolised by the Burgh Flag or
Standard, which in a colourful ceremony is "bussed" - that is
ribbons are tied to the staff by the principal lass, recalling the days
when a knights lady attached her ribbon to his lance before battle.
The principals are elected annually and honoured with such titles as
Standard Bearer, Cornet, Callant, Braw Lad, Reiver. On horseback they
lead their followers in the festivities. Old songs and tunes are played,
banners waved and local pride expressed.
COLDSTREAM CIVIC WEEK was inaugurated in1952 and
begins on a Sunday with the investiture of the Coldstreamer, the
principal figure in the celebrations, and the bussing of the Burgh Flag.
A weeks activities follow with rideouts, gymkhana, sports and
parades. The highlight of the week on the Thursday is the ride to the
Flodden Memorial to commemorate the dead of 1513. Wreaths are laid, a
short service held and an oration delivered by a guest speaker. Friday
evening sees a torchlight procession and firework display. The Civic
Week ends on the Saturday with horse racing, fancy dress parade, the
return of the Burgh flag and Beating Retreat.
DUNS SUMMER FESTIVAL was instituted in 1949 to
commemorate the towns history and traditions in a week of sports,
concerts, rideouts and parades. On Monday night the Burgh Flag is handed
to the Reiver for safekeeping and the next evening he leads his mounted
followers to the summit of Duns Law for a short service and oration by a
guest speaker. Here in 1639 General Leslies covenanting army encamped
to oppose Charles I who was preparing to cross the River Tweed and
enforce a form of religion which the Scots found unacceptable. Wednesday
is childrens day with the crowning of "the Wynsome Mayde o
Dunse" in the Public Park. Friday sees the traditional game of
handba, played between the married men and bachelors of the town.
The final ceremonies the next day include the Riding of the Parish
Bounds, athletics, fancy dress parade the return of the Burgh Flag to
GALASHIELS BRAW LADS GATHERING was established in
1930 to celebrate the towns history. Preliminary events precede the
main ceremonies on the Saturday which begin with the Braw Lad receiving
the Burgh Flag and leading his mounted supporters to the Raid Stane.
Here in 1337 Gala lads killed English raiders in a field of wild plums.
The stream ran red with blood and "soor plooms" became the
Burgh emblem. The ride continues with a crossing the Tweed to Abbotsford
and a return to the Old Town cross where the creation of Galashiels as a
Burgh of Barony in 1599 is recalled.
The ceremony of sod and stone (sasine) is enacted and
red and white roses mingled on a base of thistles to commemorate the
marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, descendant of the
Royal Houses of York and Lancaster. In 1503 the lands of Ettrick Forest,
of which Galashiels was a part, were granted to Margaret. The rideout
concludes with an Act of Homage at the War Memorial. Sports and gymkhana
bring the weeks festivities to a close, with the final act being the
laying of flowers at the War Memorial by the Braw Lass.
HAWICK COMMON RIDING links the traditional riding
of the towns lands with a commemoration of the callants, young Hawick
lads who in 1514 routed English plunderers, capturing their flag.
Records of the Common Riding principals go back to 1703. A young man is
chosen as Cornet and in the weeks before the main ceremonies he leads
his mounted supporters, on a series of rideouts. Those who complete the
long rough ride to Mosspaul and back are made members of the Ancient
Order of Mosstroopers.
Official proceedings begin on Thursday evening when
in a ceremony of speech and song the Burgh Flag is bussed and entrusted
to the Cornet. The next day bands, civic dignitaries and the mounted
cavalcade process around the town. The Cornet with "the banner
blue" leads his followers in the chase, a ride at full gallop in
memory of the victorious youth of 1514. The traditional refreshment of
curds and cream is taken. The riding of the marches, horse racing and
the dipping of the flag in the River Teviot follow.
Saturday events include the laying the wreaths at the
War Memorial, horse racing and professional games. The Common Riding
concludes with the Cornet returning the flag to the Provost.
JEDBURGH CALLANTS FESTIVAL was inaugurated in
1947 and lasts two weeks with ceremonial rides to places of historic
interest. The most important one is to Redeswire, close by Carter Bar,
the site of a battle in 1575 when the timely arrival of the Jedburgh
contingent with their cry "Jetharts here" turned an
apparent defeat of the men from Liddesdale into a rout of the English.
An oration is delivered there by a guest speaker. The Callant, the young
man leading the festival proceedings, takes custody of the Jethart Flag
and on Festival Day leads the mounted cavalcade to Ferniehurst Castle,
halts for a ceremony at the Capon Tree, survivor of the ancient Jed
Forest, and returns to the town for the final ceremony at the War
Memorial. Saturday commences with the firing of a cannon and a race
around the town, followed by the Jedburgh Border Games, which date from
KELSO CIVIC WEEK was inaugurated in 1937 and
includes a raft race, sports, gymkhana, concerts and rideouts to
neighbouring villages. On Wednesday the Kelso Laddie is installed and
the Standard bussed, the ceremony in the Market Square concluding with
the Kelso Laddies Reel. Two days later the Laddie is installed as
Kelso Whipman commemorating the Old Whipmans Society of Ploughmen,
once active in the town. He leads his mounted followers to a ceremony at
the Trysting Tree, the traditional meeting place of the whipmen. The
chief ride to Yetholm takes place on Saturday and the festival concludes
with a fancy dress parade, presentation of cups and the return of the
Kelso Standard to the Provost.
LAUDER COMMON RIDING was one of the original
Border Comon Ridings and there is a reference to a ceremony in Town
Council minutes of 1686. It was in abeyance for about 80 years, being
revived to mark the coronation of George V in 1910. Sports, parades,
dances and concerts precede the main events on the Saturday when the
Cornet receives the Burgh Fag at the Tollbooth. He leads the mounted
cavalcade to the Watering Stane and onto the Burgess Cairn, the only
boundary stone still in existence. The proceedings conclude with a
ceremony at the War Memorial and the return of the flag, with games and
horse events in the afternoon.
MELROSE FESTIVAL WEEK was instituted in 1938 to
commemorate the towns history, with the "Melrosian" as the
central figure. A gymkhana, rideouts and fancy dress parade lead up to
Thursdays ceremony in the picturesque setting of Melrose Abbey. The
Melrosian is installed, the Festival Queen crowned and an oration given
by a guest speaker. Saturday sees the chief procession to places of
historic interest around the town. The final ceremony takes place at
Melrose Abbey where over 800 years of history are recalled and the
granting of the foundation charter by David I is re-enacted. Sports and
a service of thanksgiving conclude the weeks festivities.
PEEBLES BELTANE WEEK - with Queen Victorias
Diamond Jubilee in 1897 the burgh revived the old ceremony of riding the
marches, linking it with the Beltane Fair, which traced its origins to a
charter granted by James VI in 1621. Beltane signifies the fire of Bell
or Baal and originated from the pagan Celtic festival in honour of the
power which in early summer gave light, warmth and growth. Fires were
lit and games held. Following an inaugural service on the Sunday a week
of events takes place with childrens sports, disco, Beltane concert
and a fancy dress parade just some of the highlights. Wednesday evening
sees the installation of the Cornet followed by the Riding of the
Marches and a ceremony at Neidpath Castle where the Cornet is given a
welcome by the Warden of Neidpath. The mounted procession leaves for the
River Tweed and following a series of horse races the evening ends with
the dancing of the Cornets Reel in the High Street. Festival Day on
the Saturday, after an early morning rideout, begins with the
proclamation of the historic Beltane Fair and the crowning of the
Beltane Queen, followed by a grand procession around the town. Sports
and Highland dancing are held in the afternoon and the festival ends
with Beating of Retreat.
SELKIRK COMMON RIDING is at least 400 years old
and stems back to the time of the "Burleymen", Burgh Law men
who had the task of ensuring no one was encroaching on the towns
common lands. In 1513, 80 men from Selkirk followed James IV into battle
at Flodden. Only one, Fletcher, survived to return, weary and wounded.
but bearing a captured English flag which he raised aloft and then cast
to the ground. The Flodden legend came to be associated with the Common
Riding, with the Royal Standard Bearer as the central figure and the
casting of the colours the main ceremony.
Proceedings begin on the Thursday with "crying
the burley" as riders are summoned to attend. The bussing of the
flags follow. Various trades and corporations are represented, each with
their own standard bearer, who join the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer the
next day. The town rises early to follow the band and witness the
bussing of the Burgh Flag. The Riding of the Marches, which involves
fording the River Ettrick, lasts about four and a half hours and the
riders return to the Market Place for the solemn casting of the colours.
The Burgh Flag is returned to the Provost and celebrations continue onto
the next day with horse racing, gymkhana, Highland dancing and
WEST LINTON WHIPMAN PLAN. Whipman is the old
Scots word for carter or carrier, and the story of the Linton play began
in 1803 when the Whipmen Benevolent Society, providing mutual aid to its
members, held their annual meeting. The Whipman of Linton paid formal
visits to local mansions and the rest of the day, one of the few
holidays of the year, was devoted to sporting activities, a gathering
which was styled "The Whipman Play". Unbroken celebrations
continued until 1914, to be restarted after the war, only to be
curtailed again in 1939. Ten years later the festival was revived and
today it lives on as a link with the past and a symbol of community
spirit and unity. The Linton Whipman is installed and invested with his
sash of office on the Friday evening and leads a mounted procession
through the village. Saturday begins with a rideout and there follows a
week long programme of activities of sports, competitions, barbecue and
EYEMOUTH HERRING QUEEN FESTIVAL, instituted in
1939, followed on from an earlier holiday and celebration known as the
Fishermens Picnic. The Queen and her maids of honour are chosen from
High School pupils and the skipper of each fishing boat nominates a girl
to be a member of the Queens court. Their costumes and emblems
symbolise the sea and fishing community. On the Saturday the Queen
arrives in Eyemouth Harbour on a traditional voyage by sea from St Abbs,
escorted by a flag bedecked fishing fleet. A colourful crowning ceremony
is performed and the procession tours the town, halting at the War
Memorial and the Memorial to the 129 Eyemouth men, lost in the 1881
fishing disaster. A varied weeks programme of sports competitions and
entertainment follows and the Festival is brought to a close with the
Fishermens Service at the Parish Church.
ST RONANS GAMES, INNERLEITHEN. Legend says
that St Ronan, patron saint of Innerleithen, favoured the mineral waters
in the well above the town. He is traditionally depicted with his crook
attacking Satan - in Scots "cleiking the Deil". In 1827 the St
Ronans Border Club was founded and led to the organisation of the
annual St Ronans Border Games. Their scope widened over the years and
in 1901 the Cleikum Ceremony was introduced to familiarise the youth of
the town with the tradition of St Ronan.
Social events throughout the week lead to the main
ceremonies on the Friday evening. The towns Standard Bearer is
installed and the Burgh Flag bussed. In the Cleikum Ceremony "St
Ronan", represented by the boy dux of the school, is invested with
his symbol of office, the cleikum crozier. His "monks" each
receive a staff. The principals then process around the town. Doves are
released as a symbol of peace and the evening ends with a torchlight
procession and masonic ceremonies.
Saturday sees the childrens flower parade and the
St Ronans Border Games, when the Burgh Standard and an effigy of the
devil are carried in procession. At night the principals and followers
ascend Caerlee Hill. After a fireworks display, an effigy of the devil
is flung on the bonfire, as St Ronan demonstrates that he has
successfully "cleiked the deil".
This is an open air service on the last Sunday in July beside St Marys
Kirk of the Lowes in the Yarrow Valley. It is believed to have taken
place since the times when the covenanting preachers were fighting to
establish Presbyterianism and to combat the religious oppression of
Charles I. The preachers were barred from holding a service in a church,
so gathered together on the hillside, under the shelter of blankets.
ST BOSWELLS FAIR. On St Boisils Day, July 18,
the countrys gypsies gathered on the village green to buy and sell
their horses and other wares. Although it is no longer an important
horse fair, the event still takes place as a meeting for hundreds of
travelling people from all over Scotland and the North of England.
JEDBURGH HAND BA. Candlemas Handba is
played in February and is reputed to date from before the Reformation.
Legend tells that after a fight against the English at Ferniehurst
Castle, the victorious Scots played with the cut off heads of the slain
enemies. The two teams comprise the "uppies" and the "downies",
according to whether their members are born above or below the Mercat
Cross. The game is played through the streets of the town with leather
balls decorated with coloured streamers. There is no limit on numbers
and no referee as the teams struggle for possession of the ball.
MASONS WALK, MELROSE. The Lodge of Melrose
St John is reputed to be the oldest lodge in Scotland with links going
back to the early masons who worked at Melrose Abbey. To celebrate the
festival of Holy St John the Evangelist on December 27, the masons make
a torchlight procession thrice around the Market Cross and on to the
Abbey. After the playing by a solitary piper of "The Flowers of the
Forest", members sing "Scots Wha Hae", near the burial
place of Robert the Bruces heart and an address is given. Records of
the procession go back 239 years.
Produced by Scottish Borders Tourist Board, Shepherds Mill,
Whinfield Road, Selkirk TD7 5DT.
Tel (01750) 20555. Fax (01750) 21886. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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