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Issue 43 - The Border Ridings

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 43
February 2009


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The Border Ridings

The Border region of Scotland enjoys a turbulent history steeped in confrontation. In centuries past, riding the marches to protect the interests of the Scottish Crown was seen as an important defensive measure, and, in a largely agricultural community where horse riding remains a popular activity, some of the more lively confrontations of those days have inspired a series of annual equestrian celebrations.

In 1541, for example, a group of young Hawick lads routed a group of English plunderers and captured their flag. This event is commemorated on 6th June when the chosen “Cornet” with his “banner blue” leads his mounted followers in chase followed by a dipping of the flag in the River Teviot.

The following weekend, on 13th June, it is Selkirk’s turn. In 1513, 80 men from Selkirk set off to fight for James IV at the Battle of Flodden in Northumberland. Only one returned. Wounded as he was, however, he brought with him an English flag which he raised above his head, then threw to the ground. An appointed standard bearer is therefore the centre piece of Selkirk’s pageant, accompanied by the “Burleymen” who had the task of protecting the town’s common lands.

Of rather more recent provenance, however, is the ceremony of the West Linton Whipman, which commences on 5th June. This is part of a local benevolent ceremony known as “The Whipman Play” dating from 1803 and in which a mounted procession is led through the village.

A Riding of the Marches was revived in Peebles in 1897 in recognition of Queen Victoria‘s Diamond Jubilee, linking it with the Beltane Fair which has its origins in a charter granted by James VI in 1621. The chosen Cornet, will be installed on the evening of Wednesday 17th June, followed by a Riding of the Marches and a ceremony at Neidpath Castle on the River Tweed.

The oldest Border Ridings pedigree, however, belongs to the Galashiels Braw Lad Gathering which takes place from 23rd to 28th June. Established in 1930, the activities centre this year on Saturday 27th June and on the tradition of a group of Gala Lads who, in 1337, killed a group of English raiders in a field of wild plums. The Jedburgh Callant Festival, inaugurated in 1947, takes place from 15th June to 11th July with a series of ceremonial rides, the most significant being to Carter Bar where, in 1575, the arrival of a contingent from Jedburgh with their cry “Jethart’s here” turned an imminent defeat of men from Liddesdale into a rout of the English.

Duns Civic Week from the 9th to 12th July features a ride to the summit of Duns Law for a short religious service. Here, in 1639, General Leslie‘s covenanting army encamped to oppose Charles I, who was preparing to cross the River Tweed to enforce the National Covenant, a form of religion which the majority of Scots found unacceptable. On the Saturday of Kelso Civic Week (13th to 19th July), the Kelso Laddie and his supporters will leave Kelso Racecourse at 8am to carry out the official ride to Yetholm.

Dating from 1686, the Lauder Common Riding takes place during the weekend of 1st August. Having received the town flag at the Tolbooth on the Saturday, the appointed Cornet leads his mounted cavalcade to the Watering Stane and onto the Burgess Cairn, the only boundary stone still in existence in Scotland. The proceedings conclude with a ceremony at the town’s War Memorial.

Coldstream Civic Week was inaugurated in 1952. It begins on 2nd August with the introduction of the Coldstreamer, the principal figure in the celebrations. Aweek of activities then follows, the highlight of which is the ride to the Flodden Memorial which commemorates the dead of 1513.

Info As part of The Year of the Homecoming 2009 celebrations, Scottish Borders Council has launched the “Return to the Ridings” to co-ordinate Border Riding events taking place. For further information: www.