Thursday, May 4, 2006
Oldest of Scottish festivals known as ‘common ridings’
Well, here I am back again after a temporary absence from the pages of The South Reporter.
It’s May and spring is bursting out everywhere and everyone has a spring in their step.
Of course, the advent of the warmer weather always cheers people up no end, especially since this year winter seems to have lasted a very long time.
Here in the Scottish Borders, summer is now just around the corner and the traditional herald of that fact, is what we call our “picking nights.”
Let me explain. One of the most famous - some uncharitable outsiders would say ‘arcane’ - traditions which the towns in the Scottish Borders are known for is our annual season of summer festivals and what are called “common ridings.”
The latter are the oldest of the festivals and are known by their name of “common ridings” because when they were first started, they were not festivals, but a deadly serious business which involved mounted horsemen riding the boundaries of their respective towns’ common grazing land to make sure no other town was encroaching on it.
Common ridings are held in the towns of Hawick, Selkirk, Langholm and Lauder and all are centuries old, dating back to the bloody days of the infamous Border reivers.
The other towns have their own festivals, many of which also involved popular mounted rideouts over the course of a week or two weeks around the local countryside.
The first of the common ridings to take place is Hawick at the beginning of June, followed a week later by that of Selkirk.
The latter common riding is frequently the largest annual mounted gathering to take place anywhere in Europe, with as many as 500 horses and their riders having taken part in the past.
This does not include the thousands of folks on foot who throng their hometown’s streets from the wee small hours of the festival days to rejoice, celebrate, sing traditional songs, cheer on the riders and, yes, consume more than the odd pint of beer or the odd wee dram of whisky!
As for “picking nights,” let me explain. Each of the town’s will choose a young man or a combination of a young man and woman to be their “principals” for that particular year.
They will lead the mounted cavalcades and represent their town at other local festivals and common ridings.
Last night (Wednesday), Hawick named the young man, known as “The Cornet” who will lead its riders and celebrations, while tomorrow (Friday) Selkirk will choose its principal, known as the “Standard Bearer.”
Kelso has its “Laddie,” Galashiels has its “Braw Lad and Lass,” while Jedburgh has its “Callant” and Melrose has a “Melrosian.”
I intend sending regular reports throughout the summer of these events, complete with photographs so you guys across there in Holly Springs can get some idea of what we get up to here in the Scottish Borders during the summer months.
Not everyone in these parts risks life and limb by climbing on a horse during the lighter nights.
At the weekend just past, a local microlight pilot and his passenger accidentally crashed their machine into the local hotel in the village of St. Boswells.
Both luckily escaped with just minor injuries, although I am sure there were a few hotel guests who got a bit of a fright!
This week, just to keep Linda happy, I have sent a photograph of a recent event which saw a group of local ladies from my home village of Stichill, near Kelso, making quilts for the American-originated charity, The Linus Project, which provides quilts and blankets for needy children.
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