Tuesday, June 28, 2011


  Common Riding is an annual event celebrated in Scottish Border towns and in some other places, to commemorate the times of the past when local men risked their lives in order to protect their town and people.


   The Hawick Common-Riding is the first of the Border festivals and celebrates the ancient custom of riding the boundaries of the parish/marches and the capture of an English Flag in 1514. The Common-Riding proper takes place in June on a Friday and Saturday.
   TheCornet for the year is elected by the Provost's Council in May. From then until the festival is over the Cornet is an honoured figure in Hawick. The first recorded Cornet was in 1703 and other than the World Wars there has been an unbroken line to the present day.

   In the weeks preceding the actual Common-Riding, on each Saturday and Tuesday, the Cornet and his supporters are out on their ride-outs in the course of which they visit surrounding villages and farms. The first of the Cornet's Chases takes place up a hill called the "Knipknowes" where a local caterer is asked to prepare the customary dish of “curds and cream” for refreshment during the actual riding of the marches. This marks the end of the preliminary procedure.
   On the Sunday before the Common-Riding the Council attends the Kirkin' o' the Cornet, a church service. In the afternoon the Cornet's Lass with the Lasses of the two previous Cornets travel to the Hornshole Memorial and lay a wreath.

   Following Chases on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings the second major Chase takes place on the Thursday morning when the Cornet carries the Flag for the first time. The Principals visit the local schools where the Cornet asks that the children are given a holiday for the rest of the week. This is of granted and the children and parents join in singing festival songs.
   The Colour Bussing, takes place on the Thursday evening in the Town Hall. The Provost and Magistrates are played into a packed Hall by the Drum and Fife Band. Then come the Lasses with the Maids of Honour. The Cornet's Lass carries the Flag to the front of the Hall with her attendants and “busses” the Flag by tying ribbons to the head of the staff. The Flag is given to the Cornet where he is reminding him that it is “the embodiment of all the traditions that are our glorious heritage”. The Cornet is charged to ride the marches of the commonty of Hawick and return the Flag “unsullied and unstained”. The Halberdier then calls on the burgesses to “ride the meiths and marches of the commonty”. Then begins the Cornet's Walk round the town with his supporters.

   Early the following morning the Drum and Fife Band set off to rouse the town. At Towerdykeside a ceremony called the Snuffin' is performed, when snuff is dispensed from an old horned mull. Soon the crowd soon disperses to the surrounding pubs for the traditional rum and milk before breakfast, followed by the singing of the “Old Song” at the door of the Tower Hotel, each of the Principals taking it in turn to sing verses.
   Following this the Principals, along with upward of 300 followers, mount their horses and process round the town and onto the Nipknowes where the main festival chase takes place concluding in song, toasts and the curds and cream. The riders then set off via Williestruther Loch and Acreknowe Reservoir to ride the marches where the Cornet ceremoniously “Cuts the Sod”. They then make their way to the race-course where, after a programme of horse-racing, the company remounts and proceeds to Millpath where a proclamation is made that the marches have been duly ridden, without

interruption or molestation of any kind. This is then followed by more singing and playing of Drums and Fifes and the Flag is returned temporarily to the Council Chambers, where it is displayed. The assembled gathering then eat, sing and dance into the night before seeing in the dawn from the summit of Moat Hill.
   On Saturday the town is again roused by the Drum and Fife Band and by 9.30 a.m. they ride to Wilton Lodge Park where the principals lay wreaths of remembrance on the town's War Memorial. The procession then heads for the Moor where horse races are again held.

   On the Cornet's return, his official duties end when he ceremoniously returns the Flag to the Provost in the Council Chambers. In the evening there is the Greeting' Dinner - an informal occasion when the company bid farewell to the Left-Hand Man, who as Cornet of two years ago, is wearing his uniform for the last time. Afterwards the guests and principals make their customary tour of the fairground in the Haugh.
   Teribus is traditionally sung at many occasions during the festivities.

   In March 2007 The Rough Guide tourism book wrote that Hawick Common Riding was one of the best parties in the world. It praises the event, which "combines the thrills of Pamplona's Fiesta de San Fermin with the concentrated drinking of Munich's Oktoberfest". Guide book praises common riding


   The Selkirk Common Riding is a celebration of the history and traditions of the Royal and Ancient Burgh. It originated in the need to guard the boundaries of the land held in common by the town. The annual Riding of the Marches has continued to this day and continues the tradition of those who rode around their town’s boundaries throughout the centuries checking for encroachments by neighbouring landowners. The job was one sometimes brimming with danger, with risk of murder or kidnapping perhaps not too distant at times from the minds of those who rode out. Selkirk Common Riding also remembers how after the disastrous Battle of Flodden Field tradition, perhaps a little shaky, has it that only one man from the town (the Town Clerk, Fletcher) returned,

bearing a captured flag. Legend has it that he cast the flag about his head to indicate that all the other men of Selkirk had been cut down and then promptly died. At the end of the Selkirk Common Riding when everyone, riders and folk on foot, have returned to the Market Square the Royal Burgh Standard and the flags of the various participating trades and other organizations are ceremonially cast, the last being for those who fell in war. There follows a minute's silence and the playing of the Liltin (a version of the Flo'ers o' the Forest).


   Langholm's Common Riding ("Langholm's Great Day") attracts a large number of Langholmite exiles and also tourists from all over the world. The Public election for Cornet takes place in May. It comes from the settlement of a legal dispute in the 19th century, which ensured Langholm people certain common rights (e.g. the digging of peat) within set boundaries. Every year, those boundaries must be re-marked to maintain the rights. Over the years, this has become a celebration of the town and its people.
   Although not originally ridden to check the boundaries, horses are an extremely important part of the Common Riding and the traditions that have built up around it over the years. Common Riding Day is preceded by 'ride-outs' of horses on the hills around the town, and on the day itself the Cornet and his followers have to be able to ride - and ride well - to gallop up the Kirk Wynd, and get to the Monument* as part of checking the ancient boundaries.

   On Common Riding Day, the last Friday in July, after the Cornet receives the flag, there are three Cryings of the Fair: two outside the Town Hall and one on Whita Hill. The Fair Cryer stands on the back of a horse.
   The emblems - Thistle, Spade, Crown and Barley Banna' - are also important. The barley banna is barley bread nailed to a wooden platter, along with a salted herring, with a large (twai-penny) nail.

   Common Riding Day is concluded by returning from the Castleholm to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne", dancing polkas on the A7 trunk road, handing back the flag and finally singing of "God Save The Queen."

 Lauder Common Riding

   The origins of Lauder Common Riding are lost in the mist of time, but it cannot be denied that its pedigree is quite lengthy.
   At one time it was a necessary duty to ensure that adjoining landowners had not stolen or encroached upon the Common Lands of the Burgh. This land was not

enclosed, the boundary being marked by a number of Cairns. The burgesses rode from cairn to cairn and it fell upon newer or younger men to fill their pockets with stones to place upon each cairn in turn, This practice was abandoned when it was found that the pockets contained not stones but bottles of refreshment to be consumed at each cairn! The Riding of the Marches was nevertheless serious business, the date and time being intimated by Tuck of Drum by the Town Drummer. Failure to attend to the duties could result in a fine, in the early 19th Century this was 5/- for a Burgess.

   The Ceremony originally was held on Ascension Day when the lands, crops and affairs of the Burgh were blessed. The Health of the Monarch was Toasted and later the date became the King’s Birthday. In this respect it is Recorded in the Minutes of the Town Council in early 19th century that the expense of celebrating the King’s Birthday should not exceed £2.10/-.
   The riders used to race from the Stirk Hill to the Town Hall but this proved dangerous to rider and bystander alike and was discontinued after many protest. The day closed with a Dinner in the Town Hall. The practice was discontinued for about 70 years but was resuscitated in 1911 to celebrate the Coronation of King George V and has continued ever since with the exception of the two Wars. The revived Common Riding, which we have today differs very little from the original.

   It is not held to commemorate a victory over the English in Battle like other Towns or as a Gala Day. The religious aspect is still observed with the Kirkin’ of the Cornet, at which the Lords Blessing is sought for the weeks events. With a few alterations where land was sold, the Cornet leads his followers round the Marches of the Royal Burgh of Lauder with a halt for refreshments at the Waterin Stane and a Toast to Her Majesty. On leaving the Waterin’ Stane the cavalcade makes for the Burgess Cairn, the only surviving cairn, and places a stone upon it and on return reports no encroachment on Burgh Land.
   In recent times “Tom Waldies bridge”, the Waterin’ Stane and the Burgess Cairn have been repaired and improved to ensure the smooth running of the common riding. The Millennium Cairn, at the top of the Whiteknowe End, was erected to commemorate regaining the Burgh Charter of 1502.

Common Ridings Today

   Today Common Ridings attract large numbers of crowds gathering from all around the world, as Borderers pay respects to those who risked their lives protecting the townspeople. The mounted procession around the towns' lands is usually led by a Standard Bearer or Callants, who is picked from the towns' young men.
   The oldest Common Ridings are held at Hawick, Selkirk, Langholm and Lauder, with histories tracing back over hundreds of years, though most border towns hold some type of similar event each year

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