In the Scottish Borders May to August is Common Riding Season with each town choosing its principal in May and then Common Riding season starting in earnest with the Hawick Common Riding. Ride-outs involve hundreds of horses to mark the boundaries of the town and celebrate the town’s and regions rich history.
If you have lived in the Scottish Borders all your life or have lived here for many years you are likely to either take part in the Common Riding in your local town or know about some of the history and traditions of the Common Ridings nearest to your home or place of work. However if you are new to the area here are 10 things you may not know about these unique festivals.
1. Many Centuries
The oldest festivals are Hawick, Lauder, Langholm and Selkirk which date back to the 12th Century when young burgesses of the town rode on horseback to inspect their burgh’s common land checking that neighbouring landowners had not encroached on the property.
2. 100 Years
The newer ride-outs are Coldstream, Duns, Galashiels, Jedburgh, Kelso and Peebles which are all about 100 years old and based on key events in the respective town’s history.
3. “Safe oot, safe in”
This is the phrase that you will hear and see over the Common Riding season to reflect the many ride-outs that each town has over the course of their festival and in particular their main ride out to mark the boundaries of the town.
4. The Flag
Each town has its own distinctive flag which symbolises that particular town’s history and traditions. The principal is handed the cherished banner by usually the Town Provost at the start of the main ride out wished a “ Safe oot and safe in” and charged to return the flag “unsullied and unstained”.
5. Run for your Lives
Much of the Common Riding traditions are steeped in the history of the Border Reivers when Border Families were not loyal to their King and Country but their family and raided, robbed, kidnapped and murdered each other and their tribal English rivals. This can help explain the strong civic pride that each Border town has. And though very friendly to visitors today it has been said that:
“500 years ago visitors didn’t walk in the Borders. They ran for their lives.”
6. Salted Herring to a Barley Bannock
Each town have their own traditions and in Langholm the Fair Crier nails a herring to a bannock and says:
“I’ll away hame and hae a bannock and a saut herring to my denner by way o’auld style. Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!”
7. Or Stoorifits and Gutterbluids
The Peebles Beltane Festival divide the town between Gutterbluids and Stoorifits translation Gutterbluids are the town’s natives and Stoorifits are incomers to the town.
8. And Snuffin
This is a Hawick tradition and marks the start of the Common Riding Day when the Callants scrum to pinch handfuls of snuff from a ram’s horn.
9. Early Rising
If you want to see the spectacle that is the Common Riding you need to be up early. In Selkirk the celebrations start at 4am and in Hawick it is 6am but if that is too early for you Galashiels is a more dignified 8am start.
10. Cornet, Standard Bearer and Braw Lad
Each town has their own name for their Principal Man as follows:
Hawick: Cornet – 5th June 2015
West Linton: Whipman – 6th June 2015
Selkirk: Standard Bearer – 12th June 2015
Melrose: Melrosian – 15th June 2015
Peebles: Cornet – 20th June 2015
Galashiels: Braw Lad 27th June 2015
Newcastleton: Tub – 5th July
Innerleithen: Standard Bearer – 9th-18th July 2015
Jedburgh: Callant – 10th July 2015
Duns: Reiver – 11th July 2015
Kelso: Kelso laddie – 18th July 2015
Langholm: Cornet – 31st July 2015
Lauder: Cornet– 1st August
Coldstream: Coldstreamer – 6th August 2015