SETTERDAY wis the annual Ridin o the Mairches (ROM) in Sanquhar in Dumfries an Galloway. Me an the guid leddy made wir annual pilgrimage doun the Nith Valley tae witness the ongauns. Oor Margaret, bein a native Sanquharian, an former gala queen an Cornet’s Lass, aye likes tae gie the cause a heize an wi mony’s anither, jist lik the salmon wha lowp up the Euchan Falls, returns tae the cauf kintra o their bairntid, tae meet up wi relations an auld friens.

The Borders March Riding tradeetion is lang steept in time!

It gangs back tae the 13th and 14th centuries, the days o Englis/Scots cross-border reivin an plunderin o cattle an guids an chattels, whan local lords wid appynt fowk tae ride the boundaries (mairches) o their burghs tae hain their common lands an hap thaim frae the unwalcum raidin o rievers frae aither side o the Border.

In aulden times this wid hae bin a sairous business an tho the chaunces o ackwal bluidshed (ceptin fir the odd clatter aff a cuddy!) hae nou much dwined awa, it is aye-an-oan nou a sairious business tae thaim wha uphaud the auld tradeetions. It’s aiblins nou mair a gala day-type thing, but scart the surface an the men, weemin an weans wha ride the mairches hae still the teuch smeddum o thair auncient forebears coorsin throu their veins!

Ane o the first written accoonts o the ROM is in the auld Sanquhar Toun Cooncil Meenits o May 15, 1730 – an it wis alluded tae as an auncient practice e’en then! The custom appears tae hae stopt in 1829 but in 1910 it wis revived, the touns-fowk bein verra “enthusiastic” anent the ongauns! It wis agane stoppit durin baith warld wars, an ceptin fir unusual catastrophes (the foot and mouth ootbrek o 2001 – whan they rode it oan motorbikes!) it haes conteenued annually sinsyne.

In Sanquhar, we hae the three main principals o the ride-oot. This year thaim wha are honoured tae represent the burgh (an believe me, it is a muckle honour!) were Cornet Murray Grierson, Cornet’s Lass Ashley Cook and Ensign Fiona Thomson. Ah witnessed wi ma ain een the pride on their faces as they led a procession o mair as 127 horses oot owre the heichs, howes an muirs o Sanquhar, their braw steeds heich-steppin throu burns whaes waters churnt wi the spate o raicent heavy rains (this year they hudnae the best o waither!).

The Borders touns an burgh’s wha maintain the ages-auld tradeetion of the mairches (an thair’s a lang leet o thaim!) aa hae their ain nems an titles fir their principals. The feck o thaim are Cornets an Cornet’s Lasses but ither airts hae richt braw nems sic as: Coldstream – Coldstreamer; Duns – Reiver; Galashiels – Braw Lad; Jedburgh – Callant; Kelso – Kelsae Laddie; Melrose – Melrosian; Selkirk – Staundart Bearer; West Linton – Whipman. An afore onybody threips anent “gender inequality”, these fowk aa hae their equivalent lassie, wi their ain braw titles!

Hanlawhiles, back in Sanquhar, the Ridins gang oan aa week. Evri mornin there’s a ride-oot, follaein weel-trodden routes roond the burgh. Hail, rain or snaw (tho ah dinnae think there’s e’er bin snaw!?) the riders mount their naigs an cuddies, an steely-eyed they inspect the burgh mairches! Alsae throu the week thair’s daily an nichtly ongauns that lat aa an sindry ken that the burgh is in “festive”! Oan the Friday afore ROM week they hae the Sashing Ball in the toun hall – when the three Principals are presaintit wi temporary blue sashes wi their titles oan thaim, that they uise throu the week until they are gien their ain new sashes tae keep oan ROM Setterday. The ROM ball is held oan the Tuesday. It’s a richt hoolie – an aye, drink is taken! Thair’s events fir aa the faimily an evri age group – weans pet shows an sports days, fancy dress ride-oots, five-a-side fitba, boolin tournaments – but aa this is juist the lead-up tae the big day itsel!

Oan ROM Setterday the stout-hairtit are up wi cockieleerie an at six in the mornin a guid crood, led bi the burgh piper, mairch the langth o the High Street, frae the Piper’s Thorn tae the Gallows Knowe an back, chappin the doors o thae slug-a-beds wha haena the smeddum o their fieres! At eicht o’ clock the Fencin o the Coort o the Mairches taks place at the steps o Sanquhar Tollbooth. The Toun Clerk, solicitor Kenneth McLean, reads oot the venerable proclamation “commanding all loyal citizens of the Royal Burgh” (in their “best apparel and array” o coorse!) tae cairry oot the auncient ceremony – by decree! An unner stairter’s orders – they’re aff at Sanquhar!

At 11.45am the Cornet an his retinue, wabbit an wearie, foregaither in Queensberry Square tae gie their report. Aa’s weel, an thair hae bin nae “encroachments” oan burgh launds! Sauf oot – an sauf in! Then the parade o horses, floats, fancy dresses, etc, wends its wey throu the burgh – leeterally wi a hunner pipers an aa an aa!

Pubs an pavements are thrang wi fowk – it’s lik Ne’erday an Yule rowed intil yin!

At 5.30pm the massed bands tak ower the High Street, pipes blaw an drums bleeze, an the tunes o glory tae steer ony true Scots hairt ring oot alang the causie. Auld friens carouse in ilka howff – an mony’s a hauf is cowpt! In this graund tradeetion that is aye different, yet aye the same in aa the Borders touns, an gies a heize tae aa that’s best aboot Scots an Scotland – warmth, friendship, an hospitality!

Lang intil the nicht the pairty gangs oan! An as Burns sae aptly said “An’ monie jobs that day begin, May end in Houghmagandie! Some ither day. ” On Sanquhar, On!