A town which does its own thing

Langholm Common Riding 2013.
Langholm Common Riding 2013.
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Langholm Common Riding has come and gone – and this year I missed it. I didn’t make it to the Muckle Toon and I really missed it.

Although in Dumfries and Galloway, Langholm is very much a town of the Borders. It suffered greatly in the years when we Scots battled to stave off English oppression and invasion – and just as often fought amongst ourselves.

It seems we just liked a fight. Across the Borderland great names such as Maxwell, Hume, Douglas, Turnbull and Armstrong and Scott, to name but a few, were always eager to do battle. And being on what was during the 12 and 1300s a variable border with its stretches of debatable lands thrown in, they never had far to look for a fight. And Langholm and Liddesdale and nearby Hermitage were rarely left out.

But during Langholm Common Riding – like at Lauder and unlike Hawick and Selkirk – there is no mention of a battle.

It is the Merk Lands and the legal battle to protect them that is the basis of the commemorations.

The cornet proudly carries the burgh banner – and that can be properly explained. But ask about the emblems that are just as proudly displayed on common riding day – the thistle, the spade, the barley banna and the decorated crown – and the answers will vary.

But in Langholm there is no need to justify their personal rituals to the outside world. Langholm knows – and in Langholm at the common riding, that’s all that counts. Those who venture into their world must simply accept that this is what happens in Langholm.

It’s a good common riding because, as a foot follower, you can watch all basically by standing on the spot not far from the Town Hall where Neil Armstrong was made a freeman of Langholm.

Why was he made a freeman of Langholm, the less knowledgeable might ask. The answer is obvious – the man who first set foot on the moon was an Armstrong. And Langholm is Armstrong territory. All the world should know that.

The common riding spans more than a week, but the Simmer Fair on the Thursday, followed by common riding day on the Friday, are highlights.

I for one am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the trains back to at least part of the Borders.

The last train to Langholm – the trains never went through Langholm – was, if I am correct, in 1964. On the night of each Simmer Fair, almost the entire town follow the bands to the railway station at Townfoot to greet the final train of the day from Kirl (that’s Carlisle) bearing exiles returning for the common riding.

There were hugs and kisses and a joyful procession back to the town centre for dancing and parties.

And you know, all these years down the line since the rail service ended, Langholm folk and their musicians still make that sentimental journey – standing at a cairn where once the station stood, checking their watches for the train that will never come, before returning for dances and parties, taking with them the memories and smiling ghosts of common ridings past.

Because this is Langholm.