Braw Lads Gathering

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The 19-year-old was speaking just minutes after handing back Galashiels’ burgh flag on the balcony of the Burgh Chambers on Saturday.

The 19-year-old was speaking just minutes after handing back Galashiels’ burgh flag on the balcony of the Burgh Chambers on Saturday.

Braw Lad Mark Hood leads the way up Scott Street. Picture by Alwyn Johnston

Braw Lad Mark Hood leads the way up Scott Street. Picture by Alwyn Johnston

Saturday morning’s ceremonies were the highlight of almost two weeks of events and rideouts that had seen Mark and his Braw Lass, Alex Mundell, draw big crowds of supporters wherever they went.

The crossing of the River Tweed on the way for the principals to pay the traditional visit to the Abbotsford home of novelist Walter Scott is always a highlight for Galaleans.

However, heavy overnight rain saw its water levels rise dramatically in just a few hours ahead of the scheduled 9am crossing at Boleside.

The alternative route plan then swung into smooth operation, and the 333-strong mounted cavalcade crossed over the Tweed via the road bridge high above Boleside for what proved a rare and special experience for the principals in itself.

And anyone who had doubts about the numbers of people who would turn out to support the principals without the attraction of the traditional river fording only had to glance along the bridge at the packed lines of faces to be reassured.

Added to that was the sight of Scott Street just before lunchtime, where there were people five and six deep along both pavements as far as the eye could see cheering on the cavalcade as it galloped past.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest cheer of the day was the first, when the Braw Lad, burgh flag fluttering in the breeze, and the Braw Lass led the cavalcade from the Scott Park gates up the bunting-bedecked Scott Street.

“It’s been a whirlwind today, but it’s been so much better than I’d even imagined, a hundred times better,” said the Braw Lad, an administrator for the Scottish Public Pensions Agency in Tweedbank.

“But it goes so fast. People always tell you to savour every minute, and they were right.

“After getting the flag, it seemed no time before it was the Raid Stane ceremony, the visit to Abbotsford and then the gallop up over Gala Hill.

“Actually the whole week has been like that – blink and you miss something. It has all just flown by.”

Asked about the cancelled river crossing earlier that morning, Mark was pragmatic, saying: “What can you do?

“Water obviously came from upstream earlier, and safety concerns are paramount. You have to just make the best of it in those circumstances and go for it, which we did.”

Asked what his advice would be for any young man who gets to follow in his footsteps as Braw Lad, Mark replied: “Just grab it, 100%. You’ll never regret it.”

His sentiments were echoed by a beaming Braw Lass, also 19.

“The best day ever. It’s been incredible from start to finish,” she said.

“Going up Scott Street, it’s impossible to describe it. It’s just amazing. It’s a bit of a blur.

“You don’t really see the faces – you just see this massive crowd of waving arms. It was even better than I could ever have dreamed.”

Alex, a pharmacy student in Glasgow, was also a bit disappointed not to have managed a river crossing on Saturday morning, but she says that what came afterwards more than made up for it.

“We went via the bridge,” she said. “There were so many people along the bridge, and we were just waving at everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much.”

Asked the traditional question about advice to any young woman considering being Braw Lass, Alex revealed: “Ever since I was young, I have wanted to do this.

“When I was a wee girl in primary seven, I wrote an essay about being the Braw Lass one day, and now I’ve done it, and it does feel like a dream come true.

“If you get the chance just go for it – absolutely.”

And her personal highlight?

“It has to be the roses ceremony at the old town cross for me. I think that will have been very special for any Braw Lass if you ask them,” she recalled.

“I was a wee bit nervous before it started, and I could feel my heart starting to pound, but then once I was doing it, seeing everyone, it was so special seeing all the people watching, smiling and clapping. Mark and I have been overwhelmed by the level of support we have had, and it’s that which makes it unforgettable.”

Saturday’s gala day followed last Wednesday night’s visit and ceremonies at the home of the Laird of Torwoodlee, James Pringle, and his family, where the traditional sod was cut and a stone taken from the ruined tower in the grounds.

Those items were then used at the old town cross ceremony on Saturday morning.

As well as the visit to Torwoodlee, the second half of last week also saw a fancy-dress competition and parade, a civic reception for overseas visitors on Thursday and Friday’s investiture concert in the town’s Volunteer Hall.

After the Braw Lad handed back the burgh flag to gathering president David Romanis on Saturday, it brought to an end the main ceremonies of this year’s event.

However, there were still supporters out along the streets for what has become one of the most poignant moments of the gathering – when the Braw Lass lays the mixed roses from the old town cross at the town’s war memorial on Saturday evening.

The very last event for this year was the service in Gala Aisle on Sunday evening.

Gathering president David Romanis was delighted by how all of this year’s ceremonies and events had been supported, saying: “It’s been great.

“What makes it a success is when you get such a lot of people out on the streets in support – that’s what creates that very special atmosphere – and I think our Braw Lad and Braw Lass for this year have done a wonderful job, as have their attendants.”

David Houston, chairman of the gathering’s executive council, added: “It’s been a fantastic week.

“Yes, not being able to cross the river this morning was a bit of a disappointment, but I think the water level had risen by something like 400mm in just a few hours, and keeping everyone safe has to come first.

“Other than that, what can I say? All of our principals this year have been fantastic, and I think if you ask them, they’ll say they’ve had an absolute ball.

“The crowds that have been out all week to support the principals have been tremendous – that was a huge number of folk out along Scott Street for example.

“I think our Braw Lad and Braw Lass have done an excellent job.

“I think a good example of something that highlights just what it means to be a principal happened at the old town cross this morning, just after the principals left the platform.

“I’m not sure how many people saw it, but ex-Braw Lad Gavin Young, the bearer of the stone, took out a tissue and gently wiped away some tears from his Braw Lass Alice’s cheek.

“It is their last year as attendants, and when it comes to an end, it just shows you how much it means to have been part of all that, and it’s that strength of feeling that ensures the gathering remains as popular as ever.”