Selkirk’s Royal Burgh Standard Bearer Greg MacDougall, and first woman Standard Bearer Fiona Deacon, secured their places in history at Friday’s Common Riding.
As ever, the festival began on Thursday, ‘the nicht afore the morn’, with the Crying of the Burley, when Senior Burgh Officer James Heatlie proclaimed the principals Riding the Marches, “with a great many more”, “all ready to start at the sound of the second drum” at 7am on Friday.
The smiling procession, decked in ribbons, cheered as Mr Heatlie, in black and white top hat and coat, read their names five times around the town: the 2014 Royal Burgh Standard Bearer Greg MacDougall; his ‘Burleymen’ (the four last Royal Burgh Standard Bearers) Martin Rodgerson, Gavin Henderson, Michael Craig, and Douglas Gunn; and his four Attendants, Scott Rodgerson, Darren Knox, Thomas Bell and Adam Nichol.
On Common Riding Day itself, at 4am, Selkirk Flute Band roused the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer, and Provost David Anderson, before the Act of Remembrance at Selkirk War Memorial at 5.30am, when Fiona Deacon, a former Royal Military Police Officer, laid a wreath in tribute to the fallen, and Reverend Margaret Steele spoke on the First World War’s 100th anniversary, and D-Day’s 70th anniversary, this year. All then joined Selkirk Silver Band, with hundreds of Souters linking arms, for the First Drum, singing Hail Smiling Morn’ round the town to folk gathered on doorsteps.
Greg, almost the tallest, and wearing a bowler hat, tweeds, yellow waistcoat, and stock shirt, greeted the cheers before his Installation at 6.45am on the Victoria Halls’ red balcony. The Provost’s wife, Sam, bussed the Burgh Flag, and wished Greg “safe oot, safe in”, before the 28-year-old auctioneer promised the Provost to return it from the Marches “unsullied and untarnished”.
The clicker counted 323 horses behind Greg on his steed, as he carried aloft Selkirk’s Standard, symbolising its identity and pride, down to ford the Ettrick Water at 7.30am, before all rode the Burgh bounds up to Linglie Glen, Peat Law, Foulshiels Hill, and the Three Brethren.
First-time Attendant, Darren Knox, voiced his “massive honour” carrying the Banner to the Three Brethren, saying: “I looked up at the Flag, and looked at all the followers, and it was a dream come true, a brilliant feeling.”
Before 10am, the horses appeared over the crest of Nettlie Wood to the thousands gathered at the Toll to cheer them home.
Heralded by the gritter lorry, Greg galloped past, flag a-flutter, followed by his four Attendants cantering together in a line, and clattering cavalcades of young and old, often at full charge, bearing expressions varying from concentration to satisfaction.
Greg and the Incorporation’s six Standard Bearers, David Main (Hammermen), John Black (Weavers), Ivor Ward (Fleshers), Kenny Thomson (Colonials), Andrew Anderson (Merchant Company) and Fiona Deacon (Ex-Soldiers), then processed to their big moment on the crimson dais in Market Place, when a thousand faces fixed upon them alone, for the Casting of the Colours.
First up, Greg had to rely on his weeks of Flag practice, and words of advice from his father Ewan MacDougall, the 1999 Merchant Company Standard Bearer, to ‘concentrate on the count’.
“It’s all in your homework,” Greg told us: “if you put the work in beforehand, it all goes right on the day.”
True to his word, Greg’s graceful cast looked effortless, drawing the biggest cheer from the crowd, as the Silver Band ended Up Wi’ The Souters o’ Selkirk.
“He got the count spot on,” Ewan told us. “When you walk up on that platform, all you can see is heads – you don’t recognise anybody. You have to focus on the job at hand, to make sure it’s properly cast, and that’s what he did. I think he’s conducted himself in a manner that befits the Royal Burgh Bearer. I couldn’t be prouder.”
The other Standard Bearers discharged their duty honourably too, with their nerves melting into a smile on the last loop, and a wave to Souters acknowledging a job well done.
Kiwi Kenny Thomson, Colonials’ Standard Bearer, told us: “I went from extreme nervousness to extreme happiness in about 30 seconds. I didn’t sleep last night. I’ve been practising at home in New Zealand, but I hadn’t cast a proper flag until I got here on Thursday.”
But the longest cheers went to the Ex-Soldiers’ Fiona Deacon, Selkirk’s first female Standard Bearer in almost 500 years, as she mounted the dais, cast her Flag, and, after standing to attention for the two minutes’ silence, rejoined the clapping crowds.
Fiona described the day as: “Exhilarating – filled with nerves and excitement, all at the same time.
“Every Common Riding Day is a historical event for Selkirk – not just today. Today, in my eyes, is no different to any other: we’re just the next generation of Flag bearers.”
Greg also paid tribute to Fiona, saying: “It was a great emotional moment as well – she got up and did her job.”
He summed up his own day: “It’s the best feeling in your life. The Casting of the Colours summed up the whole day – great emotions. There’s a saying in Selkirk, that ‘God’s a Souter’, and I think it was proved today, because it stayed dry for the event.”