‘I feel like a 48-year-old bairn’

Selkirk, UNITED KINGDOM - 17 June 2011: 'Selkirk Common Riding'''(Photo by Rob Gray / Freelance)

Selkirk, UNITED KINGDOM - 17 June 2011: 'Selkirk Common Riding'''(Photo by Rob Gray / Freelance)

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As the clock ticked round to noon on Friday, and voices from across the Borders filled Selkirk Town Hall, Royal Burgh Standard Bearer Michael Craig sat quietly on the balcony looking out across the Market Place.

It would only be natural for the 48-year-old to contemplate what he had just achieved, 11 years after first being appointed attendant to Standard Bearer Steven Squance.

He has since been the “best man” a further three times in 2002, 2004 and 2010, watching Grant Kinghorn, Colin Squance and Douglas Gunn carry the Royal Burgh flag.

When his turn came, the flag was in his possession for only four-and-a-half hours before the paramedic handed it back to Provost Les Millar “unsullied and untarnished”.

Was the effort and patience worth it? You only needed to look at the pride on the Standard Bearer’s face while he stood in the Town Hall immediately afterwards to know the answer.

Michael said: “Right from the day I was appointed as an attendant in 2000, I was thinking about this day. The weather, horses, casting; the whole lot was perfect.”

While his horse Salvador looked so calm it was as if he were taking part in a Sunday morning canter, the same could not be said of his behaviour the previous weekend.

“He had a nightmare at Hawick Common Riding,” said Michael, whose partner, Lynda Jackson, and mum, June, watched throughout. “He was trying to get rid of me and take off, but today he was absolutely brilliant.

“I could not have asked for more and he came in at The Toll really well.”

It was the sound of the Flute Band which woke Selkirk at 4am for its – as always – long-awaited Common Riding Day, the skies overcast but dry.

Crowds gathered at the War Memorial to see Ex-Soldiers’ Standard Bearer, Alex Williams, lead the tributes to the Royal Burgh’s fallen, including 1936 Standard Bearer Willie Lees, who was killed in the Netherlands in 1944 during World War II.

Among the riders who lined up on the Back Row at 6.30am to ride the ancient Marches was his great-niece Fiona Cruickshank with the hunting crop presented to Willie on his big day 75 years ago.

Also among the cavalcade of 323 – down by about 100 on the previous year – were Ian Rodgerson and Elliot Grieve, Standard Bearers of 25 and 50 years ago respectively.

Fifteen minutes later, Provost Les Millar emerged on the Victoria Halls balcony and let Michael finally get his hands on the famous standard. He led the procession Doon the Green to the tune of O’ A’ the Airts, the banners of each Standard Bearer held high.

Michael wore a smile as wide as the River Nile as he crossed the waters of the River Ettrick before leading the riders up to the Three Brethren.

On the way back there, was some drama as a stray horse almost undid the Standard Bearer and his attendants at Peat Law.

Michael told us: “A loose horse does not often get close to us but this one did.

“We just had to try and protect the flag. But that was the only close mishap as far as myself and my attendants were concerned.”

Souters, Borderers and many from further afield then gathered at The Toll to greet the returning cavalade.

Michael and Salvador combined to gallop with glee back into the town and the clouds held on long enough to allow the Casting of the Colours to take place in dry conditions in the Market Place.

To the strains of Up Wi’ the Souters o’ Selkirk, Michael led them off with aplomb, fist clenched afterwards as the crowd roared its approval.

Hammermen (Alan Wheelans), Weavers (Mike Quinn), Fleshers (Andrew Haddon), Colonial (Bobby Murray) Merchant (Jim Harold) and Ex-Soldiers (Alex Williams) followed, each performing admirably in such a high-pressure situation.

Last to cast, Alex then dipped the flag of his association to mark the two-minute silence, with the crowd’s lack of sound reflecting their complete respect.

Alex told TheSouthern afterwards: “I have never felt as honoured as I do right now. “It was an awesome feeling.”

Then came the moment Michael had probably dreaded all day – the handing back of the Royal Burgh flag.

Thousands of spectators heard Provost Millar pay tribute to Standard Bearer Craig, describing him as a “credit to his family and the Royal and Ancient Burgh”.

The Provost added: “He was tremendous. He has waited for a long time to do this job and has committed a huge amount of time to the Common Riding.

“The culmination of that commitment is today. He has performed all his duties tremendously, going round the hill, into The Toll and casting the flag on the platform tremendously.

“Everybody in Selkirk should be very proud of him.”

Michael added: “I have waited 11 years for this and I’m like a 48-year-old bairn just now.”