PRINCIPAL guest for this year’s Cleikum Ceremonies was Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the 21st Lady of Traquair.
She said it was a great honour and privilege to have been invited to take part and “come across the water” to join the town’s annual celebrations as part of St Roman’s Border Games Week 2012.
Ms Maxwell Stuart told a Memorial Hall, packed for Friday night’s Innerleithen ceremonies, that, although she had lived as Traquair for the best part of her life, Games Week in Innerleithen had always been an event that held a little bit of mystery and awe while she was growing up.
“Being educated at Traquair School in the 1970s, I was among about 20 who attended primary one to primary five before being sent to St Ronan’s,” she said.
“I remember we all thought of St Ronan’s as ‘that school in the town’ – very large and very daunting. All sorts of stories would filter back to us – of fights in the playground and terrifying teachers, and, of course, the belt.
“I don’t know quite what we were all so worried about, as we’d all experienced the ruler over our knuckles and that was just about as bad.
“Our first experience of St Ronan’s was being taken by bus to use the new swimming pool at the school, which caused great excitement, but also enormous fear.
“We treated it like having to go through Saughton Prison to get to it, with a fight at every corner and then the experience of trying to swim in ice-cold water and changing back into soggy clothes – enough to make every weekly experience fill us with dread.
“Unfortunately, I was then sent off to school to Edinburgh for a couple of years and never experienced St Ronan’s first hand, which is a great shame as I would no doubt have completely revised my view of it.
“Now that my three children have been there from nursery, I can safely say it is one of the friendliest, most welcoming schools in the Borders with an education and a headmaster second to none.”
Ms Maxwell Stuart recounted her experiences as a child of the Games Week fancy dress parade.
“It was always a huge event for us and I can remember a crowd of us being dressed as gypsies one year in a donkey cart, being baked alive in papier mache mask as ‘animal magic’ the next – but perhaps the year my mother had finally decided she’d had enough was the year I insisted on going into the parade, riding my pony, as Lady Godiva – not entirely naked, I hasten to add, but with some strange yellow woollen wig and a costume made out of nylon tights. That was the end of my fancy dress experiences.”
She said Traquair and Innerleithen were so close, but sometimes seemed far apart and when she returned to live in the area in 1990, she was surprised at how may local people had never visited Traquair House.
“It was something I wanted to change and to encourage more local people to visit, and we were very much delighted when we were asked to host the St Ronan’s Tattoo for a number of years. Now the many other events at the house and the close relationship we have with the school all see us work much more closely together.
“Of course our two communities have always been very closely linked and it was the seventh earl who recognised the tourism potential of the town and was responsible for building St Ronan’s Wells in 1826.
“Innerleithen was in its heyday and the reputation of the famous sulphurous waters had grown since Scott published his novel, St Ronan’s Wells, in 1825.”
Ms Maxwell Stuart spoke about the history of Traquair Estate and, to laughter, she said she liked to think she had inherited more from her great-great-grandfather than a belief in lost causes, though her local record of unsuccessfully standing for the Labour Party in several elections seemed to reflect an inheritance of backing the wrong party.
But she added she had also inherited a pride and a passion in the place they lived in and the community they served.
She said all those present on Friday night were truly privileged to live in the valley and not only to enjoy such beautiful countryside, wonderful history and heritage, but also a “fantastically strong community” that is so highly valued by visitors to the area.
“Perhaps this is why Innerleithen has a really unique ability to reinvent itself – spa town to mill town and now world-recognised destination for mountain bikers,” she said.
“Maybe the mountain bikers are more important today than those who come to take the waters, but the principle is the same – visitors to Traquair for history and to Innerleithen for its activities, to sustain this community, boost its economy and keep it vibrant in the very challenging times of today.
“As my ancestors recognised, the importance of working together across the river will ensure we all help create an even stronger community for our future generations.”