Melrosian Russell leads town in triumphant week

Melrosian Russell Mackay receives his sash of office from fesitval chairman and ex-Melrosian Michael Crawford.
Melrosian Russell Mackay receives his sash of office from fesitval chairman and ex-Melrosian Michael Crawford.

Melrose celebrated its history and traditions in style last week, enjoying glorious sunshine and huge support at every event.

And the poignancy and importance of each duty was not lost on this year’s Melrosian, Russell Mackay.

Melrosian Russell Mackay with his right and left-hand men Struan Hutchison and Donald Crawford.

Melrosian Russell Mackay with his right and left-hand men Struan Hutchison and Donald Crawford.

The 21-year-old farmer, supported all week by his right and left hand-men Struan Hutchison and Donald Crawford, said: “It was an amazing week – hectic, busy and full, but amazing. I loved it.

“We had the weather all week which makes a big difference, and it meant we had a lot of horses on Monday night and a huge amount of spectators at every event after that.”

But it was Thursday night’s ceremonies at Melrose Abbey that Russell says were the highlight of the week.

“That is one of the most scenic services, and becoming Melrosian within the grounds of the abbey was the most important thing for me,” he said.

Melrose Festival installation and crowning.

Melrose Festival installation and crowning.

“It’s important to maintain the traditions of Melrose. It’s what the whole festival is all about.

“Going round the schools and the hospital was quite special too. You see what a difference it makes and how much it means to everybody, and that is very humbling.

“Community events and visits are what brings everybody together and they’re good, relaxing fun for us too.”

On Thursday night, festival chairman Michael Crawford, installed the Melrosian with his official sash of office and said: “I am confident you will be a worthy ambassador for our town in the weeks ahead.

Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn with her attendants and trainbearers.

Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn with her attendants and trainbearers.

“You have been a credit to your town, your family and to yourself.”

Russell replied that for as long as he could remember, it had been a great desire to represent his home town.

“Standing on this platform as your Melrosian for 2017 fills me with a great sense of honour and pride,” he said. “Since standing here as a herald in 2007, I have often dreamt of doing so as your Melrosian one day. Little did I know that this aspiration would come true.

“Receiving this sash is something I will forever cherish.”

Melrosian Russell Mackay leads his first rideout on Monday night.

Melrosian Russell Mackay leads his first rideout on Monday night.

He added: “I now join a select band of men who have had the honour of representing Melrose.

“The messages of support and encouragement I have received have been humbling and overwhelming.

“The support my family and friends have given me is endless,, and this opportunity would not have been possible without it, and I know how much this honour means to them all.”

It was a big night too for festival queen Ilona Cockburn and her court, who carried out their part of the ceremonies faultlessly, aided by the joint choir of Melrose Primary and St Mary’s schools and the St Boswells Concert Band.

Russell added: “It was great to see the traditions of the court maintained and to see the kids enjoying themselves.

“They have been great all week and were at every event with us. They were a really good group of kids, and I enjoyed spending time with them all.”

Mark Robertson and Debbie Crawford.

Mark Robertson and Debbie Crawford.

During the ceremony, Debbie Crawford presented ex-Melrosians Brian Laidlaw, Ian Fraser and Donald Campbell with their silver, golden and diamond jubilee gifts respectively. Diamond jubilee queen Jennifer Seidler returned from her home in Canada to receive a bouquet.

Courtier Finlay Tullis read the proclamation with confidence and clarity before Ilona was crowned by Alexa Robertson.

On Monday night, more than 200 riders followed Russell on horseback before a further 425 donned their helmets for Wednesday’s community bike ride.

Tuesday night’s fancy-dress contest saw a bumper entry, and it too was blessed with sunshine. On Friday, the Melrosian visited the town’s schools and hospital before that evening’s festival ball.

Saturday’s tour of ceremonies went without a hitch, with the party receiving a warm welcome at each historic site before the ceremonies concluded with Ilona laying a wreath at the burial site of King Robert the Bruce’s heart within the abbey.

The sun shone for an afternoon of sports, music from the pipe band and the festival dinner at night.

Looking ahead to the summer, Russell added: “I’m really looking forward to Gala next.

“The other principals have shown me great supportm and that means a lot to me, so now that my main week is over, I can relax and look forward to supporting them.”

Melrose Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn following her crowning.

Melrose Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn following her crowning.

Crowning lady Alexa Robertson with Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn.

Crowning lady Alexa Robertson with Festival Queen Ilona Cockburn.

The community bike ride.

The community bike ride.