All hail, thou bright and beauteous maid,
Our faithful homage, here we pay;
Let peace and joy thy Court attend
On this thy royal festal day.
May virtue lead and love illume,
And light thy path in glorious sheen,
Thy courtiers true with pride acclaim;
God bless our loyal Beltane Queen.
That opening stanza of the Coronation Ode was sung with gusto, pride and due deference shortly after 12-year-old Amy Gilfillan was crowned Beltane Queen outside the Old Parish Church in Peebles on Saturday morning.
And the cheers that rang out to acclaim that seminal and spectacular moment in the town’s social calendar reflected, with absolute certainty, that the town’s red letter day was living up to its billing.
Even leaden skies during the ceremony could not detract from the pomp and colour of the occasion, played out before crowds that stretched back far along a bedecked High Street and over 500 excited schoolchildren – drawn from the burgh’s three primaries – who packed the steps of the auld kirk.
They had all gathered to witness an event which crystalises the inclusiveness of the Peebles March Riding and Beltane Queen Festival.
Young people are at the heart of Beltane and among its many enduring joys are the smiles on the faces of the children, resplendent in their costumes portraying fairies, sailors, archers, even penguins, as they make their first appearance on Saturday morning, being led to the coronation by Peebles Ex-Servicemen’s Pipe Band.
The ability of the festival to bridge the generation gap, nurturing respect for history and heritage while harnessing a civic pride and responsibility that youngsters will take into the future, was highlighted by 25th anniversary Cornet Ewan Forrest after he received his medal at the Mercat Cross from Beltane chairman Ex-Cornet Alistair Dodds before local solicitor Ross Hunter proclaimed the fair open in time-honoured fashion.
For young Amy, a pupil at Kingsland School, her day in the regal spotlight was “unforgettable”.
No stranger to the Beltane from previous parades, Amy had played the tenor horn with the junior section of Peebles Silver Band at Wednesday’s installation of Cornet Ewen Young.
On Saturday, she took centre stage, kneeling in front of her throne to be graciously crowned by this year’s Crowning Lady, Margaret Abbot, a doyenne of the festival, not least for her skills as a seamstress creating the magnificent court costumes.
“The minute the crown went on my head, a big cheer went up and I thought: this is really great,” Amy told TheSouthern.
“I’d been looking forward to the ceremony for weeks, because it is such an honour, but I must admit I was a wee bit nervous as I prepared to get in the royal carriage on my way to the crowning.
“Cornet Young, who escorted the carriage, quickly put me at my ease and told me to enjoy it and after that I really did.
“I’ll never forget looking at the sea of faces from my throne and then going around the town at the head of the parade after we’d all regrouped at Kingsmeadows. Everyone was so happy and I was very, very proud.”
It is a sentiment shared by the families of all members of Queen Amy’s Court who performed their coronation duties with faultless precision.
Special mention must go to First Herald Keir McDermott who, despite gremlins in the public address system, read out the coronation proclamation without faltering, earning a huge cheer from Queen Amy’s admiring subjects.
The crowds seemed to multiply while the children prepared to take to their floats at Kingsmeadows for the Grand Procession, led by Cornet Young who, with his supporters, had already proclaimed the burgh bounds on the south of the river.
With eight bands, prize winners from the previous evening’s hugely successful fancy dress parade and the floats, chock-full of the high-spirited children, the procession and the crowds lining High Street appeared bigger and better than ever.
“I’m always amazed at how many people turn out on the Saturday and this year was really something special,” reflected Ex-Cornet David Turnbull who, with his co-secretary Ex-Cornet Alan Beveridge, has been running the ceremonial for 36 years.
“The rain which smattered in the early morning stayed away during the Crowning and it stayed fair and quite warm for the rest of the day.
“In Amy Gilfillan we had indeed a ‘beauteous maid’ as our Queen, while in Cornet Young, his Lass Laura Cox and his supporters, we had wonderful principals.”