“It’s been magical, there’s no other word to describe it,” so said Braw Lad Gavin Young’s proud mum, following an emotional day, that had delighted and united huge crowds of Galaleans and well-wishers from start to finish.
With all eyes on the weather, the sun shone down and the crowd’s mood was high when at 8am, the Braw Lad walked out onto the balcony of Galashiels Burgh Chambers to receive the Burgh Flag from President of the Braw Lads’ Gathering Andrew Johnston.
And promising to return it unsullied and untarnished, Gavin’s special day began. Not only marking his place in the town’s history, but also ensuring his 23rd birthday would be one that will always stay fresh and vivid in his memory.
Speaking to The Southern following the ceremony, he shared his highlights of the day, saying: “The day’s been amazing.
“I never thought I’d get to hold the Burgh Flag, but taking the Flag this morning, getting on the horse and riding up Scott Street, the amount of people that were out there, that was absolutely phenomenal. The amount of people that have been behind me and my Lass, it’s overwhelming, it really is.”
Led up Abbotsford Road by the Galashiels Ex-Service Pipe Band and St Ronan’s Silver Band and followed by a large crowd, the principals and their followers made their way to Netherdale for the Raid Stane ceremony, where the Braw Lad and his male attendants had the traditional sprigs from the sour plums trees pinned to their jackets by the Braw Lass and the female attendants, signifying that bloody moment in the town’s history when Gala men surprised a party of English raiders, resting beneath a grove of trees on their way back across the border.
One of the highlights of the day that many riders and onlookers look forward to is the fording of the Tweed at Galafoot, and this year’s event was no exception, with large crowds lining both banks.
With the river low and deemed safe to cross, some 345 horses and riders joined the Braw Lad and Lass to safely ford the river to Abbotsford House. Younger riders joined the cavalcade, happily getting their boots wet, and for around 30 minutes, the horses just kept on coming. Like all good dramas, the event was not without a cliffhanger, when, as the last riders made their way down the bank to cross the river, one horse decided the water was not for him, taking quite a bit of persuading to enter into the flow. But as rider and mount did so, the crowd, who seemed to have been holding a collective breath, let out a huge cheer, happy that this section of the day had been completed without incident.
From Abbotsford, where the Principals’ party were greeted by George Dalgleish of the Abbotsford Trust, the Lad and Lass, made the return crossing before the cavalcade headed up Gala Hill and returned to the town, where Gavin, Alice and their official party visited Old Gala House, celebrating links with one of town’s oldest families.
Running slightly behind time, due to the amount of riders taking part, the ceremony at the Old Town Cross was delayed slightly. But it was well worth the wait.
The Mixing of the Roses is one of the most moving and poignant ceremonies of the day, commemorating, the marriage of James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor of England, when the Braw Lass is offered the red and white roses, marking Margaret’s descent from the Houses of York and Lancaster, which she mixes in a re-enactment of the Act of Sasine. She also receives the sod and the stone, gathered earlier in the week from Torwoodlee.
This year was a special moment, not only in the history of the Gathering, but also for the Braw Lass’ family. For it was the first time that two sisters had been together as principals. And in a moment that brought tears to their mother’s eyes, this year’s Braw Lass Alice Mackay emotionally received the white roses from her sister Nicola. Bringing the historic moment to its conclusion, the President mounted the podium, raising three cheers from the enthusiastic crowd.
And so, as the Gathering moved towards its penultimate highlight, excitement mounted as the larrge crowd – estimated to be around 10,00 – took up their position along the length of Scott Street, eagerly awaiting the much-anticipated gallop to the top. And they were not disappointed. With the sun shining against a dramatic sky, and the brightly coloured street bunting fluttering in the warm breeze, a huge cheer went up as Gavin and Alice, followed closely by their Attendants Lucy Black, Daniel Whitehead, Ryan Mania and Nicola Mackay cantered up the street, huge smiles reflecting their enjoyment of the moment. Loud hurrahs met all the riders as they made their way up the street, but probably one of the largest was reserved for a young rider and his pony, proud to be part of the cavalcade.
But all too soon, the morning finale was upon us, and at noon, following a final act of homage at the War Memorial, Braw Lad Gavin Young, returned the Burgh Flag to President of the Gathering, unsullied and untarnished.
With tears in her eyes but a huge smile on her face, an emotional Braw Lass told us: “The day has been so good,” adding that her highlights had been the Mixing of the Roses and riding up Scott Street.
But the special moment was having her sister by her side.
She said: “I can’t describe what it was like to have her there. It was just so nice to have her beside me, to keep me right. I’ll never forget this day.”
And her sister agreed: “It’s been fantastic to share the day with my sister, supporting each other.”
It was a day for families, and there were no prouder parents than Richard and Lynne Mackay, and Nicola Young.
Lynne told us: “It’s been very emotional and I am so proud of Alice and Nicola. It was lovely to see so many people and the girls really enjoyed being together. They’ve done well.”
And Gavin’s mum Nicola was equally proud, saying: “It’s been absolutely superb and the support of everyone has been breathtaking.
“We had a surprise for Gavin ... I taught his two best friends to ride so they could join him on the day. He had no idea, it was a massive secret, but his face when he saw them ... it was wonderful. I’m so proud.”
And while everyone went off to enjoy the reception in the Burgh Chambers, it was a time for reflection for Attendant Ryan Mania.
He said: “It’s been an incredible day, and last three years. They have gone by so quickly, but they have been so worth it and it’s such an achievement. This has been so special.”
And David Houston, chairman of the Braw Lads’ Gathering Executive Council, couldn’t have agreed more with that final sentiment.
He told The Southern: “It’s been a hectic morning.
“I told Gavin, ‘it will be the busiest morning of your life, but every once in a while, take a moment to draw breath and appreciate it.’
“Border towns have been under a lot of pressure since the Jim Clark Rally incident, but the paramedics seem to have been happy with how things went. There were no incidents, although the Melrosian’s leg locked in the saddle due to earlier problems with his knee.
“The committee has put in a power of work. I just wanted the day to be great, and as safe as possible.
“We tried our best and people seem to have really appreciated it.”