There were cheers and tears on a chilly June night when Peebles Cornet Keiran Scott was entrusted with custody of the burgh flag.
On a platform at the foot of the parish church steps, the 24-year-old watched with pride as the flag was bussed with his ribbon by Cornet’s Lass, 21-year-old Beth Williamson.
It was with some understandable reluctance that 2014 Cornet Kevin Smith surrendered custody of the banner, unsullied and untarnished, after a enjoyable year in office with his Lass, Sharon Rusnak.
Cornet Scott told Beltane chairman Keith Brunton and the hundreds who had gathered for the ceremony: “My family have been over the moon since I was approached in March, and my dad, at times, has been more excited than me. Without all the help and support I have had all my life, I would never have been able to stand here tonight.”
Lass Beth was following in the footsteps of her mum and dad, Andrew and Joyce, who were Cornet and Lass in 1988.
Before the gathered crowd, she told them: “To be given the opportunity to do what you did all those years ago is a great privilege. I just hope I can carry out all my tasks as well as you.”
The installation ceremony was conducted with precision by Beltane chairman Keith.
Looking on was primary seven pupil Emma Latto who would be crowned Beltane Queen on the Saturday, accompanied by her immediate court.
For Cornet Scott and his mounted supporters, it was time to take to the saddle and ride the marches. The burgh boundary was cried at Soonhope by local solicitor Morris Anderson.
The principals made a halt at Neidpath Castle. At this ancient keep – grim and grey with years – Haystoun Estate’s head gardener, Eric Gilmour, was installed as Warden of Neidpath, a position held by his late brother, Harry, in 1991.
Beltane chairman Keith said Eric had involved himself wholeheartedly in many aspects of Peebles life.
Eric spoke of his boyhood days in Peebles before turning to his main theme – the Beltane. He declared that if the Warden of Neidpath had a wish, it would be that the citizens’ committee which founded the Red Letter Day in 1899 with the first crowning of the Beltane Queen that year could return to see the rich inheritance which they left for the children.
He added: “I am sure they would be pleased to see the joy that this has brought though the years to children and adults alike. They planted a young seed and just like the mighty oak from a tiny acorn grows, so our Beltane has grown, but is still very much recognisable.
“The oak is majestic, proud and beautiful. But like all trees and plants, needs care, support and nurturing – as does our Beltane Festival.”
He described the Beltane as a festival by the people for the people.
And he went on: “We are but custodians of our festival – caring and nurturing it, as it develops over the years. From only one main primary school, now to three bursting at the seams – with the parish church steps unable to be enlarged to take all our children on Saturday morning for the most fantastic spectacle that is our crowning ceremony – we try to retain its origins and yet keep up to date. The children used to be in horse-drawn lorries, but now they are on motorised decorated floats. What will it be for the future?
“I have every faith that our present custodians will ensure that our March Riding and Beltane Queen Festival will continue, just like the oak, strong and majestic, with its future well assured. It may always need some slight changes – just in the same way that plants can suffer from the elements. If not nurtured and cared for, they will just ‘weed awa’. But, if members of our community come forward to join and support our Beltane committee, our festival’s future will remain – ‘the flo’er o’ a’ the Borders’.”
The principals rejoined the cavalcade, and Cuddy and Tweed were forded before the riders made their way to the golf course for the horse races which included the scamper for the Beltane Bell .
Then it was back to the town where the Cornet’s Reel was danced on the High Street and the principals enjoyed a well-earned sup from the Australian Stirrup Cup.
Once again Peebles had ridden her marches and listened to well-chosen words of wisdom below ancient Neidpath Castle, high above a sweeping bend of the gently-swirling water of the Tweed alongside which this royal and ancient burgh sits.