CHILLED out’ is a rarely used phrase by a principal at a Borders festival.
But that was Ryan Mania’s state of mind, as the Braw Lad stood in the bustling Burgh Chambers after an unforgettable morning, despite a restless horse making the act of homage at the War Memorial a difficult task.
It was not an act of bravado from the 23-year-old jockey. Rather, an honest assessment of someone who was almost brought up on horseback.
But this was a bit more special than an average day at the races for Ryan – whose dad Kevin and mum Lesley were attendants back in 1983. His lack of tears or nerves should not suggest the 2012 Braw Lad was not immensely proud of joining a long list of Galaleans who have represented their town, going all the way back to Adam H. Polson in 1930.
Ryan told TheSouthern: “The day has not sunk in yet. I was so relaxed today and was able to take it all in.
“Strangely, I had no nerves. I got a good night’s sleep, had a big breakfast, and although I got excited when I got the flag, I was chilled out after that.
“I have to be relaxed in my day job otherwise you are no good.
“Getting a gallop up Gala Hill was my favourite bit.”
Ryan paid tribute to his fellow jockey Campbell Gillies, who died in an accident in Corfu last week, saying his close friend had brought some rare rays of sunshine for Galashiels’ big day in an otherwise miserable summer.
And he also praised his Braw Lass for her studious efforts to research the Old Town Cross ceremony.
He added: “We have practised the Mixing of the Roses for a while now and I know Nicola has been sitting at home watching old videos of how it was previously done.
“She put a lot of effort into it and from where I was standing it was perfect.”
Unlike Ryan, Nicola was tearful at the end of her duties, which did not involve fording the River Tweed due to the heavy rainfall during the week.
The 20-year-old student told us: “It is an amazing feeling – I am very emotional now it is all over.
“We were so lucky with the weather. I really enjoyed my day.
“I was a bit disappointed not to cross the river but there was nothing you can do about it, you just have to get on with it.
“The Mixing of the Roses was the biggest part of my day but I loved going up Gala Hill and Scott Street, and seeing all the crowds.
“Ryan kept me calm and did really well at the War Memorial despite his problems with the horse.”
Hearing Lawrence McPherson’s speech at the early morning Braw Lads’ Breakfast would show any visitor what this festival means to Galaleans.
In front of an audience of 300 men in the Volunteer Hall, the Braw Lad of 2002 emotionally spoke of his special year, which followed the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001 when no rideout took place, and also saw the Queen buss his burgh flag during Golden Jubilee celebrations at the Greenyards.
Town Crier Jim Amos, 26 years in the job, kicked off proceedings at 8am on the Burgh Chambers balcony, with new Gathering president Andrew Johnston handing the standard to Ryan above the usual impressively large audience.
A cavalcade of 331 then made its way to the Raid Stane at Netherdale to remember the first recorded mention of Galashiels following the death of English raiders at the hands of men from the town.
With no river crossings, the official party travelled on the roads to Abbotsford, which is undergoing major refurbishment but still offered a welcome to the Braw Lads’ Gathering.
The horses returned for the charge up a sodden Gala Hill, before Braw Lass Nicola took centre stage for the Mixing of the Roses, and put in a faultless performance.
A visit to Old Gala House to meet John Scott, the 10th Laird of Gala, was followed by what is, for many, the spectacular highlight of the morning.
Rider after rider from Galashiels and communities across the Borders galloped into a tunnel of noise that was Scott Street, with the crowds lining both sides of the road creating a special atmosphere.
And then it was time for silence as the 756 Gala men killed during both World Wars – and whose names are inscribed on the War Memorial – were remembered.
The dipping of the burgh flag and pipers’ rendition of Flowers of the Forest set a poignant moment on an otherwise joyful day.
Certainly Andrew Johnston, in his first year as president, was looking forward to his next two years in the post. He said: “It was utter magic for me. It has been a tremendous experience and I am grateful and privileged to carry out my duties as the president.
“You could not get a nicer pair than Ryan and Nicola. They have been very popular. If that is how Gala’s youth of today are going to turn out, the town has a lot to look forward to.”
Youngest rider for the third year in a row was Poppy Graham, 8, oldest was Liz Stewart and best dressed title went to Kerry Bonnar.