Drizzle fails to dampen spirits at 80th festival

2016 Melrose Festival.
2016 Melrose Festival.

Saturday morning dawned with a drizzle for the 80th anniversary staging of Melrose Festival’s tour of ceremonies.

But that did nothing to dampen the spirits of the principals involved – 2016 Melrosian Struan Hutchison and festival queen Nicole Ferguson and her Court.

The morning saw the Melrosian and his supporters – right-hand man Donald Crawford and left-hand man Fraser Anderson – together with the festival queen and her court, plus parents, family, friends and others tour the surrounding villages of Newstead, Gattonside and Darnick.

There were also visits to the site of the ancient Roman fort of Trimontium, just outside Newstead, where the Melrosian shook hands with ex-Melrosian Scott Marjoribanks, dressed as a Roman centurion, and thence to Abbotsford.

At the latter, the former home of novelist Walter Scott on the banks of the River Tweed, the Melrosian and his official party were presented with the traditional yellow roses.

By the time the official party reached Melrose Abbey at noon, the weather had improved considerably, with sunshine threatening to break through the clouds.

That meant the abbey was once again looking its best for the final ceremonies, including the poignant moment when Nicole placed a wreath of red flowers at the stone marking the site of the burial of the heart of King Robert the Bruce.

Melrosian Hutchison told us: “It’s been a great day. Highlights for me have to be the rideout on Monday night, plus being piped up behind the band.

“My dad was riding just behind me as well which made it extra special, and then just seeing all the Melrose people, family and friends cheering me on.

“On Thursday, here at the abbey, it was also quite special – those two things are my highlights.”

Asked if being Melrosian was something he had wanted for a long time, he replied: “ When I was a wee boy, I’d come to all the festival events and look up to the Melrosian and then when I was asked, I jumped at the chance.

“I feel very honoured and privileged to have been asked.

“One great thing is the friendships you make with the principals from other towns. Everyone gels together, and you all come out of the summer feeling like one big family.

“I’m sad this week’s finished, but I’ve still got all the other festivals over the rest of the summer, and the next two years will also see me still having a role.”

Festival chairman Michael Crawford admitted that his first year in office had seen him start off the week feeling nervous, but he added: “Everything’s gone very well and couldn’t have been much better.

“The rain held off, and we got a good reception as we toured the villages.

“It is the same places we visit and the same stories which are recounted, but that is its strength, because it continues those age-old traditions that make the festival, like all the Borders’ common ridings and other festivals, such special events, and it means a lot more people get the chance to see the Melrosian and the queen and her court as not everyone can always manage to get into Melrose during the week.

“I was told the festival had a lovely positive family atmosphere, and that’s fantastic to hear because that’s what we always aim for.

“The queen and her court carried out their duties magnificently and always with smiles on their faces, and it goes without saying that we had a good Melrosian. We always pick good Melrosians!

“Struan was no exception, and he was ably supported by Donald and Fraser.”

Mr Crawford concluded by making special mention of diamond jubilee Melrosian George Bunyan and his contribution to the festival over six decades.

Mr Crawford also paid tribute to festival secretary Evelyn Oliver, saying: “It if was not for Evelyn, our secretary who does a tremendous power of work, this event would not be the success if always is.”

Mr Bunyan, also honorary president of the festival, added: “The weather has been great, the support’s been great, and people have been very complimentary towards me.

“I certainly remember my year as Melrosian,but it does seem a long time ago now.

“The festival has changed a bit since then, with things added or tweaked here and there, but the essence of it remains the same, and I think that’s what helps keep it relevant and as popular than ever.”

See more photos online at www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk and from Page 41