It was as if townsfolk were reluctant to let go of 2016’s Kelso Civic Week as it came to an end on Saturday night.
Hundreds of people packed into the town square for the final ceremonies and fancy-dress competition.
There was a real friendly party atmosphere, tinged with a touch of sadness that it was almost all over for another year, as families gathered to welcome back this year’s Kelso Laddie, Ian Whellans, on his return at the head of a 256-strong mounted cavalcade which had just made the annual visit to Yetholm.
At the head of the morning’s cavalcade, Ian had set out for Yetholm after leaving the square in Kelso at 8.30am on Saturday.
Reaching the village, they were officially greeted at the war memorial, where Ian laid a wreath before riding on to Kirk Yetholm, where he was officially welcomed by Yetholm Community Council on the green and by this year’s Bari Gadgi, Jack Sibbald, and Bari Manushi, Cassie Quashie, with the Bari Gadgi then presenting Ian with the traditional Yetholm jagger.
Riders were joined by a large contingent who had come for the customary picnic lunch before the cavalcade prepared for the long ride back to Kelso.
With the pipe band leading the way into town, the cavalcade briefly halted while the Kelso Laddie and his henchmen, Fraser Hastie and Ross Henderson, dismounted to take their positions on the dais.
Ian was presented with the coveted blue bonnet for crossing the border, after which the platform party acknowledged the rest of the mounted cavalcade.
In a repeat of last year, the cups for youngest and oldest riders to complete the Yetholm ride, went again to Tara Kane, six, and ex-Kelso Laddie James Hinnigan.
Later in the evening, following the usual fun and laughter of the fancy-dress parade, the Kelso Laddie returned the burgh standard unsullied and untarnished to provost John Bassett.
The Yetholm ride is the climax of a packed week-long programme of events, although, as Kelso Laddie, Ian has been representing his home town at numerous other Border festivals and common ridings since early summer.
After Saturday night’s official ceremonies came to an end, Ian told us he was as blown away by the whole experience of being a Borders principal as any of those who have already represented their towns in common ridings and festivals across the region this summer.
“It’s been a brilliant week. The feeling of riding out of the town at the head of this morning’s cavalcade was something else. You just can’t describe it, and it has been far better than I even expected,” he said.
“Riding down the hill, seeing all the cars in the Haugh at the Venchen was just exceptional, absolutely fantastic.
“That and the Wednesday night bussin’ ceremony were my personal highlights.”
Asked if he would recommend the experience to any other young men given the chance to follow in his footsteps, Ian replied: “Without a doubt. Don’t even hesitate for a moment to question yourself. Just kick on and do it.”
Ian says he was always conscious of the history and tradition behind the role and of all those who have filled it in previous years and a desire not to let any of them down.
“You get informed about the history and traditions of it all by the ex-Laddies. They all have their own unique stories to tell. They have been brilliant,” he said.
“I’ve wanted to do this for a while. I’ve got my own horses and have always taken part in civic week.
“Today was my 14th Kelso-to-Yetholm ride. I can’t fault the experience at all. It has been a truly amazing experience. Words can’t describe it better than that.”
With the conclusion of this civic week bringing an end to his three years in office, left-hand man Ross was also in reflective mood on Saturday night. “It’s been an absolutely brilliant week from start to finish,” he said. “We were very lucky with the weather overall.
“Tuesday night was scorching, with 200 horses at that, then 100 horses on Monday night, and over 250 today in weather like this was fantastic,” he said.
“That’s my three years up, yes. I was a wee bit conscious of that, but it all passes so quickly. You are just trying to take in as much as you can.
“It has been a great three years, and I am sad it’s come to an end, but I’ve got some amazing memories. I’d definitely advise anyone to do it if they get the chance. The people you meet and friendships you make are great.”
The Kelso Laddie’s father, also called Ian, was among those riding on Saturday, and he couldn’t contain his delight at having been able to support his son from horseback:
“It’s been an absolutely fantastic day, the best I’ve had for a good lot of years,” he said.
“It’s been mega-special, particularly when we came into the town following the band.”
He was also impressed by his son’s performance, saying: “He’s just grown and grown throughout the summer.
“He’s totally different. We saw it at Mosspaul, where he was still a bit of a shy laddie, but he’s absolutely come on great, and we’re so proud of him.”
Provost John Bassett, in his fourth civic week as the town’s civic head, added: “There were no problems at all today, and the weather been excellent.
“It’s been an absolutely glorious day, and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, and not just today but throughout the week.
“We say it every year, but it takes a bit of doing for whoever is the Laddie, going round all of this and putting the town at its heart, but that’s what it is all about.
“It’s about that sense of history and tradition – traditions that have lived on in people’s hearts. For crowds like this to turn out, it has got to have something special.
“People from Australia, New Zealand and Canada who are Kelso-born and bred have come back specially for this week. Every single part of the community is involved, and that bodes well for the future.”
Among the ex-Laddies present for the Wednesday night installation and colour bussing ceremonies, were diamond jubilee Kelso Laddie Bert Nicholson and Tom Fairley, the golden jubilee Kelso Laddie.
Tribute was also paid to the late Keith Riddell, who would have been this year’s silver jubilee Kelso Laddie.
Ex-Kelso provost Margaret Riddell was this year’s recipient of the Ex-Kelso Laddies’ Club achievement award for her long service to the town.
This year’s colour-bussers were Rachael Macaulay, Sophie Matthews, Rebecca Tait and Katie McNulty.