Beltane is back

For the last two years in June, red and white bunting fluttered above the deserted Peebles High Street.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 2:10 pm
Warden of Neidpath Ex-Cornet Alastair Dodds
Warden of Neidpath Ex-Cornet Alastair Dodds

The pandemic had changed the Border festival’s historic motto, with townfolk being told to ‘stay in’.

But last Friday evening, it was ‘safe to come oot’, as Beltane returned to announce its principals for 2022.

The streets of Peebles are silent no more, and the Beltane festal song could be heard from the Burgh Hall rousing all eager to find out the town’s best kept secret.

Warden of Cross Kirk Reverend Aftab Gohar

It’s been a long time since the curtain was opened to reveal the principals, but it was worth the wait when Iain Mitchell and Becca Lumsden, were announced as this year’s Cornet Elect and Lass.

And, shortly after the pair were sashed, Chairman Paul Spence introduced Margot Swanston as Crowning Lady, Warden of the Cross Kirk, the Reverend Aftab Gohar, Warden of Neidpath Ex-Cornet Alastair Dodds, and Reader of the Boundaries Nathanial Buckingham.

In his speech to the packed audience, 33-year-old Iain said: “To be standing here being selected as Cornet Elect 2022 is a massive privilege and is the greatest honour that I have ever received.

"I am truly humbled to be given the opportunity that few men have, to be written into the history of Peebles and to represent our town throughout the Borders and beyond.

.Cornet Elect Iain Mitchell and his lass Becca Lumsden with 2019 principals Andrew Napier and his lass Natalie Stewart and 2018 principals Gregor McGrath and Loryn Paterson. All photography by Stephen Mathison.

“The Beltane festival has been a big part of my life, and I have been lucky enough to have seen this from many different angles – from being on the church steps and lorries on the Saturday, to following the horses on foot on the Wednesday night.”

The Cornet Elect will be dressed in formal attire as he carries out his duties, but in previous years, he wore a dress.

He said: “I’ve also been inside the barriers on Friday and Saturday in the YM dancers, keeping alive the Beltane tradition of dressing and dancing as dodgy looking woma n!”

However, this year, he says he will have the best view of all – leading the cavalcade on my horse through the town and along the burgh boundaries.

Crowning Lady Margot Swanston

“It's fair to say that the last couple of years have been unique, and been difficult for everyone,” he said. “It’s a real shame that lockdowns have prevented us from living our lives normally, and all coming together in June to celebrate the Beltane festival. I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say that it’s going to be brilliant to have the festival back, and I’m sure the people of Peebles will be out cheering everyone on even louder than usual.

“Mr Chairman, thank you again to you, the committee and the people of Peebles for trusting me with the honour of being Cornet for 2022. I will endeavour to uphold the duties and traditions expected of the Cornet of our Royal and Ancient Burgh.”

This week, Iain, who works for the Scottish Government as a Senior Sponsorship Manager, spoke about the moment he was asked to be Cornet.

"It was great when the chairman and secretary came and asked me. I was hoping they would pick me, but it was still a nice surprise. I’ve been horse riding for a couple of years now and I really enjoy it, so hopefully that will stand me in good stead.”

Reader of the Boundaries Nathanial Buckingham

Asked what he is looking forward to next month, he said: “The Wednesday night leading the cavalcade, but the whole week will be brilliant. It’s also going to be great to attend the other town festivals and common ridings as well.”

The Beltane Queen and Court will be announced on Thursday, May 12.

Reader of Boundaries Nathanial Buckingham