Rain, rain stayed away as Melrosian and Festival Queen Katy revel in their big day

SPEAKING in the town’s Parish Church in his role as guest speaker for Melrose Festival’s crowning ceremonies, Donald Gordon had urged the young to “seize the day” and that’s exactly what this year’s principals did, and did very well.

From Melrosian Graeme Crawford and his supporters to Festival Queen Katy Wilkinson, all were of the same opinion – if you get the chance to be a principal, grab it with both hands because it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience you’ll never forget.

The rain, which had deluged Selkirk Common Riding’s main day with monsoon conditions the previous week, stayed away for Saturday’s tour of ceremonies.

These saw the town’s abbey take its traditional place at the heart of the festival, as well as crowds of spectators turning out to cheer on this year’s principals as they visited Newstead, Abbotsford, Darnick and Gattonside.

Speaking afterwards, the Melrosian was obviously still on a high.

The 21-year-old sports and exercise student at Robert Gordon’s University in Aberdeen told TheSouthern: “The weather kept dry, the rain stayed off, thankfully for today. It was really good. A fantastic experience.”

Asked for his favourite moment of the week, he echoed previous incumbents in the role: “It has to be the rideout on the Monday night – riding my horse up into the Market Square behind the pipe band, seeing the crowd and hearing the cheers. An amazing feeling.”

Graeme, whose elder brother David was Melrosian in 2006, had one piece of advice for anyone offered the chance to fill the festival’s main role: “Definitely have a go. I’ve learned a lot from it. It enhances your whole personality and adds an extra dimension to yourself.”

For Left-Hand Man Scott Marjoribanks, the Melrosian of two years ago, it was enjoyable but sad coming to the end of his term of office as a principal.

“I’ve really enjoyed myself this week. It’s a bit sad it’s all over now, but it’s been a really good few years. I was a bit nervous at first about doing it, but it was such a good experience that I would encourage everyone to grab it if they get the chance.”

And Festival Queen Katy Wilkinson agreed: “I enjoyed it because it’s really special to be part of the court. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I came here and saw people in the court. It looked like great fun.

“The crowning was my favourite bit – it was really special, even though it had to be in the church. It’s something I would tell every girl to try and do.”

A quarter of a century ago, a young Louise Bunyan – now Louise Johnson – was in her shoes.

Today a psychiatrist, married with a young family and living in Aberdeen, Louise was this year’s Silver Jubilee Festival Queen.

She admitted it had been an emotional week. “It’s been great to get back and see lots of people I haven’t seen for a long time. I was also here for the crowning, which was quite emotional for me, and today’s been wonderful, with all the memories flooding back.”

Festival joint chairman George Bunyan is an experienced hand when it comes to keeping things on schedule and making sure everything goes to plan.

“We’ve had good support and managed to be on time all the way round,” he told us.

As for his own personal highlight, he revealed: “The highlight for me was having 30 or so of our former queens back with us, some from as far back as 1944 and 1945.

“That has been absolutely great. Also, our principals have done very well and the support throughout week has been tremendous.”

Saturday’s proceedings had started with the visit to Newstead, where the masons who built the nearby abbey founded the masonic lodge of Melrose.

It was then just a few short yards to the site of the former Roman fort of Trimontium, where the Melrosian was greeted by a figure in the authentic garb of a Roman soldier.

From there it was on to Gattonside and a welcome from the village, where the monks from the nearby abbey once tended their orchards and where cherries were offered to the official party.

At Abbotsford, the Melrosian, Festival Queen and official party were the only ones permitted at Abbotsford for the traditional presentation of yellow roses for health and safety reasons, as a result of the current refurbishment works at Sir Walter Scott’s famous home.

Lastly, it was the turn of Darnick Tower, where the Melrosian received a gift of honey, while guests accepted refreshments symbolising the mead of long ago and Ex-Melrosian Greig Anderson, in the role of the abbey’s lord abbot, was offered a gift of wax “to lighten your convent at Melrose”.

The day’s final ceremonies in the abbey grounds, included the laying of a wreath of red roses by the Festival Queen on the burial site of King Robert Bruce’s heart.

It was here, too, that King David – played by Alastair Houston – presented the monks with the abbey’s founding charter.