Scott’s Selkirk lights up Royal Burgh

Selkirk celebrated its connection with Sir Walter Scott in style last Saturday, as the Royal Burgh’s fireworks display at Scott’s Selkirk was declared “the best ever”.

Since it started 12 years ago as a millennium project, the Scott’s Selkirk extravaganza has taken place during the first weekend of December, when an army of local volunteers and traders transform the town back into its Georgian heyday when Sir Walter ruled as local sheriff.

“The weather was absolutely fantastic – we were pretty lucky,” remarked the festival’s relieved chairman ‘Maister’ Tommy Combe, possibly remembering the town’s disappointment in 2010 when Scott’s Selkirk had to be cancelled due to snow and freezing arctic temperatures.

“The weather was wonderful,” concurred entertainment coordinator Viv Ross, as indeed it was during last Saturday’s crisp, clear winter day.

But there were big changes in the air earlier this year when, in July, festival organisers confirmed that the stalls and entertainment of Scott’s Selkirk would, for the first time, be restricted to one day instead of two.

Speaking at the time, Viv explained the reasoning: “In recent years it was increasingly difficult to sustain the momentum over a whole weekend. In the current economic climate, visitors tend only to come to town one day rather than two. The Saturday is usually very busy, but the crowds on the Sunday had been building later and later in the day – and in many cases people only arrived shortly before the fireworks began.

“Understandably, our shopkeepers are reluctant to open on the Sunday, as it may be well into the afternoon before any shoppers appear.”

So did the change work?

“Originally, I wasn’t happy with it being one day,” said Maister Combe, “but I was pleased with how it all went. I think there was a good crowd following the entertainment. It was the best fireworks display seen in a long time – thanks to the sponsors Belmont Motors. It was 10 minutes long, and they weren’t sparklers!”

Scott’s Selkirk secretary Dick Marks agreed: “The comments on the fireworks were they were the best ever.”

“They were spectacular,” Viv added, “and there was a great turn-out for the torchlight procession.

“The entertainment side went very well ... we loved the stiltwalkers and jugglers, who travelled all the way from Bristol. The horse and carriage just added to the atmosphere.”

Visitors had the chance to ride in a rare 1850 horse-drawn glass carriage on its first official outing since being restored by owners Cornhill Carriage Company.

“We were delighted with the quality of the stallholders who came,” she said. “Most of them did extremely well. We were thrilled to bits with how the gazebos looked – thanks to the Hammermen for putting those up.”

“It’s a tremendous amount of work,” added Tommy, “setting up the stalls for one day, and then taking them down before midnight. The pop-up gazebos aren’t that easy to pop up. We are lacking volunteers.”

“We’re just so short of volunteers, it’s just chronic,” agreed Viv, who went on to thank all those who contributed to the event’s success. Thanks to the new town crier, (Ex-Standard Bearer) Elliot Fraser, for doing a sterling job,” she said, “and a big thank you to TheSouthern for allowing us to use The Hermitage for Meg Dods’ Kitchen, and to the Abbotsford Trust’s Dr Sandra McNeill, who gave a talk about Scott’s links with Selkirk.”

Viv also thanked all the performers who put on such “fabulous” entertainment.

The programme featured a dramatised court case, ‘The Seamy Work o’ the Weaver’, written by and starring John Nichol as the ‘Shirra’ (Sir Walter) – captured on video by us to be serialised on this Christmas – as well as re-enacted history from the French prisoners and the Border Clansmen.

The streets also came alive with dancing from Kick The Cat and the Selkirk Country Dancers, and music from Matt Seattle, Carlenjig, Selkirk Flute Band, Riddell Fiddles, The Bogie’s Close Stompers, The Beggar Girls, Gael Force, the United Church Carol Singers, Selkirk Silver Band, Langholm Folk, High Line Fiddlers, and Borders duo Carly Bain and Graeme Armstrong.

Understandably, with the new one-day format, committee members said there were a few lessons to be learned for next year.

“There were some teething problems that will be attended to in years to come,” admitted Dick.

“We want to rejig the layout of the stalls,” explained Viv, “as well as add to the musical entertainment, and make more of the evening session and Meg Dods.”