Almost 500 years ago, in Flodden’s aftermath in 1514, Hawick callants killed English raiders at Hornshole, and captured their flag.
The swallow-tailed ‘Banner Blue’, inscribed in gold ‘1514’ and ‘HC’, standing for ‘Hawick Colours’, has been carried by Teries riding the marches, or boundaries, of Hawick’s common land ever since.
Hawick’s Drum and Fife Band, led by the Halberdiers, roused the town at 6am on Common Riding Friday and upon passing Silver Street’s Exchange Bar (the site of the Auld Brig) kicked off the ‘Snuffin’: a curious custom seeing boisterous callants scrum like a ba’ game to pinch snuff from a ram’s horn. Small packets of snuff are then thrown onto the crowd from a Textile Townhouse window by Hawick’s official song-singer Michael Aitken. The Snuffin’ is believed to hark back to the days when troops were given snuff before going to war.
Ahead of an emotionally-charged two days, the 2013 Chief Guest Lord Joicey, the 5th Baron Joicey of Chester-le-Street in County Durham and a director of the Flodden 500 Ecomuseum, thanked Hawick’s new provost Stuart Marshall at his official breakfast in the Town Hall, which was festooned with banners – ‘Rally roond oor Cornet’ and ‘Teries yin an’ a’.
Lord Joicey wished a wonderful Common Riding to all the gathered burgh riders, who wore ties in the Cornet’s colours of gold and red, and linked arms and swung to the hallowed Hawick songs, their voices oiled by the traditional dark rum and milk.
After breakfast, in the first Border festival of the season, 23-year-old Hawick Cornet Chris Ritson, dressed in 18th century-style green tailcoat, black top hat, white breeches and crimson sash, beamed the biggest smile in Hawick as he rode up the High Street beside Ex-Cornets Ross Nichol (2012) and Michael Davidson (2011), leading a cavalcade of 330 marching and galloping horses, including this year’s Border principals, and cheered by 1,000 Teries.
Hawick’s second biggest smile belonged to 72-year-old John Hope, Cornet 50 years ago in 1963, who held the Banner Blue as Cornet Ritson mounted his own steed Troy, and rode the chases behind him.
John told us: “I can’t believe I’m still as excited as I was 50 years ago. The pride in getting the flag, it’s absolutely pure brilliant.”
In glorious sunshine, the Cornet and his cavalcade galloped to Nipknowes, describing the wooded ride-out as “perfect, brilliant, amazing”, before handing the banner to his Acting Fither, Stuart Hunter, who carried the town’s honour to St Leonard’s Hut for a repast of curds and cream, speeches, and songs.
The Cornet’s reception was as immense as he had hoped, with cheers lasting two whole minutes. Twenty wheelie bins waited for empty bottles of rum, milk and lager.
In his toast to the Cornet, John Hope paid tribute to Chris’s “feeling for Hawick and its history”.
He told him: “Do your duty, and get it right for the people of Hawick. Savour every moment. There’s no reason why this year can’t be the best of all.”
Addressing the Cornet in his speech to the Hut, Gala rugby commentator Richie Gray echoed John’s toast.
“Concentrate on the emotion,” he advised. “Common ridings are about emotion. Pass it on every year stronger than the year before.”
After his popular speech, Richie said: “It was an honour. I believe I’m the first Gala man to speak in the Hut.”
Following his ride to the Flodden Memorial, and triumphant gallop past the racecourse’s winning post, Cornet Ritson, beside his Lass Heather Amos, described those emotions: “Pride, passion, honour. It’s better felt than telt.”