After weeks of build-up and promise, ride-outs and anticipation, generations of Teries and returning exiles awoke on Thursday morning and made their way south to the Nipknowes and St Leonards for what many consider the start of things proper – the Thursday Morning Chase.
And as popular Cornet Gregor Hepburn clattered up the Nipknowes, leading his unmarried supporters with the unbussed Banner Blue, there could hardly be A Teri heart which wasn’t racing. And in The Hut he received an ovation only reserved for Hawick Cornets, and one which could leave him in no doubt the affection he is held in.
On returning to the town, an impromptu sing-song took place at the Auld Man’s Seat as former Official Song Singer Henry Douglas sang the song he has made his own, “I Like Auld Hawick the Best”, in memory of the late, great Common Riding stalwart Viv Sharp.
But if the morning’s proceeding got the Hawick hearts beating faster, the historic and poignant colour bussing ceremony once again brought into sharp focus what Hawick Common Riding commemorates and is all about.
Once Lass Lois McCredie had bussed the Banner Blue and the packed Town Hall, as well as the sell-out crowd who snapped up tickets for the live Tower Mill screening, had been treated to a first-class evening’s entertainment, Cornet Hepburn was off to tie the ribbons onto the Horse Monument.
A large crowd witnessed this and as the “hip, hip, hoorays” echoed throughout the streets of the town, everyone’s minds turned to the fast-approaching “Big Picter” which was only hours away.
With the now bussed Banner Blue firmly in his grasp, Cornet Hepburn led his men to St Leonards and as the immortal words of James Thomson’s Border Queen were belted out in irrepressible style by Michael Aitken, The Hut was heaving with emotion and passion:
“What tho’ her lads are wild a wee, And ill to keep in order, Mang ither toons she bears the gree, Hawick’s Queen o’ a’ the Border”
The Friday weather was dry and fair, and prior to arriving at Hawick Moor, the Cornet and his followers made their way to cut the sod.
At the Moor one or two casualties – ex-Cornet Phillip Murray and a Gala principal included – curtailed the usual racecourse gallop for many, and the Gala rider was airlifted to hospital, but released later.
Provost Stuart Marshall described Friday’s proceedings as: “A fantastic day enjoyed by young and old alike. This really is as good as it gets. It was also great to see as many exiles returning to the town for the Common Riding which is now as popular as it has ever been.”
Those hoping for a weather re-run on the Saturday were bitterly disappointed. The bottom tent and the provost’s hospitality tent, as well as dozens of private gazebos, fell victim to the wind and rain, and many who braved the hill with optimism early in the day returned to the town before the day’s end.
A good crowd gathered at the Town Hall to see the man of the moment hand back the Banner Blue, “unsullied and unstained”, while writing himself into the history books as the latest in a long line of Hawick Cornets who have gone before him.