Weather fails to dampen spirits at St Ronan’s festival.

Rory Macdonald lights the bonfire to burn the de'il. Pictures by Ian Linton
Rory Macdonald lights the bonfire to burn the de'il. Pictures by Ian Linton

There was a sea of smiles under a forest of umbrellas at Innerleithen on Friday night when the heavens opened during the main outdoor ceremonial element of this year’s St Ronan’s Border Games and Cleikum Ceremonies.

But darkening skies had failed to deter Innerleithen’s inhabitants from grabbing their brollies and raincoats and turning out in force to support this year’s principals.

The Cleikum Ceremonies had started at 7pm in Innerleithen Memorial Hall, where a capacity crowd witnessed dux boy Rory MacDonald installed as the representative of the patron saint, dux girls Abbie Glendinning and Robyn Keddie invested and Ross Brown named as 2016’s standard bearer.

The principal guest this year, Gen Harrison, gave the main address during the evening’s programme of ceremonies.

Emerging from the memorial hall with the blue banner of St Ronan safely in his keeping, the standard bearer, with his supporters and his lass, primary teacher Faye Nicholson, also 22, made their way to the nearby war memorial for a service of remembrance.

It was at that point that the rain started, and it didn’t really let up until after the ceremony at St Ronan’s Wells later in the evening, with some in attendance expressing the view it was the worst weather they had ever experienced for the Cleikum Ceremonies.

But while it might have been some of the worst weather of the summer, it was still the best time of his life for the 22-year-old standard bearer.

The ex-St Ronan’s Primary and Peebles High School pupil has been taking part in games week since he was a youngster. He was appointed a monk in 2001 and dux boy in 2005.

Speaking after the ceremony at St Ronan’s Wells, where the standard bearer is offered the traditional drink of spring water from the famous site, Ross was clearly bursting with pride and totally unfazed by the weather.

“Yeah, the weather wasn’t too great tonight, but there’s nothing you can do about that,” Ross told us.

“It’s been an excellent week, and the weather definitely hasn’t dampened spirits – not just with us, but I think with everybody in the town. It’s
been really, really good so far.”

Asked if it had been as enjoyable an experience as he thought it would be, Ross said: “Definitely and more.

“Obviously, growing up in Innerleithen, you are involved wit games week that often and I was dux boy in 2005, so I kind of feel I know what happens inside out, but you see if from a different perspective as standard bearer. It’s something else, really very special.”

Asked for his highlights, Ross mentioned the event’s ball, saying: “I think the ball last Saturday night was excellent.

“Having been involved with the pipe band for so long and having piped the reel at the ball in the past, to then be the centre of attention, with 400 people watching you, was something else.

“The cheer we got afterwards – I’ve never heard anything like that before.

“It has been absolutely fantastic. It is difficult to pinpoint other individual moments.

“Tonight was special apart from the weather. Raising the banner at the Cleikum was amazing. I think any boy who has grown up in Innerleithen who said they had never wanted to be standard bearer would be lying, I think.”

Asked why he felt games week is still so popular, Ross believes it is because Innerleithen is still very community-orientated.

“Innerleithen is quite lucky still being so community orientated,” he said. “You know nearly everybody in the town and so many turn out to support games week.

“It is that level of community support that makes games week what it is, so everybody wants to do it, and when I got asked on St Patrick’s Day if I wanted to do it, I immediately said yes, and it’s just flown by since then.”

Ross is the first person in his family to be standard bearer in the 25 years since his family first moved to the town.

“Without a doubt, anybody who gets the chance to do this should grab the chance and say yes,” he said.

“Innerleithen is a special place, even more so during games week, and this whole experience has been just immense, and getting the chance to represent Innerleithen at other festivals and common ridings throughout the summer has been tremendous.”

Although there are no rideouts during games week, Ross says he hopes to take part in some of next year’s Border festivals and common ridings on horseback.

“I’ve never ridden before, so I didn’t want to ride at other festivals this year when I was standard bearer and risk falling off and getting injured,” he said. “It would just be my luck – I’ve done stuff like that before – but I’ve said I’d like to do that next year.

“I’d definitely like to ride at Peebles next year as lots of my friends are involved, and with Faye being from there as well, it would be really nice to do.”

Games week chairman Keith Belleville also had a big smile on his face, despite standing speaking while rainwater dripped from his sleeves.

“You just have to get on with things. The weather has been great for the rest of the week,” he said.

“The fancy-dress parade last night was good, so tonight was the first really patch of rain, but folk always come out no matter what.” Asked what he feels makes games week special, Mr Belleville, enjoying his ninth stint in charge, said: “I agree it is partly that whole thing of people coming together at the same time but also, I think, it can mean different things to different people.

“There were 200 entrants in the fancy dress, and they will have been spending weeks getting ready for that.

“Houses were being decorated, people take part at the sports or are having barbecues with their friends. I think it is the sum of all those parts.

“All festivals and common ridings are unique in their own way, but Innerleithen’s is different because it is not a common riding or mounted festival. It is all based around the games and the sports.

“That’s how it started in 1827, and it then had the addition of the Cleikum Ceremonies in 1901 to bring in the legend of St Ronan and involve the children. It still is very much a children’s festival at its heart.”

As well as the Cleikum ceremonies on Friday night, there was the traditional flower parade on Saturday morning, complete with a costumed pageant around the town, followed by the Games themselves in Victoria Park.

In the evening, a torchlight procession formed up in Leithen Crescent at 10pm and ended with the burnin’ of the De’il and a fireworks display on Caerlee Hill.

The week had started the previous Sunday with the traditional kirkin’ service, led by the Rev Janice Faris, and the lessons read by duxes Rory MacDonald, Abbie Glendinning and Robyn Keddie.

The week also saw a car treasure hunt and senior citizens’ social.