All eyes were on the beaming smile of this year’s Hawick Cornet, Ali George, at the weekend as he brought the town’s six-week long common riding celebrations to a close.
As the holder of that most prestigious of roles, he has led hundreds of supporters and mounted followers throughout that time, leading up to the culmination of the annual event last Thursday, Friday and Saturday to celebrated the ancient ceremonies so dear to Teries both at home and further afield.
Since his appointment at the start of May, the 24-year-old charged with safeguarding the town’s traditions has been aided by his right and left-hand men, Euan Reilly and Gregor Hepburn, plus acting father Ronnie Frost.
And on Friday morning, the four men led more than 250 horses to the Nipknowes for the main chase and to ride the marches of the burgh’s common before leading the cavalcade to the racecourse then on to the ceremonial dipping of the flag at the Cobble Pool, followed by the evening’s dinner and ball.
Saturday’s early-morning visit to the mote, rideout and races were equally well supported, and rain failed to deter the large crowd that gathered to see Ali, the town’s 301st cornet, return the flag unsullied and untarnished that afternoon.
Delighted with how his time as Hawick’s main man has gone, Ali, a greenkeeper by trade, told the Hawick News: “It was just unreal. It flew by, but I had the time of my life.
“I was completely overwhelmed by the support from the townsfolk. I just enjoyed every minute of it and am gutted it’s all over.
“I was a bit nervous on Friday morning but was excited more than anything, and handing back the flag on Saturday was an emotional moment.
“Thanks to my acting father Ronnie for keeping me right and my left and right-hand men and the lasses for all their support and the marshals who put in a lot of work over the last six weeks.”
He added: “I’ve never ridden at any of the other town’s rides before, so I have Selkirk to look forward to now.”
For Ali’s lass, Katy Moffat, it too has been an unforgettable experience. Her big moment came at Thursday night’s colour-bussing as she took centre stage during the poignant ceremony in the town hall.
“That was one of the more serious parts of the common riding, so it was really nice to have my family and friends involved,” she said. “It went really well.
“I have loved every minute and especially enjoyed getting to watch Ali leading the chase on Friday morning. I was really proud.”
The 22-year-old nursery nurse, of Jedburgh, first followed on horseback at Hawick Common Riding nine years ago, and with her official duties in Hawick now over, she is looking forward to riding with Ali at Jedburgh and Lauder’s festivities later this summer.
Beside Ali, his right-hand man Euan and his lass Lisa McLean and left-hand man Gregor with his lass Lois McCredie every step of the way for the past six weeks were acting father and mother Ronnie and Kerry Frost.
The pair were entrusted with making sure everything was done right and to time.
Ronnie said: “It’s been hectic, very hectic, but also very enjoyable.
“Everything tops everything else as you go on, but getting the banner blue was one of the highlights for me, as well as receiving my badge of office.”
“We had a great turnout of horses and townsfolk every step of the way.”
He added: “I think Ali has done extremely well.
“He really came out of his shell and always had a smile on his face. And Kerry has done really well too and fair enjoyed it all as well.”
Among the highlights of the weekend was undoubtedly Friday morning’s hut, where, opening proceedings, honorary provost Watson McAteer promised the men an “experience never to be forgotten”.
He said: “Today, we have witnessed a young man achieving his dream and a town that is gleaming with pride.
“Our resplendent cavalcade was cheered by townsfolk every inch of the way, arriving in customary fashion here to meet even more folk before entering this simple but powerful unique symbol of our common riding – the hut.
“If it’s your first time in the hut, simply savour, enjoy and take it all in. This will be an experience never to be forgotten.
“If you’ve been here a hundred times before, then just do what you always do and that’s sing your heart out and support our cornet only as Hawick folk can.”
Toasting the cornet in Friday morning’s hut, common riding stalwart Cammy Rudkin described Ali as “one of the best”.
He said: “I knew from day one, you would be a good choice, but you have been like a duck to water.
“You have had that muckle smile on your face since January and the bairns think you are the best thing since sliced bread.
“You are up there with one of the best cornets Hawick has ever had. We are honoured to have you as our cornet for 2017.”
And if Ali had any nerves about addressing the 600-strong crowd in the hut, they were soon dispelled as he asked the men: “Where else would you rather be than in our house, the hut?”
He added: “I’ve had the time of my life. It’s been an absolute pleasure and honour to be your cornet for 2017.”
“I hope I have acted to a good enough standard of what is expected of a cornet.”
He told his supporters: “I only get one go at this, and I want to get it right.” And if their response was anything to go by, he certainly got it right.