Although admitting it was a “great challenge” to toast to the Mosstroopers, writer and broadcaster Alistair Moffat succeeded in fine style.
Last Friday night’s Ancient Order of Mosstroopers annual dinner saw almost 200 members and guests pack the town hall, and Mr Moffat had each and everyone one of them in his thrall with an informative and atmospheric oration.
“Back in the second half of the 17th century, the Mosstroopers needed no defences but their knowledge of the land. The moss was their castle, and this knowledge was much more profound than we can imagine,” he said.
“Knowing the ground intimately, the Mosstroopers could move through the winter darkness in silence, and suprise their prey in moments.
“With their nimble ponies they could reach targets some distance from their lairs, and then disappear quickly into the hills.”
Mr Moffat said the Mosstroopers were “the last faint echo of the riding times. The century of reiving that affected Border society so profoundly.
“But their anonymity, their absence in the historical record, encourages the notion of a fading way of life,” he asserted.
“They may have had all the dash and courage of the bold Buccleuch, Johnnie Armstrong, or Auld Wat o’ Harden, but if they did, it was not recorded.”
Talking of the final days of the Mosstroopers, Mr Moffat added: “Their way of life effectively ended with the Union of 1707 and the disappearance of the frontier.
“But if the referendum in September ends the Union and the border reforms, maybe the Mosstroopers will ride again.”
Mr Moffat was well worthy of the applause he received for a top-notch speech, and Mostroopers president Cammy Kyle should be congratulated on securing the services of such an authoritative and renowned figure.
As always, a superb night of entertainment ensued at what was the club’s 89th annual dinner and, under Mr Kyle’s stewardship, there was never any doubt that this dinner would reach the heights of previous years.
The president spoke of his “real pride” at proposing the toast to the Cornet, and was fulsome in his praise for the town’s man of the moment.
“Ross, in the 16 days since your election, you have really proved a popular choice,” he said. “And I’m sure [Right-Hand Man] Chris [Ritson] and [Left-Hand Man] Ross [Nichol] are comfortable that they could not have made a better choice.”
In reply, the Cornet thanked the president for his kind words, and said it was “hard to believe we are here already, sitting enjoying the annual dinner before the most important ride-out.
“I know I keep repeating myself, but time really is flying in. We need to let go of that fast-forward button, and press the pause one, because I’m struggling to take it all in at times. Tomorrow when I lead the cavalcade over the hills to Mosspaul and back I will feel a huge amount of pride and hope to uphold the standards and traditions of those who have gone before me.”
Looking back to his first ride-out to Mosspaul in 2003 behind Cornet Greg McLeod, the Cornet said he hoped to be able to offer words of encouragement to the young riders during tomorrow’s outing, just as Cornet McLeod had done for him 11 years ago. “It is the thing I remember most from back then,” said Ross.
Alluding to the pride felt by mounted supporters on their return from Mosspaul, the Cornet added: “You’ll feel like a World Cup winner and an Olympic gold medalist all rolled into one. And the badge you receive will mean every bit as much to you.”
Committeeman Cameron Knox proposed the toast to the guests, while former Jethart Herald Billy Spence replied, proudly stating it was 45 years ago that he gained his Mosstroopers badge. The annual ride to Mosspaul had not been without incident for Mr Spence, though, and he recalled the ride-out in 2000, during which he made it as far as the hills above Teviothead before a fall saw him sustain a broken collar bone and two broken ribs. “But I still made it back to Hawick that eveningto see the Cornet’s return,” added Mr Spence to great applause.
Special presentations were made during the evening to Golden Jubilee Cornet Rob Brydon and 60-year Cornet Bruce Mactaggart, both of whom favoured the company with a few words.
Mosstroopers committee member David Oliver continued in the same vein from his superb toast to the Common-Riding at the Cornet’s Congratulatory Smoker, with a warm and humorous toast to Acting Father Alan Gray. The Fither was also in light-hearted form and delivered an equally convivial reply.
There was high praise from comitteeman Graeme Hodgins in his toast to the ‘Right’ and ‘Left’, while in reply, Left-Hand Man Ross Nichol summed up the mood perfectly: “This isn’t just the start of a cracking Mosstrooping weekend, it’s when our Common-Riding cranks up another notch and prepares itself for take off,” he said.
Throughout the evening, entertainment of the highest calibre was provided by the Drums and Fifes, official Common-Riding song-singer Michael Aitken, Ex-Acting Father Henry Douglas, Charlie Marshall, Andrew Boles, Keith ‘Chugger’ Brown, Alan Brydon, Graham Hogg, Bernie Armstrong, Ex-Cornet Ian Nichol (with Right and Left-Hand Men Chris Ritson and Ross Nichol), and Iain ‘Hightower’ Scott.
The pianist was Ian Landles.
A richly deserved toast to the chairman was proposed by club vice-president John Tait.
Brydon’s Bakery and Restaurant provided an excellent meal, while staff from the High Level Bar kept members well watered.
A memorable evening concluded with Michael Aitken leading the company in a spirited rendering of Teribus with ‘Cornets Up.’