“I will never forget the noise and the feeling when I rode out through the vennel with the Flag” says Cornet Gregor Hepburn – a memory he will treasure for the rest of his life from the main celebrations.
He was riding high on the crest of a Common-Riding wave as last Friday morning’s beloved proceedings began in the proud and unique way they have done for the long line of forefathers who have gone before him – but as this year’s Callant led an estimated 310 horses through the Tower archway, clutching the Banner Blue, it was his special moment. And the massive crowds which had packed onto the High Street and beyond in eager anticipation of the spectacle, certainly shared it with him.
The Cornet told the Hawick News: “Setting off on Friday morning with the Flag at the front of such a huge cavalcade was something else, just amazing. It is something I have thought about alot but nothing could prepare me to be in that situation. Seeing all the faces and hearing the cheers was incredible.”
And the thrilled incumbent added: “I will never forget the noise and the feeling when I rode out through the vennel with the Flag, it was overwhelming.”
The town was most definitely buzzing as one of the best days in the year got under way, with all roads leading to the Wester Heather as thousands of people made their way to the special spot. Vehicles waited early on in long queues to get their ‘space’, and by taxi, bus or foot, the Mair filled up with Teries, families, friends and visitors all eager to celebrate the town’s, and their own, traditions. And St Leonards Hut once again became a tardis filled with hundreds of revellers and the unimstakable feeling of the Friday morning.
Although it was a slightly overcast day with a cool breeze, the sun did shine occasionally on the Cornet and the rest of the Big Four. And for Acting Father Richie Lynn, as he also embarked on a special ride into history, there was no doubt it was a day of dreams. “One of the memories I will always have will be when I recevied the Flag after the Cutting of the Sod and I rode with both sons on either side of me, and my brother behind me. [It was] just very special,” he stated.
And describing his emotions just previously when the Principals entered those hallowed four walls at St Leonards, he added: “Walking into that reception was unbelievable, the Hut on Friday was mind-blowing.”
Emotions certainly remained high after the procession had been cheered on its way, up the Chase and into the Hut which pulsed with pride. And the highlights just kept coming for the Cornet, who commented: “The Hut is always extra special on the Friday and that was a tough speech for me, I really had to take a breath. But then arriving on the racecourse was incredible, the crowds and roaring just didn’t stop.”
The sun had begun to come out ahead of the horses’ arrival onto the course, and the 1514 primary school relay had already warmed up the crowds as they packed the railings to give the Cornet a hero’s welcome along with his Right and Left and Acting Father. But the jubilant mood quickly turned to dismay when Ex-Cornet Philip Murray, among only the first 30 or so horses, suffered a fall as he approached the top bend. The charge around the raceourse was immediately stopped by marshals and several townsfolk who had jumped to Mr Murray’s aide, and the rest of the riders had to file past at a walk. But thankfully, despite initial fears that the Common-Riding stalwart was seriously injured, he was able to walk away after receiving some medical attention.
Mr Murray, who says his hired horse had weaved up the straight before he lost a stirrup leather, said this week: “I was very lucky to escape without injury and just sore shoulders. But I was hugely impressed by the paramedics, and it really showed the calibre of Hawick folk.”
Drama had already unfolded at Pilmuir just moments earlier when the 2013 Gala Braw Lad took what was first thought to be a serious tumble, leading to an air ambulance being requested. And although it turned out he was not badly hurt, the racing programme was delayed to allow for the helicopter’s arrival and departure.
But none of the glitches could affect a day which, as always, was all things to all Teries as the town proved once again that it is ‘Queen o’ a’ the Borders’. And for one extra-special Hawick man, it was a day that will forever be the best of a’.