Common Ridings (2)
The races finish around 5pm, after which the Foot Soldiers stagger back into town to reacquaint themselves with Hawick’s pubs or – for those lucky enough to get tickets – don their finery for the highlight of the festival, the Common Ridings Ball, a black-tie affair held in the town hall, and an event so debauched that the antics of some years have reached mythical status (tickets cost £20, and are best bought from the tourist office in advance). Outside, towards dawn, you can experience the bizarre sight of torch-lit Scottish reel dancing performed on top of the twelfth-century fortified “motte” by people who haven’t stopped drinking for 24 hours and may not have slept in 48. If a testament were ever needed to the guts, glory and unbridled,joie de vivre of the Scots, then this, surely, is it. You should have just enough time for an hour or two of shut-eye before the fife band strikes up once more and it’s time to do it all again on the Saturday, at least until the Hornshole flag is returned to the provost and the riders can pack away their jodhpurs for another year.
Insider info Most people come to Common Ridings to watch, but you re confident you can ride a beast at full gallop cross-country and rough Hawick’s winding streets, the local tourist office may be able to arrange for you to join the ride.
The central character in the Hawick Common Ridings is the Cornet, a local male aged 19-24, who is chosen from the town’s population of young horsemen, and who leads the rides, flanked by his Right- and Left-Hand Men.
Other Common Ridings
Common Ridings events are held at each border town throughout the summer, starting with Hawick in early June. The principal men are elected annually and honoured with such titles as Standard Bearer (Selkirk), Comet (Hawick), Callant (Jedburgh), Braw Lad (Galashiels), Reiver (Duns), Whipman (West Linton) and Melrosian (Melrose).
Selkirk Common Riding, generally held a few weeks after the Hawick event, is recognized as one of the oldest of the Borders festivals, with formalities dating from the Battle of Flodden in 1513 (commemorating, in this case, a miserable pasting received by the locals from English marauders). The Selkirk event also attracts the most horse riders – up to five hundred have been known to follow the Standard Bearer “safe oot and safe in” on the ride around town boundaries, making it one of the largest equestrian Qatherings in Europe.
Hitting the Hut
One unique feature of the Hawick event is the experience of the “Hut”, a large cricket pavilion in St Leonards, on the outskirts of town, that houses some of the rowdiest early-morning piss-ups you may ever experience. After patrolling the town’s boundaries on the Thursday and Friday mornings, the Cornet and riders arrive at the Hut at around 8.30am to a rapturous reception. They then settle down for the traditional breakfast snack of rum and milk, accompanied by rowdy songs and alcohol-soaked male bonding, before attempting to head off to the racecourse a couple of hours later. Inside, the Hut is filled with long trestle tables, and only one type of order is taken at the bar – a “crate”, which contains a case of McEwans lager, a large bottle of rum and two pints of milk. Groups of five or six usually split the cost, although some bravehearts order a crate for themselves.
The Hut is a fairly male environment, as you might expect: the only way of getting around inside is by walking on the tables and grabbing hold of the overhead beams, while the urinals largely consist of a solitary open window. There’s space for 700 or so revellers inside the Hut, but you’ll need a ticket to get in; tickets go on sale at the pavilion the week before the event on a first-come, first-served basis and are invariably snapped up within hours. Good luck with getting one – it’s worth it.