14 Riding the Marches
After the Chase, toasts and songs on the Friday morning the riders mount their horses once more. On leaving St. Leonard's they proceed to ride the marches of the common land.
The riders proceed to the farthest corner of the Common. They ride past Williestruther Loch and on to the Acreknowe Reservoir. The horses walk in single file along both sides of the reservoir. For some people this is the finest sight of the Common-Riding.
In the olden days the men who rode the marches followed a much longer route. They followed the boundary of the Common. At one point at Whitlaw, the boundary line passed through a house. Half the house was in Hawick Common and half was in the neighbouring property. At first the boundary was marked here by the placing of a turf or divot on the roof (rigging). Later, when the Flag was introduced into the Common-Riding, it was handed up one side of the house, across the roof and down the other side.
Today the Cornet and his mounted supporters ride from Acreknowe to the corner of a field where the "Three Lairdships" meet. Land which belongs to three different owners meets at this point. Here the Cornet dismounts. He cuts and turns a sod (piece of turf) using a Ceremonial Spade. In this way he marks the boundary of the Common for another year as ancient custom demands. Three cheers are given and the 25 year Cornet witnesses the Sod Cutting with the following statement.
"We have had the privilege of following our Cornet round our ancient meiths and marches and witnessed him mark the extremities by the Cutting of the Sod. Our ancient ceremony has been carried out for hundreds of years and although we do not carry weapons to fight off marauders or quirky lairds we still mark our boundaries as a symbol of respect to our predecessors. The riding of the boundary and Cutting of the Sod is the Cornet’s most important duty and I am sure he has carried it out to the satisfaction of everyone and you gentlemen are the witnesses.
May I wish you all Safe In."
This is followed by three cheers.Today it is not necessary to ride the marches to drive off neighbour's sheep. Nor is it necessary to confirm the boundary line in people’s minds. The division of the Common and the later erection of dykes and fences saw to that. Nor is the Auld Ca' Knowe visited. Nevertheless, "Cutting the Sod" is one of the most important of all the Common-Riding ceremonies as it commemorates the time when riding the marches or common riding was vital for the people of Hawick.
After cutting the sod the Acting Father receives the Flag and leads the riders to Hawick Moor, returning it to the Cornet at the gate to the race-course. Here the Cornet and his supporters gallop round the course and they are greeted by cheering crowds. The Cornet, Right- and Left-Hand Men, the Acting Father and Ex-Cornets and Ex-Acting Fathers make their way to the paddock. The Cornet climbs to the roof of the Committee Room, displays the Flag, watched by the Lasses in the paddock, and then places it on the roof of the Committee Room. On descending to the ground, he and his Acting Father receive their traditional present of a riding-crop from the chief guest of the year on behalf of the townspeople of Hawick.
At the race-course there is a programme of horse racing which continues throughout the afternoon. Large crowds of happy people who have travelled by car, minibus, van and on foot enjoy their picnics and socialise with friends, neighbours and relatives as they watch the races. Many new friendships are made as the people circulate around the Moor.
At 4 pm the Cornet takes the Flag from the Committee Room roof and the riders remount and leave the Moor. They go by the way of Crumhaughhill to Myreslawgreen. Here the Cornet and the Right- and Left-Hand men and Acting Father leave the mounted supporters, who are given a stirrup cup, and ride to the Coble Pool in the River Teviot. The three horsemen, excluding the Acting Father, enter the water and the Cornet lowers the staff of the Flag three times. This is to mark the spot that once formed part of the old march between Wilton and the town. On their return to the main party the procession moves off to the Millpath where the Lasses are waiting with the crowd for the Song Singing ceremony which the Official Song Singer leads with the singing of "Teribus" after the proclamation:
"For as much as the Provost, Bailies, and Council of the Burgh of Hawick, with the Burgesses of the said Burgh, have this day ridden the meiths and marches of the Commonty of Hawick, as has been in use yearly since time immemorial without interruption or molestation of any sort. Therefore, if any nobleman, gentleman, or others, having lands lying contiguous or adjacent to the said Commonty, shall find themselves leized or prejudiced in any sort by this day's marching, they are hereby required to state their objections thereto to the Provost, Bailies, and Council of the said Burgh within forty days from this date otherwise they shall be held to have acquiesced in the said marching."
The Provost’s and Cornet’s initials are displayed on shields at this ceremony. Until 1859 the Song was sung from the top of "Tibby the Fiddler's" house in the Millpath. This was a low thatched cottage which stood on the boundary of the burgh land and that of the Duke of Buccleuch at a point where the disused railway bridge now crosses the road. The cottage was demolished to make room for the railway. Today the Song is sung as near as possible to the old site.
Why this ceremony should take place in Millpath at all is something of a mystery. The street is in no other way connected with the Common-Riding. However the ground, where Allars and Slitrig Crescents are, used to be a level green haugh. It was known as the Deidhaugh. Archery contests used to be held there. Other military exercises, games and sports also took place and these became part of the Common-Riding celebrations.
In less war-like times horse racing was introduced and the larger field at the Common Haugh was used instead. The Song however, was still sung at the spot where it had always been during the events - in other words "It's aye been".
After the ceremony of the Song Singing in Millpath the Cornet, now on foot, carries the Flag to the Town Hall. The supporters, also on foot, follow. At the Town Hall the Flag is displayed from the balcony to show that it has been safely and honourably carried round the marches for another year:
"Safe Oot, Safe In."