Riding of the Marches a triumph

The first Wigtown Riding of the Marches for over 50 years was a triumph last Sunday evening with the memorable sights and sounds of over 50 riders trotting up the main street drawing gasps of admiration from the large crown of spectators.

Galloway Gazette reporter Louise Kerr was lucky enough to be one of those riders who completed the ride.

Sunday 28th June'Ridiing of the marches Wigtown'On there way down North Main St and out of the town lead by Ensign Mhairi McConnell

Sunday 28th June'Ridiing of the marches Wigtown'On there way down North Main St and out of the town lead by Ensign Mhairi McConnell

She said: “I took part in the six-mile figure of eight route round the boundaries astride Lucy, a bay mare kindly lent to me for the occasion by Anne Jolly of Calgow Equestrian. All the riders were reviving the historic and ancient practice going out on horseback to check that there had been no encroachment from other parishes on the ‘marches’ or boundaries of Wigtown’s land.

“There was something timeless and utterly thrilling about trotting through the wide streets of the county town with people clapping, cheering and waving as you passed by all accompanied by the rousing, relentless rattle of horse hooves ringing in your ears.

“On the most becalmed of mid-summer evenings, we headed out of the town along the Moss of Cree to West Kirkland Farm and along Kirkland Terrace before heading back into the town. As I looked along the road my heart skipped a beat as I saw Mahiri McConnell the Ensign, flag head proudly in front of her, turn and trot back up the main road, leading the whole ride back into the town.

“Then it was show off time as we rattled back through North Main Street at a quick trot before heading down into Bladnoch before stopping for a welcome (soft drinks) ‘stirrup cup’ in the new showfield. After a breather and a chat about our experiences, the ride moved out again along to Trammondford Park and back into the town along Lightlands Avenue and Station Road. By this time the horses, ponies and riders were all fired up and really striding out as we came to the last leg of the hour and a half journey along Harbour Road before turning en masse round the corner and up the hill into South Main Street to a heart-warming reception from the crowd and the finish at the Mercat Cross.”

Presentations were then made to the Cornet Stewart McGregor and to the best turned out junior rider, Finn McMiken and the best turned out senior rider, Holly Sproat.

A special presentation on behalf of the riders was given to Andrew Wilson, the chief instigator in getting the common riding revived in Wigtown.

There was also a poignant moment when Dr Robbie Murphie, a much loved and respected member of the community, who tragically lost his life in a road accident the day before, was remembered with a tribute from Nick Walker followed by a minute’s silence.

Organiser Andrew Wilson said after the event: “I am absolutely delighted how well the event went, and how many people turned out to see it. I was worried how things would go, because it was so long since it had been done in Wigtown.

“All the way through Fiona Murphie had been the second in command, and a reliable source of quiet sensible help. The day before, her husband Robbie was killed in an accident. Everything else seemed pointless, and people did ask, are you going ahead under the circumstances? My partner said Robbie would have thought it daft to cancel the event, and I think that is right; people literally came out of the woodwork and wanted to know how they could help you on the day. That I believe is the spirit of Common Riding, it is not boastful or aggressive, but a statement that you are a community, who will help each other, and who will defend what is there’s if they have to; it brings people together and makes them proud of their place, and of their traditions.

“The loss of Robbie as a member of this community, did bring us closer together, it does not explain it away, or take away the sorrow, because unfortunately that cannot be done. He was one of the funniest and likeable people I have known, and will be missed terribly. Maybe that was what it was like hundreds of years ago when one off your riders never returned, who knows?

“There are many people to thank, so I apologise if I miss anyone out: all the stewards, the Police, musicians, Willie McCartney, Jim McColm, the riders and their beautiful horses, medical team, vetinary, Carolyn Armstrong; the principals did a fantastic job, (all local youngsters), the minister Eric Boyle at the Kirk in morning when the principals were invested, the former principals who handed the sashes over, the piper Karen Keenan, who played when a wreath was laid at the war memorial. Even the weather lifted dramatically, it was raining when we went in, and bright sunshine when we came out. The evening was cool, with some dark heavy clouds, but stayed dry. Thanks to the Bladnoch Inn and the Wigtown Ploughman for their hospitality, and most of all, to everyone who turned out to support us.

“Let Wigtown Flourish, and so we shall with events like this!”

Mid Galloway Councillor Jim McColm, who conducted the ceremonial part of the event added: “I was very impressed by the entire event, from the dignified sashing of the Principals at the Parish Church service to the close of the ride on Sunday night. The involvement of previous Principals and the wreath laying at the War Memorial set entirely the right tone for the rest of the day.

“In the evening the excellent turnout of horses and riders created a memorable spectacle for the large crowd of onlookers who had assembled along the route. All the organisers and participants deserve enormous credit for reviving a tradition which had vanished for over 50 years.”