Frequently Asked Questions
We’re very fortunate here in Lauder to live in a beautiful small town with a great community spirit, fantastic shops and amenities, surrounded by beautiful countryside, and steeped in a rich history. Part of that history and tradition is celebrated each year with the annual Common Riding – it’s a fantastic spectacle enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, but what’s it all about?!
This page should start to answer some of those questions you’ve always had about the Common Riding but were afraid to ask!
If there’s anything else that you’d like know more about, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
What exactly IS the Common Riding?
Lauder Common Riding is part of a tradition of Common Ridings and similar festivals in the Borders and south of Scotland. The main event is a Riding of over 300 horses around the Common land of Lauder.
The main rideout is always the first Saturday in August, and is the culmination of a whole week of events. Have a look at the Timetable tab for the full schedule, but it includes a Church Service, a Family Fun Day & Sports, a Family Cycle ride, a Duck Race, a show for children, an Apprentice Ride-Out for inexperienced riders, a Dinner, a Ball, an Exiles Reunion, a Concert and a huge Fancy Dress celebration.
How long has the Common Riding been going on?
Lauder Common Riding is proud to be one of the original and oldest Border Common Ridings, with references to the festival dating back to the 1600s.
Our Common Riding originally had a religious basis, being related to the ceremonial blessing of the lands, crops and affairs of the Burgh, and it was celebrated on Ascension Day. The Riding of the Marches (boundaries) points to a time when the Burgh Lands were not enclosed, and was a serious business – failure to attend could result in a fine of 5/- in the early 19th century.
Lauder’s common land is integral to the burgh and its importance can even be seen in the layout of Lauder. If you look at some of the oldest properties in the town, along East and West High Street, Market Place and The Row, you’ll notice that many have long, narrow gardens – specifically designed this way as householders would keep livestock at the back of their house (you can still see remains of cow byres in some gardens to this day). Those gardens back onto Castle Wynd – a street that’s deliberately narrow to help keep livestock under control as it was moved from garden up onto the common for grazing. That’s one reason why the cavalcade rides along Castle Wynd on Common Riding morning – it might not seem like the most scenic or obvious route, but it is historically significant.
The Burgesses and Town Council assembled in front of the Old Tolbooth (The Town Hall), before setting off to ride round their territory, following largely the same route that we do today. At intervals in the ride the Burgess Roll was called, and stones were carried in the pockets of the riders to be deposited at various cairns or landmarks on the route – this is a tradition still upheld by the Cornet today when they add a stone to the last remaining original cairn, now known as the Burgess Cairn, high above the Waterin’ Stane on the road from Lauder to Stow.
The Common Riding was ceased in the late 1800s by order of the Town Council for reasons of public safety (the galloping of horses down the High Street seems to have been involved). In 1911 there was a desire to resurrect the tradition as a way of marking the coronation of King George IV. Help was sought from our friends at Selkirk Common Riding, and the Common Riding as we know it came into being, and since then the ceremonial aspects of the Common Riding have remain unchanged – other than the addition of the War Memorial ceremony after World War 1.
Who leads the ride?
The main principal is the Cornet who represents Lauder at the other Common Ridings and festivals across the region over the summer, and leads the ride in Lauder. The name ‘Cornet’ is an old military term, a commissioned officer in a cavalry troop who was typically the standard bearer for the troop or regiment. The Lauder Cornet (or Cornet and Standard Bearer to use the full title) is charged with carrying the Lauder flag, our Burgh Standard, around the Common on Common Riding morning.
How is the Cornet chosen?
The criteria for applying for the role of Cornet have changed over the years. For example, it used to be a requirement that applicants were born in Lauder, and that they had ridden the Common Riding at least once before. As fewer and fewer children were born at home, and horse riding has become less prevalent, these are both conditions that have been relaxed. In practical terms, it’s important that the applicant is able to ride (or is able to learn quickly), and it’s preferred that applicants are aged 18 or over, but there are very few strict criteria remaining – most important are strength of character, integrity and the ability to represent Lauder and the people of Lauderdale positively. There is no requirement for the Cornet to be male, though the role has traditionally always been carried out by men.
The role of Cornet is a prestigious one, and not to be taken lightly. It’s a three year commitment (a year as Cornet, and then as Right and Left-Hand Supporter), that will often lead to a lifetime of involvement in our festival. There’s also a significant financial outlay involved – the Common Riding Committee and Ex Cornets Association will assist with grants, and some local businesses also lend financial support, but the total cost (new outfits, riding gear, horse hire, ball and dinner tickets, socialising, time off work…) can quickly mount up.
The current application process is for aspiring Cornets to put their name forward to the Ex Cornets Association, usually around January or February each year (posters asking for applicants are displayed). When the Association is satisfied with the suitability of the applicant (often there is a single application, while in other years a vote may be required) that name is put forward to the Common Riding Committee for approval and formal appointment. That formal appointment is made from the Town Hall steps on Pickin’ Night – always the first Friday after the first Tuesday in May (the appointment used to be made by the Town Council in years gone by, and the council met on the first Tuesday of the month – hence the announcement on the first Friday).
Who are the other Principals?
The Right and Left-Hand Supporters are the two previous Cornets (Right Hand was the previous year, Left Hand two years ago), and it’s their role to support the Cornet in their duties both in Lauder and further afield. They offer advice and guidance, drawing on their experience in previous years.
The Cornet’s Lass is chosen by the Cornet to support and accompany them throughout their year in office. This is a relatively new position, dating back to 1930. In that year the Braw Lads Gathering was established in Galashiels, and they chose to elect a Braw Lad, Braw Lass and Attendants to represent the town. It was decided that the Principals from both towns should meet as a symbol of friendship between the two towns, and this meeting is the basis for Threepwood Night (see below). The position of Cornet’s Lass was created to mirror the role of Braw Lass as a result.
The Lady Busser is chosen each year by the Chair of the Common Riding Committee and has one of the most significant roles in the festival, working in partnership with the Cornet on Common Riding morning. The Lady Busser gives the Cornet their duties, invests them with the Burgh Sash which they will wear for the remainder of the day and presents them with the Burgh Standard. The Cornet will then lead the cavalcade round the Burgh Marches – carrying the flag the whole way – before returning it ‘unsullied and untarnished’ to the Lady Busser. She will then tie the Cornet’s colours to the Standard (assuming of course that they have carried out their duties to an acceptable level!). This chivalrous act is reminiscent of a Knight having his ribbons tied to his lance after winning a joust.
One of the most poignant moments of the Common Riding is when the cavalcade pauses when it returns to Lauder for a remembrance service at the War Memorial. Each year a girl is chosen by the Common Riding Committee as the official Wreath Giver and it’s her role to present the Cornet with a wreath which is then laid at the foot of the memorial. Historically the girl was the daughter of a current or former member of the Armed Forces, though this isn’t always the case now as fewer members of the community are in service.
Who decorates the town with bunting for Common Riding Week?
A small group of volunteers, mainly but not exclusively Ex Cornets, put up the bunting each year. This is done under cover of night in the early hours of the Sunday morning at the beginning of the week. There are health & safety reasons for the early hour; as flags are strung across the main A68 trunk road it’s necessary to do it when the road is as quiet as possible. It also adds to the magic of the week - many love going to bed on the Saturday evening with Lauder looking ‘normal’, and waking up to see that the flags have magically appeared – Common Riding has started!
What are the ribbons and rosettes all about?
Lauder’s official colours are blue and yellow (or Royal Blue and Old Gold to be precise!) so many of the townsfolk wear rosettes in these colours on Common Riding day to show their support, and the Cornet, Cornet’s Lass and Right and Left-Hand Supporters will wear their rosettes when representing Lauder in other towns.
On Common Riding Day you’ll notice that the Lauder Ex-Cornets wear two rosettes – one blue and yellow, and one with different colours. Each Cornet chooses their own colours for reasons personal to them – it could be a family colour or even tartan, linked to a sports team, or simply because they like them. These colours are a closely guarded secret until the Nicht Afore The Morn Concert when they are unveiled. It’s these colours that the Lady Busser attaches to the Standard. These colours are only ever worn in Lauder – when the Principals are elsewhere they only wear their Lauder rosettes.
You may also notice riders and visitors with various other rosettes, ribbons and sashes during the Common Riding – these are all people and Principals from other towns who have some to support our Common Riding and are wearing their town colours.
It’s possible to by your own rosette in shops in Lauder town before Common Riding Day, and a handful of skilled people in town make rosettes in the distinctive ‘jagged’ Lauder style. On Common Riding Day, you can collect a ribbon with the year on it that many people attach to their rosette – all riders are given one during the morning, and spectators can collect a ribbon on the street that morning as well (numbers are limited though so it’s worth seeking them out early!)
Where should I go to see the horses and what time?
Check the Route tab for details, but the best places and times to see the procession are:
Riders assemble behind the Town Hall from 7.30 am, with the Cornet being presented with the Standard and beginning the ride at 8am. The silver band then leads the ride around the Burgh as the rideout gets underway.
The riders go from the Town Hall along Market Place and West High Street (towards the Lauderdale Hotel) before looping around The Loan and the War Memorial and heading down The Row. The ride proceeds along Castle Wynd, coming out onto East High Street and then heading past the Church, up Mill Wynd leaving the town via the road to Galashiels.
The ride then turns on Lauder Golf Course where the Cornet leads the first gallop. This is a popular point for watching the ride, and is an impressive spectacle.
The ride heads across the Common towards the Waterin’ Stane which is on the B6362 Stow Road. The rideout pauses here for refreshments; toasts are drunk and songs are sung. This is another popular point for spectators – you can drive up from Lauder and Stewards will direct you to parking on the hill.
When the ride leaves the Waterin’ Stane they gallop to the Burgess Cairn – this is another impressive site as the Cornet, with the Standard, gallops along the skyline (as seen from the Waterin’ Stane itself).
The ride continues over the heather towards Lauder, before the final – and somewhat notorious! – gallop around Stirk Hill (alongside the Whitlaw Road, just beyond the fire station).
The cavalcade returns to Lauder via Whitlaw Road and Edinburgh Road (led by the band once again), before halting at the War Memorial for the presentation of the wreath and a short memorial service.
The final stage is for the ride to head back to the Town Hall down West High Street, lead by the band and dancing crowds. The Cornet will then return the Standard, bringing the ride to a close.
What about the hounds?
Each year the Lauderdale Hounds support our Common Riding and join in the cavalcade on Common Riding morning. It’s a great addition to the spectacle to see the hounds taking part in the ride and something unique to Lauder, but has no real historical significance other than the local hound pack taking part in local tradition.
Can anybody take part?
Yes, absolutely. Anyone can join the cavalcade and take part in the Common Riding – you don’t need to register and there’s no fee involved. People come from all over the world each year to join in and are welcomed with open arms. We do ask that you listen to any instructions from the Marshalls and Stewards though.
Who organises this huge event? How can I get involved?
Organising the Common Riding is a huge undertaking each year, coordinated by the Common Riding Committee with support from the Ex Cornets Association and an army of volunteers. The Committee is always looking for fresh ideas and willing hands, and welcomes new members. If you don’t fancy joining the Committee but still want to lend a hand there are always jobs to be done – helping out as a Steward on Common Riding Day or during the Fancy Dress parade for example.
There is a significant cost involved in putting on the Common Riding each year – well over £12,000 each year. We are fortunate to receive a grant from Scottish Borders Council, but the vast majority of the money required is raised through donations and events held in the community. The Patrons' Society plays a huge part in supporting the Common Riding each year, and we are very grateful indeed to all our members for their continued support.