TO BE where heather blends with sky on that last Friday in July – the words which rang out around the Market Place on Common Riding day.
Every single person gathered around the stage, whether on foot or horseback, would rather have been in Langholm at that hour than anywhere else in the world.
For Cornet Henry Jeffrey, it was the moment he had been waiting for since the night he was elected on May 10.
He was welcomed by officiating magistrate Roger Maxwell who said: “Once again, we’ve reached the last Friday in July and we gather here at the foot of Whita Hill surrounded by the beautiful hills of Eskdale to celebrate Langholm Common Riding.
“I extend a special welcome to exiles, many of whom will have travelled great distances to be with their ain folk in this ancient market place.
“If God could grant one wish I’d choose, to walk by Wauchope, Esk or Ewes and be where heather blends with sky on that last Friday in July.
“Those words beautifully sum up how both exiles and locals feel about this wonderful town. The Common Riding is the perfect expression of how proud we all are to be born “where hounds bay out on a July morn”.
“As many of you will know, Ian Ewart, Cornet in 1994, sadly passed away two years ago, missing the opportunity to celebrate his semi-jubilee. His family have attended many pre-Common Riding functions and our thoughts are with them today.
“Fifty years ago Billy Laidlaw fulfilled his lifetime’s ambition when he carried the burgh standard. Billy has been a keen Common Riding supporter ever since and is riding today.
“I would ask you to join with me to wish Billy all the very best for a great Common Riding as he celebrates his jubilee.”
Turning to the Cornet, he said: “You have carried out your duties at other Common Ridings and our ride-outs in an exemplary manner but now comes the moment you’ve waited for, the epitome of every local boyhood dream as I present you with the flag, the symbol of your office.
“Carry this flag aloft with dignity and pride and return it to me at the end of the day when your duties have been completed.
“Cornet Jeffrey, “Gan oot and suy gif a oor mairches they be clear”. I wish you good luck.”
The Cornet then turned and, following the town band, led more than 150 horses up the High Street, along Thomas Telford Road, round the Buccleuch Square pump, back to the Market Place, down to Townfoot and returned to the town hall.
There, Rae Elliot cried the first fair, standing on the back of the horse ridden by Gillian Paterson.
As the spectators crammed into position on the Kirk Wynd, it seemed packed more than ever and, indeed, it was believed the event had attracted a record crowd.
They waited in anticipation and the cheers went up as the Cornet came past, flag held high, and the tremendous spectacle of horses and their riders flying past, only feet away, was breathtaking.
The riders made their way to Castle Craigs where Christopher Tait cried the fair for the first time.
On remounting, the flag was handed to ex-Cornet Andrew Jeffrey to mark the 60th year of his late father, Andrew, being Cornet.
After going round the monument, they dropped down to Whita Well where they were met by those who had walked up and everyone enjoyed refreshments of barley banna, whisky and water from the well.
They paused at Mount Hooley where the town band had gathered along with the crown, thistle, barley banna and spade bearers.
Before their arrival the children had presented their heather besoms for judging by the pie club and the winner of the best besom was Kian Harper of Langholm.
Led by the spade, the procession made its way down the Kirk Wynd. Once again, everyone gathered in the High Street to watch the pipe band lead the heather besom parade followed by the emblems, town band and horses.
Back in the Market Place Rae Elliot cried the second fair before everyone lined up in Drove Road and proceeded along the Bar Brae to the Kilngreen.
Hundreds of people packed the banks of the Ewes Water to watch the spade bearers, followed by the horse riders, cross the river and on to the Castleholm where Gordon Reid cut the final sod.
After a short break, the Cornet, escorted by his right and left-hand men Iain Little and Stuart Murray, led the Cornet’s Chase round the racecourse.
The morning’s ceremonies ended, the horse racing and athletics took over and a fine afternoon of sport was enjoyed.
The dance on the field in the evening stayed mostly dry and the time arrived for the front three to once again mount their horses and the crowds lined up with the town band to make their way back to the Market Place.
The street was packed as the followers stopped three times: at the Kilngreen, the Crown Hotel and Townfoot to dance the polka.
The Cornet returned to hand back the flag and, on receiving it, Roger said: “Today another wonderful chapter has been written into the history of Langholm Common Riding.
“We had amazing weather, what looked like a record crowd this morning and the final scenes I have just witnessed, with wall-to-wall people coming down the street, were a site to behold.
Cornet Jeffrey, I congratulate you on carrying out your duties with dignity and enjoyment.
“You were a credit to yourself, your family and the people of Langholm. This morning I asked you to enjoy yourself and I have no fear in suggesting that this has been the greatest day in your life.
“Thanks to everyone who has made this day the success it has been and we look forward to seeing you all again in 2020.”
In response, Cornet Jeffrey said the day had been “amazing” and he thanked his parents, Gavin and Frances, his sister, Claire, and his girlfriend, Lara, for whom it had been her first Common Riding.
He thanked the Common Riding members and the Castle Craigs Club for the excellent job they did and Iain and Stuart for their support.
He praised Clare Johnstone, the front three’s groom for turning out the horses so well and her husband, Andrew, who helped him with his riding skills.