Heritage and Culture

The Kirkcudbright Riding of the Marches

By Sophie

With a wonderful spectacle of over 100 horses and riders riding through Kirkcudbright, the marches is a great place to be if you like horses!

In 1455, Kirkcudbright was given Royal Burgh status by virtue of character, granted by King James II. The Persuivant from the King and the Cornet rode together around the boundaries referred to in the charter, and this act is repeated annually by the Kirkcudbright Cornet's Club. They hold a spectacular ceremony called 'The Riding of the Marches' which sees riders march through the town and end at the Harbour Square.

The Common Riding

In a more general sense, the Common Riding is an annual event celebrated in many Scottish Border towns, to commemorate the times of the past. Local men would risk their lives in order to protect their town and people and it is this that is commemorated in the ridings today.

Dating back to the 1300s, there was continual border laws over lands in the Scottish Borders. The English Government and the Scottish Clans fought hard against one another to triumph over the land and it became a Border Country custom to plunder and thieve cattle. This was known as reiving (historical name for robbing) and was common amongst major families living along the borders. With the land run in a lawless manner, it became common practice for the local lord to appoint a leading townsman. The appointed would ride the clan's boundaries (or 'marches') to protect the lands and prevent any encroachment by neighboring landlords.

Long after these patrols ceased to be necessary, the ridings remained in place as a commemoration of local legend, history and tradition.

Present Day

Currently the Common Ridings take place to celebrate each Border town's history and traditions, usually taking place in mid-summer, when the Scottish weather is at its best. Now involving 100s of riders, rather than the traditional solo rider, the riders often dress in costume.

Commonly, each community will hold an election for the principal man of the spring for that year. They select one of the community's young men and this election kicks off the celebration. The leader of the community celebration, once elected, is honored until the end of the ceremonies that year.