05 Jun 2024

Hawick Common Riding

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Hawick Common Riding is an annual event that showcases the history and culture of the Scottish Borders. Held in the town of Hawick, this centuries-old festival is deeply rooted in tradition, commemorating the town’s heritage and its historical significance in the region.

Common ridings occur all over southern Scotland, beginning in late spring and continuing throughout the summer months, but Hawick Common Riding was the first and is perhaps the biggest and best known.

In this blog, we’ll explore the Hawick Common Riding, looking at its origins, traditions and a day-to-day guide to its celebrations.


An Historical Legacy

The origins of the Hawick Common Riding date back to the early 16th century, commemorating the ancient practice of riding the boundaries of Hawick Common. Importantly, it also honours the brave young men of Hawick, who, in 1514, rode out to protect the town’s boundaries from English incursions and in the event captured an English flag.


Order of Celebrations

The Hawick Common Riding happens annually in early June and is filled with various events that attract locals and visitors from all over the world. However, in the build-up to Common Riding week there are a series of events that take place.


Election of the Cornet

The first Wednesday of May is known as ‘Picking Night’ and a Cornet for the year is officially chosen. The Cornet is the person at the centre of all celebrations and tradition states that he should be a young, unmarried, local man. He is recommended by the two previous Cornets (known as the Right and Left-Hand Men) and the Honorary Provost’s Council.

The Cornet chooses his Acting Father who is usually someone with experience and knowledge of the Common Riding and he will guide the Cornet through the traditions and protocols. The group of four from this point on are known as the Principals.

Traditionally, crowds gather to see who has been appointed. Once elected, the new Cornet greets the crowd and the Principals walk together to the town hall.

At the town hall, a congratulatory meeting is held, and the Cornet is presented with the Cornet’s badge. Additionally, a Cornet’s Lass, a local unmarried woman, is chosen by the Cornet. One of her duties will be to ‘buss’ (decorate) the flag later in the celebrations and she and her Acting Mother, appointed to provide the Cornet’s Lass with support and guidance, will make all the ribbon for the ceremonies and be there to support the Principals.

From that point on Saturdays and Tuesdays throughout May, there are a series of ride-outs carried out by different groups of people to various locations. The Cornet rides out with his supporters to check the town’s ancient boundaries, visiting the surrounding villages and farms.

The main ride-out is the 24-mile round trek to Mosspaul, the longest in the series. On the last Saturday before the Common Riding, the Principals visit the Lest We Forget Memorial to lay a wreath in memory of the youth of 1514.

Credit: ILF Imaging
Thursday Night Chase

On the Thursday evening of the week preceding the Common Riding, the first of the Cornet’s chases is up a hill called Nipknowles on the way to St. Leonard’s Park, where the customary ‘curds and cream’ are ordered as a refreshment for the festivities of the following week.

The song ‘Teribus’, a Border ballad written specifically for the Hawick Common Riding, is then sung by all in front of the farmhouse.


Common Riding Week


Kirkin’ Sunday

On the Sunday before the Common-Riding, the Honorary Provost’s Council, the Principals and followers attend the ‘Kirkin’ of the Cornet’, a church service held in the Cornet’s place of worship where the Cornet will give a reading.

In the afternoon the Cornet’s party travels to the Hornshole Memorial where the Cornet’s Lass lays a wreath and a moment’s silence is observed.

The Principals and their ‘lasses’ then travel to St. Leonard’s Park to inspect the racecourse.

Credit: ILF Imaging
Monday to Wednesday

The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning includes more chases to St. Leonard’s.

On the Tuesday, the Cornet and the Cornet’s Lass visit hospitals and nursing homes in the community to speak to and spend some time with people who would not be able to make it to the Common Riding.

The Wednesday evening sees an event called ‘Overseas Night’ where exiled ‘Teries’ (men that were born and lived in Hawick, now living elsewhere) return to their hometown and are greeted at a reception held in their honour.


Common Riding Thursday

The Cornet receives the unbussed (undecorated) flag for the first time and after an early breakfast, the Principals visit local schools to see the children and ask permission from the head teachers for a holiday for the rest of that day and the next.

Happily, the headteachers always say yes.


Colour Bussing

One of the highlights of the festival is the ‘Colour Bussing’ ceremony at the town hall, nicknamed ‘The Nicht Afore the Morn’, where the Cornet’s Lass carries the unbussed flag into the hall and ties blue and gold ribbons to the Cornet’s staff, symbolising the town’s colours. The Lass then hands the flag to the Honorary Provost.

The Honorary Provost then presents the flag to the Cornet with instructions to ‘ride the marches’ and bring back the flag ‘unsullied and unstained’.

The flag is put on display outside the town hall and the Principals then walk to the 1514 memorial statue to ‘buss the horse’ where the Cornet climbs up to tie ribbons to the flag of the statue.

Credit: ILF Imaging
Common Riding Friday

The penultimate day begins with the Drum & Fife Band waking the town at 6.00 a.m.

The festival begins with the ‘Snuffin’, a ceremony where snuff is distributed from an old horned mull, symbolising camaraderie.

This is followed by a procession around the town with around 300 horses and their riders all looking their best for the Cornet.

Then it’s back to Nipknowles. The Acting Father is the first up the hill followed by the Cornet with the flag held high. At the top of the hill, they enter ‘the Hut’ where they are greeted by their supporters before finally enjoying their ‘curds and cream’ and follow it with speeches and songs.

Next, they ride the marches and stop briefly for the Cornet to ‘cut the sod’, an ancient tradition of marking a boundary.

Then, they make their way to the racecourse where the Cornet rides the course before placing the flag on the roof of the committee room. After the races, the party completes their riding of the boundaries where the Cornet dips the staff end of the flag into the Cobble Pool of the River Teviot three times to mark the boundary between Hawick and Wilton.

That night there is a Common Riding dinner and ball where the Cornet is presented with the Cornet’s Medal, a gift from the people of Hawick.

Common Riding Saturday

The town is again awoken by the Drum & Fife band for another procession. After the procession, the Principals lay the final wreath at the town’s War Memorial and stand in their stirrups to sing ‘Teribus’ before heading to the racecourse again for the final time.

The day marks one of the biggest gatherings for families, who come together to watch the races, enjoy the weather and share picnics.

The festivities of the Common Riding are finally concluded when the Cornet returns the flag to the Honorary Provost in the Council Chambers, where it is displayed on the balcony for all to see. This can be an emotional time for the Cornet and the Principals as their role in this historic occasion is complete.

The vibrant blend of tradition, community spirit and cultural heritage of the Common Riding serves as a heartfelt celebration of the town’s history. From exhilarating ride-outs to parades, singing and ceremonial rituals, the Common Riding is a testament to the legacy of Hawick’s past and the strength of its community.



Credit: ILF Imaging


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