Riding of the Marches: woman takes reins for first time

Fiona Grant McDonald. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Fiona Grant McDonald. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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A HISTORIC event thought to date back to the fifth century has appointed a woman in a major role for the first time ever.

Musselburgh’s Riding of the Marches takes place once every 21 years to commemorate the marking of the ancient boundaries of the burgh.

Fiona Grant-McDonald will be taking on the role of turf cutter’s assistant for the week-long celebration, from July 24-30.

The Riding of the Marches ceremony is the main event, and highlights Musselburgh’s unique history and heritage.

It sees all of the seven appointed principles ride out under the close protection of the armour-clad town champion as they stop at 12 boundary stations around the town to cut a sod of turf and proclaim: “It’s a’ oor ain!”

Records for the Riding date back to 1682, but it is believed to have connections with events held as early as the fifth century.

Fiona, from Stoneybank, said she was delighted to be the first woman ever to have been appointed to a senior role in the celebrations.

The 38-year-old physics technician said: “I’m overwhelmed but delighted and excited to be taking part – it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“I think it’s great that my work in the community has been recognised despite being a woman. It shows a positive step forward with the event.”

Fiona, who suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2012, has been working tirelessly for several charities.

She said she remembers being at the event the last time it was celebrated in the town in 1995, but never thought she would have the chance to participate in the next one.

She was appointed alongside the other principles – town champion Neil Wilson, turf cutter Iain Clark, squires David Finlayson and Graham Bennet, and halberdiers Scott Robertson and Alan Williams.

The first mention of the Riding appears in town council minutes for 1682, when it was held on St Lauritt’s Fair – Tuesday, October 16, 1682.

Traditionally, it has always been men that have been appointed to take on the principle roles, but Gaynor Allen, a spokeswoman for the event, said they were now trying to adapt the event.

She said: “Everyone realised there was a need for a woman. We are trying our best to celebrate the past, the culture and heritage but to make it relevant to everyone we need to move things on.

“Things have advanced and developed so much in the last 21 years, we wanted to make sure that people knew anyone could be appointed as a principle.”

Principles are selected for outstanding work in the town.

As well as the ceremony, the Riding of the Marches also includes a huge procession, a pageant, an exhibition, a civic ball and a concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Gaynor added this is a much bigger event than the annual “Honest Toun” celebrations.

courtney.cameron@edinburghnews.com