Riding of Marches set to fly flag for city

Unfurling the replica Blue Blanket are Stuart Nicoll, Karrie McGill, Stuart and John Baxter. Picture: Greg Macvean
Unfurling the replica Blue Blanket are Stuart Nicoll, Karrie McGill, Stuart and John Baxter. Picture: Greg Macvean
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IN their masses they will gallop around the city’s expansive boundary in a flurry of pomp and circumstance – just as their forefathers first did back in 1579.

Hundreds of horses and riders – led by 2013 Grand National winning jockey Ryan Mania – are to saddle up tomorrow to mark the annual Riding of the Marches.

And just as they did way back in the 16th century, thousands of locals are expected to turn out to wave them on their way, marking a tradition that saw able-bodied men ride the city boundaries on horseback, delivering news that Edinburgh’s common land was intact.

“Whilst the format is no longer the same as it was, this is still an important and colourful event in Edinburgh’s calendar and I am proud to be playing a role in honouring those who sought to protect the integrity of Edinburgh’s common land,” says Lord Provost Donald Wilson.

Grand National winner Ryan Mania will be joined tomorrow by the leading lights of the day; Edinburgh Captain Stuart Nicoll, Edinburgh Lass Karrie McGill and six-year-old Zara Mailer, Supreme Champion of the City of Edinburgh Horse Show.

Accompanying them will be riders from as far afield as Shetland and Surrey who will take part in the cavalcade, which was revived in 2009 after a 63-year break.

“I’m very much looking forward to the Riding of the Marches, it should be a great spectacle and good fun,” says Stuart Nicoll, 32, from Abbeyhill.

“I’ve attended all the Borders festivals this summer so it’s nice to finish off with my own. Hopefully everyone will turn out to cheer us on.”

This year’s Riding is expected to be particularly poignant as organisers are using the occasion to commemorate Monday’s 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, one of the bloodiest feuds between the Scots and English in which more than 10,000 lives were lost, including the Scottish leader King James IV.

Legend has it that following his death, the Captain of the City Band, Randolph Murray, carried the “Blue Blanket’” – the informal name for the “Standard of the Crafts within the Burgh of Edinburgh” – and announced the defeat and death of the King.

That same blanket – whose history dates back to the reign of King James III – had been raised to summon all the craftsmen of Scotland to fight in support of the monarch. The vast majority of these men failed to return home from the battlefield in Northumberland.

Tomorrow, the Blue Blanket will again be raised, this time to lead a minute’s silence to allow locals to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the battle. The occasion will be presided over by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh and commentated on by the world famous voice of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Alasdair Hutton OBE.

“I am very much looking forward to tomorrow and I hope that once again there will be a large crowd of people to witness the wonderful sight of 250 horses and riders making their way through the heart of Edinburgh,” says Lord Provost Donald Wilson.

“It was estimated that 20,000 spectators watched the ride on its route last year, and the organisers are anticipating even greater numbers on the 500th anniversary of Flodden.”

During a similar Riding held in Coldstream last August, the riders of the Edinburgh Riding of the Marches Association collected a handful of soil from the field of Flodden, which was sprinkled on the four existing corners of the Flodden Wall – the city’s main defence – at Canongate, Castle Wynd, Vennel and Pleasance.

If you are hoping to catch sight of the riders as they gallop around Edinburgh, there will be plenty of opportunities. Riders from almost all of Scotland’s riding festivals, carrying their town’s banners, will leave Drum Feeds – which is sponsoring the event – on Dalkeith Road at 9.30am, before following a route through various fields on to Craigmillar Castle grounds for 2.45pm.

They will then continue through Holyrood Park from the Duddingston gate, heading towards the city centre and finishing at the Mercat Cross by St Giles’ Cathedral, on the Royal Mile, at 3.55pm.

At the Mercat Cross, the crowd will be addressed by Lord Provost Donald Wilson before Stuart Nicoll returns the city banner.

Many roads will closed to safeguard those attending and taking part in the event.

From 7am to noon, Gilmerton Road, Gilmerton Station Road, Lang Loan, Captains Road, Burdiehouse Road South, Little France Drive, Craigmillar Castle Road, Duddingston Road West and Old Church Lane will be closed in entirety.