Your Guide to Riding of the Marches in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Captain John Baxter warms up for the big day. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Edinburgh Captain John Baxter warms up for the big day. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
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Just as their forefathers did back in 1579, hundreds of riders will saddle up their horses today and gallop en masse from the outskirts of the Capital to the High Street during the ever-spectacular Riding of the Marches.

And, just as they did in times of old, thousands 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.

The first record of a Riding of the Marches in Edinburgh was on Hallowe’en 1579, although the tradition is likely to have been carried out for centuries before.

On this date, towns people gathered at the Provost’s house at 11am, from where they embarked on an inspection of the Marches of the Common Land led by the Captain of the Trained Band (Town Guard), Provost, Baillies and Burgesses.

“Intimatioun” (intimation) of the event was given to the “nichtbouris” (towns people) and the practice was so ­important to the city and its people that anyone who used the common land or who owned a horse and did not take part would be fined.

After the Union of Parliaments in 1707, the annual inspection ceased until 1946 when a ride was held to celebrate peace after the Second World War.

It returned in 2009 and has grown into one of the city’s major annual events – although participation is not quite as enforced as it was.

“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.

The 2015 ride leaves from Todhills Business Park, Old Dalkeith Road, at 9.30am and gallops through Moredun, Gilmerton and Liberton, as well as Craigmillar, Duddingston and Holyrood Park, before culminating in a spectacular cavalcade of over 250 horses making its way up the Royal Mile towards the Mercat Cross.

It will be led by Lass Gemma Willamson and Captain John Baxter who is well versed in the history of the Riding of the Marches.

He explains: “1579 was the first written record of the common riding in Edinburgh but it’s believed it had been going on for a lot longer than that.

“It went on until 1718 but because of the Act of Union between Scotland and England there was no need to go and check on boundaries and make sure no-one was encroaching on your land.

“In 1946 it was revived to celebrate peace after the Second World War, but then that was it until 2009 when it was revived for the Homecoming.

“It’s a great honour to be taking part in this year’s event, not just for myself but for everyone involved.

“It’s a chance for the people of the city to come together and celebrate the history, culture and heritage of their city,” he adds.

A record crowd of 20,000 turned out for last year’s Riding of the Marches, and Baxter will be delighted if people come out in their droves again.

“It will be a great day,” he enthuses. “There’s entertainment from 1.30pm at Mercat Cross, so it’s not just about the horses.

“There will be performances from St Ronan’s Silver Band, George Heriot’s Pipe Band and drill and firing displays from the Edinburgh City Guard – so there’s plenty to keep people amused until we arrive at around 3.55pm.”