Edinburgh: Riding of the Marches

Edinburgh: Riding of the Marches

In and around Edinburgh you’re frequently crossing paths with history, but rarely does it ride in on horseback. Stand aside for the Riding of the Marches, which, as Anna Docherty discovers, will be reviving an ancient tradition in the city streets this September 

There are many areas of the city that you can easily walk by without really realising their historical importance. But if a great big shiny-maned horse was to suddenly step into view and offer to teach you something about Edinburgh’s history, you’d probably sit up and take note, no? 

The Riding of the Marches event will involve large numbers of men on horseback, riding the ancient boundaries of the city in honour of those who carried out this task throughout history to defend the common land. ‘There are many historical sites within the city centre, like the Flodden Wall, which people walk by every day without realising their significance,’ explains Steve McGill, the event’s first officer. ‘We hope to give a new understanding of these places and bring a bit of history back to the people.’    

The last Edinburgh march was in 1946, when a one-off post-war ‘Victory Ride’ was held, but the practice dates back as far as 1579, when it was very much a binding act within local communities. ‘We hope that, if successful, our event will again be embraced and become as much of a part of the landscape as the military tattoo and the end of festival fireworks,’ says McGill.  

The modern version of the march will be led by a principal rider, who will carry the Burgh Standard or Banner (types of flag). In Edinburgh, the principal rider is known as the Edinburgh Captain and he is supported right and left by his first and second officers.  

‘It was the captain himself, Ian Douglas, who read about the history of the Edinburgh ride in a book about common rides, and after carrying out some research he approached the City Council to have the event revived,’ explains McGill. The riders will follow a pre-planned route, ending with a jaunt up the Royal Mile to the Mercat Cross. 

It is hoped that the event will also be a platform for which the other riding towns of Scotland can celebrate their own events. Plus it’s a pretty good excuse to get dressed up in coat and tails and parade around town suited up like a penguin. ‘The rides date back to a time when smart dress was pretty standard,’ explains McGill. ‘We’ll all make the effort. After all, it's not every day you get to ride up the Royal Mile on horseback.’ So don’t expect a hair out of place, on man or beast. 

Edinburgh Riding of the Marches will take place on Sun 6 Sep around Edinburgh city centre. For more information visit www.edinburghridingthemarches.co.uk

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