From Biblical times, the importance of marker stones to delineate one’s property from another’s have been of vital importance.
In the case of a royal burgh, the responsibility was on the town’s authorities to ensure that their boundaries were regularly inspected – if they wished to hold sway within them.
A royal charter, such as that granted to Linlithgow by King Robert II in 1389, gave a burgh significant powers of tax collection and control of markets, trade, local laws and parliamentary representation.
It is very likely that the Linlithgow authorities regularly inspected their frontiers from the 14th century onwards and that the custom became more ‘standardised’ from the 16th century.
The first written evidence of such an activity states that the inspection was to be undertaken on the first Tuesday after Easter.
On that day, the whole community would be obliged to rally (under pain of a fine) to witness the Provost, Bailies and other officials riding on horseback to inspect the burgh boundary at the River Avon and then, after parading the length of the High Street, at Blackness – the town’s valuable trading harbour on the Forth.
The ceremonial tradition continues to this day – although now on the first Tuesday after the second Thursday in June.
The town is given fair warning of the event – and reminded of the £100 Scots fine for missing the rituals – at the Crying of the Marches on the Friday before the event today (Friday).
On the day itself, in recognition of 16th century life, the town is awoken by flute and drum at 5am.
In case some have fallen back to sleep, the town piper and drummer make their reveille at 6am.
At 11am the main parade begins - leaving the front of the 17th century Burgh Halls at 11am. It returns from Blackness at 5pm.
For centuries, the Marches Day was organised by Linlithgow Town Council but, on its demise in 1973, a new organisation, The Court of the Deacons, was established.
There are other Scottish Ridings but none share the longevity or significance of that held in Linlithgow.
Long Live the Marches!