I now know why the Linlithgow Marches are called the Marches – there’s a lot of marching. And fraternising.
A few other ingredients make the Marches what they are. A healthy intake of alcohol is one and lots of laughs is another and there were certainly plenty of both during my first time covering them for this paper.
The news that Provost Jim Carlin, who did a splendid job throughout the day, had been pranked by Heart FM DJ Robin Galloway about noise levels from a stuffy council mandarin began to surface at this point.
I didn’t partake in any drinking today – in the minority In would think – but it didn’t take away any of the enjoyment as a guest of the hard-working Deacons Court who organise this fantastic tradition.
The day started off for me with the Provost’s breakfast at the Burgh Halls just after 8am which gave me the opportunity to meet some of the other 150 guests, which included a group of friendly and cheery women who later won a prize at the presentation of trophies at The Cross.
The speech by Mike Wheatley was no doubt the highlight of a great fraternisation and included many a joke about the neighbours in Bo’ness. Turns out it was a bit of a theme for the day, but I’m sure it is returned in earnest on Fair Day. Good banter.
The first march was a short one to the Palace for the Dyers’ Party march and another fraternisation. I met old school friend Stephen Gallacher, the golfer and Linlithgow inhabitant, there in fine fettle even at that early stage.
From there it was to The Cross for the trophy presentations where the Gala Day people won just about everything, so well done to them.
We then made our way to our trailers on the back of spiffing new tractors for the procession at 11am where I found myself on the same carrier as ‘The Broons’ – the Brown family who were en masse for a big occasion this year.
Martin, who was with wife Lesley, twin brother William, sisters Margaret and Alexis, big brother David and brother-in-law Pete, was being given the honour of the Baron Baillie of Blackness later in the day.
Sister Margaret also gave a great speech, along with fellow Deacon Catherine Grant, when we arrived at the western border of the Royal Burgh at Linlithgow Bridge on the steps of the Bridge Inn.
On the way back from the Bridge to Blackness Margaret was drinking “Marches juice”, whatever that is, but it made her sing a lot which was good fun for everyone. There were also lots of “Happy Marches” and “Hip, hips” from everyone on the floats and the cheering crowds on the streets lining the impressive parade.
At Blackness wreaths were laid at the war memorial before the partaking of ‘Blackness milk’ (whisky and milk) at Low Valley House, more fraternising, and then a march up Castle Hill where the Baron Baillie ceremony was held.
Martin (48), who has been involved with the Marches for 15 years, said: “I am ecstatic about becoming the Baron Baillie and will carry out my duties of protecting Blackness the best I possibly can.
“It’s been a brilliant day, I was left speechless for a bit at the ceremony and that’s not like me, but it just shows what a great honour this is for me and my family.”
Back down it was to a marquee at Low Valley House for a late lunch of soup, steak pie and a cheese board which went down a treat.
The radio clip of Provost Carlin being pranked was played over the speakers for everyone to hear, much to our extreme amusement, but the Provost took it like the seasoned professional he is.
Provost Carlin said: “The day went very, very well. The weather, of course, makes a day like this and the fact that so many townspeople are able to come out and support our ancient custom in the manner in which they have done is pleasing to everybody in the Deacons Court.
“We’d like to thank out townspeople, they always support us. It’s been a tremendous day. The final procession was on a par with 11 o’clock this morning and also returning from the Bridge.”
As for his radio wind-up, he claims he was onto it. He added: “That was quite interesting, I actually enjoyed it. It’s not the first time the Deacons Court has had to deal with a complaint about noise.
“I was suspicious of the fact that it could be a wind-up, but it was made for the very best intentions and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope it broadcast well. It was all great fun.”
More fun followed at the lunch with after dinner speaker Bill Copeland who raised the roof of the marquee with some brilliant quips, again some about Bo’ness, and some very un-PC ones. I can only imagine what MSP Fiona Hyslop, who was sitting just along from him on the top table was thinking.
I personally would like to thank everyone who took the time to chat to me and show me their kindness at my first Marches. It was an absolute pleasure.
Long live Linlithgow, long live the Marches!