Just a (heavily disguised) face in the crowd...The Journal and Gazette Linlithgow reporter John MacInnes reflects on his Marches debut...

Reporter John MacInnes at  The Riding of Linlithgow Marches 2014.
Reporter John MacInnes at The Riding of Linlithgow Marches 2014.

The Riding of the Marches, was, I believed, an event for ‘those and such as those’.

Now, as a Marches virgin from deepest darkest Lanarkshire, one inevitably makes some assumptions when the gilded invite drops on the mat.

I may not be the next Hopetoun House showjumping sensation, but surely a gentle canter along the High Street can’t be that challenging.

So, off we scurry to the loft – I know there’s a bag lying up there somewhere with a rather natty blazer, a WW1 tin helmet, which after I last painted it black, always doubled for a rather passable riding helmet. I’m just not too certain what the Deacons’ Court Provost will make of the bullet hole at the back. Still, mere details and easily overcome methinks. The jodhpurs came courtesy of a Canadian Mounty fancy dress costume. Okay, maybe I will have to do something about that tomato stain courtesy of a rather full and splendid tasting kebab from New Years Eve 1972. The riding crop, well no self-respecting horse whisperer would ever be without one. As to the source of the actual article – well least said soonest mended!

With the proper attire duly sorted, of we jolly well toddled to meet up with my fellow riders at The Cross.

Now imagine my initial thoughts upon my arrival at said locus if you will – cruising Linlithgow in the estate – looking quite the country squire, I am, it has to be said, somewhat concerned by the serious lack of gee-gees.

The chauffeur parked the charabanc – Ok, I lied, but I did schlep my way over to the Cross. It was somewhere on this perambulation that I promptly realised my belief in a pair of 1972 fancy dress jodhpurs still fitting with any semblance of comfort was, misguided at best and delusional at worst. I was slowly moving toward favouring the latter.

Still my discomfort knew no bounds for the sake of an all-expenses paid day out for the story, and the show must go on. It’s fair to say I did draw just one or two strange looks, however this was understandable – I could feel my watchers envy emanating as I manoeuvred across the square in, albeit a rather ungainly gait and a dragging left leg – for comfort reasons. I could tell they were thinking how could a 19-stone, shaven-headed, tattooed bruiser make such a riding ensemble look the epitome of sartorial elegance.

To be fair though, things all started to fall into place for me when I enquired whether my ‘Clydesdale’ was user friendly, and, used to being ridden by someone who was never going to be crowned UK slimmer of the year any time soon. This was the point where two things triggered the tiny synapses in the brain; one, what a waste of money buying all those Polo mints and sugar cubes, and, two, what time do the charity shops open in the town.

Perhaps I digress ever so slightly, and even exaggerate a tad, but, it was as I said, my very first Marches – and I was indeed an invited guest – one who was made to feel very welcome.

I had no real idea what to expect, despite my office colleagues attempts to derail me with cries of “do you have a morning suit?”, “Have you tried the top hat for a good fit?” but I set out nonetheless to experience the day, in all its glory.

I couldn’t possibly write this piece without drawing attention to the level of military precision employed in the organisation of the event. It was plain to see the deep affection which is held by those who turn out on the day to continue the long-held tradition of Linlithgow’s ‘Riding the Marches’, which for some participants was a third or even fourth-generation event.

It was very obvious that the people of the Burgh place great pride in the day, one which takes an enormous amount of pre-planning to organise so efficiently including the many people who give of their time and effort, the many thousands of pounds required to stage it in hard-won fundraising efforts, and all to ensure a historical tradition lives on.

These people, and there are too many to name individually, deserve our thanks, our support and our loyalty.

Long Live the Marches – oh, the bag is back in the loft!