Monthly Archive: September 2016

Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches

The flags raised on the Mercat Cross

The original Blue Blanket flag was brought back from Flodden with news of defeat

Having missed Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches last Autumn I was delighted to witness all the pageantry of this spectacle.  It took place on Sunday 11th September.  About 250 horses riding up the Royal Mile behind the Lord Provost and a pipe band was a sight worth seeing!  I hope this poem captures some of the history of the event we enjoy today.

Raising the Blue Blanket

Edinburgh’s Riding of the Marches


It’s quite a spectacle these days: all those horses clattering

up the Royal Mile; pipes and flags and banners waving.


No need now to check the corners of our common land,

inspect our borders. But good to keep alive the memory


of earlier times: swathes of young men who fell at Flodden;

their long spears didn’t save them. Safe oot but not safe in.


And of the men who formed the Trades and Guilds, built

the city. Led by baillies, they rode out to mark boundaries:


the Barber-Surgeons with their razors and their lances,

the Goldsmiths – assaying, marking quality;


the Incorporation of Hammermen – you wouldn’t mess

with armourers and sword-makers! Horse-shoes and harness


were also their domain. Wrights and Masons – all

the building trades; even Upholsterers were there.


And Skinners, Furriers, Hatmakers: curing, tanning,

stitching, fashioning; attesting all their skills.


The Tailors must have cut a dash: a long apprenticeship

before they joined their Guild. Baxters guaranteed the flour,


Fleshers had to demonstrate a grizzly competence,

the Cordiners, their shoes. Websters, Bonnetmakers


and Dyers are still around and Candlemakers have

once more lit their flame, been recognised again.


In the past, Guilds had their Council Deacons;

and with their Chaplains, Charters, Seals of Cause,


Coats of Arms and banners it was a heady mix.

See them riding out and you’d be impressed!


They still take pride in their vocation, hone their skills.

Their boundaries are only what they set themselves.


They ride out recessions, harness new ideas,

mark out new territories of trade, intimidate no one.


So we, in good heart, salute them at the Mercat Cross.

Let’s raise again the old Blue Blanket and a glass!