At the time of the Charter, land owners had to have their land marked where it "marched" with the property of a neighbour. Land in those days was open, unfenced. This was the same with Hawick's Common. So riding round the marches, the common-riding, was a very important duty. It helped to keep the boundaries fresh in the minds of the people. The land had also to be visited to make sure that neighbours were not using it to graze their animals, etc. They would have to be chased off.
The boundary line was usually a natural feature, such as a valley, a ditch or burn. Sometimes it was marked by piles of stones or mounds of turf. Turf or "sods" were cut and placed on top of those cut on previous visits.
The duty of riding the marches at the annual Common-Riding became an important and colourful ceremony A proclamation or announcement, was made at the Mercat Cross at the foot of Cross Wynd:
Proclamation at Cross
These are to give advertisements to all Burgesses within the Burgh and Town of Hawick, and Burgesses outwith the same, that the Bailies and Council are to ride the Marches of the commonty of Hawick upon Friday the ............... day of June instant, as hath ever been usual.
"Therefore warning all the said Burgesses to attend the Bailies and Council that day in their best apparell to the end aforesaid."
This duty was taken very seriously. There was trouble if any Burgess failed to turn up without good reason.
Consider this 1640 rule:
'item, quhatsumever persowne that beis not present yeirlie at the commowne ryding and setting ffairis sall pay fourtie schillingis, taties quoties, and wardit without license or any lacuhfull excuse"
Consider this 1645 incident:
"May 26—The said day, Allane Deanes, travellaur, being accusit for not being at the ryding and marching of the commowne upown the 24 of May, 1645, compeir and confest he was at the Watch-Know, thairfair assailzeit him of the penaltie and fyne, and actit himself if ever he do the lyik he sall pay the dowble of the penaltie, conforme to the act, and dowble punisment."
On the day of the Riding the Bailies, accompanied by councillors, led a procession of townspeople. Some were on horse, others on foot. The Bailies were armed with pistols. The others were armed with clubs or any suitable weapon. They were quite prepared to drive off sheep or cattle belonging to neighbouring landowners and to defend their land from them. It was the only way to make sure the land was kept for their own use because there were no fences in those days.
The procession went round the town marches and then to the marches of the common. When they reached the Auld Ca' Knowe they had a meal. They probably had barley bannocks, a bit of braxie and some "soor dook" to wash it down. There, one of the most important duties of the day was carried out. This was "The Calling of the Burgesses Roll". We have seen how seriously this duty was taken.
From the Auld Ca' Knowe they made their way to Myreslawgreen and on to the Common Haugh. The boundary here is the middle of the river. It was marked, as today, by plunging the staff of the Flag three times into the water.
Tradition has it that when they reached the river they were met by the Laird of Langlands. He owned the land to the north. The Laird, dressed for battle with drawn sword, watched the proceedings. He wanted to show that while he would not bother the march-riders he was ready to fight if they meddled with him or his property.
Leaving the river the group marked the marches of the Common Haugh. The rest of the day was given over to racing, dancing and celebrating.
The Common Riding
This is our land, it is our right
To live on peace or ride by night
For they may come and they may try
But we will Aye Defend until we die.
And we ride, in defence of our land
And we ride, by the strength of our hand
And we ride over our Borderland
And we ride, and we ride, and we ride.
Alan G Brydon