28th Jun 2018
The tradition of this visit goes right back to the very first ‘Gala Day’ in 1930. As a proud Gala man (or Pail Merk, as our Selkirk friends would have it!) I am honoured to represent the Abbotsford Trust in welcoming the Official Party to Sir Walter’s wonderful home early on Saturday morning.
The Braw Lad and Lass depart Abbotsford after the Abbotsford ceremony
Although not one of the historical ‘Common Ridings’ that trace their origins to the 16th century and beyond, the Braw Lads Gathering does draw on the early history of the town and area to celebrate the very essence of being ‘Frae Gala’! When drawing up plans for a midsummer festival, the founding fathers, who included my namesake Provost Dalgleish, were keen to emphasise the close and long-lived links between Galashiels, Abbotsford, and Sir Walter. Indeed, the very ground on which Scott’s Conundrum Castle of Abbotsford was to be built originally belonged to the minister of Galashiels, the Rev Robert Douglas, who by all accounts drove a very hard bargain with Scott for the farm that was then called Cartly Hole.
The link is also seen in the colours of the Town so proudly sported by all on Saturday: the black and white check derives from the Shepherds Plaid pattern that Scott popularised in the early 19th century. He proudly wore breeches of this cloth when visiting London and, such was his celebrity as the most famous author of his time, many of the fashionable young bucks of the day took to wearing breeches of this pattern, promoting the production of the cloth by the growing textile mills of the town.
Major General Maxwell Scott welcomes the Braw Lad with a dram
So, it is no surprise that Scott’s descendent, Major General Maxwell Scott, invited the principals to visit him at Abbotsford in 1930 as part of the rideout. After crossing the Tweed at Galafoot (the original Abbots Ford) - a spectacular and colourful sight with over 300 horses and riders splashing across the river - the Braw Lad, Braw Lass and their Attendants ride through the Portcullis Gate and dismount at the door to the house. The short ceremony that follows is intimate and, in my opinion, very moving. A knock at the door, a few words of welcome and good wishes exchanged, and the party are invited in to take a traditional stirrup cup to fortify them for the next stage of the rideout.
Originally this was a dram sipped from one of Sir Walter’s historic quaichs. Sadly this had to be discontinued to help preserve them and they are now on display in the house. However, I’m glad to report that I have been able, at least in part, to reinvigorate this noble tradition; the Braw Lad and Lass are now offered a dram from the beautiful, and more robust, silver quaich presented to the Abbotsford Trust by the First Minister of Scotland in 2013. (There is also a wee glass of ‘bubbly’ on offer!) Toasts are made to the success of both Abbotsford and Galashiels. Before leaving for the rest of the ceremonies, all the visitors are presented with rose buttonholes; red for the Lasses and white for the Lads, echoing the Mixing of the Roses ceremony at the Old Town Cross, which commemorates the Union of the Crowns in 1603.
Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia Maxwell Scott toast to the success of Abbotsford and Galashiels
Abbotsford has always been a hospitable and welcoming house and Sir Walter was the most generous of hosts. The annual visit of the Braw Lad and Braw Lass has always been an important event in Abbotsford’s year, and was particularly enjoyed and supported by the late Dame Jean and Mrs Patricia Maxwell Scott. I am especially proud to be able to do my little bit in carrying on their unstinting work in preserving this marvellous place and its traditions. It is a very personal and moving experience for me – a time to renew old friendships and celebrate a love of one’s homeland. I have missed only one Gala Day in my life and I still wear the same black and white rosette that I was given for my first Gala Day, aged 7 months! For the past few years I and a few good friends, Braw Lads and Lasses all, have had the enormous pleasure and privilege of staying in the beautiful Hope Scott Wing for the Gala Day weekend. There is no doubt that Sir Walter’s spirit of hospitality and friendship still permeates the whole place, and I like to think he would have approved wholeheartedly of the Braw Lads’ Gathering.
The Abbotsford Trust