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A GUIDE TO THE MARCHES

WHAT IS THE MARCHES?

As long ago as the 1200s, it was vital for a community to make sure that it's boundaries were intact. Within a set area, the rules and privileges of a settlement held sway. Within carefully delineated bounds a burgh could collect taxes and customs duties, make its own by-laws, hold weekly markets, lease out mills and insist on standards of behaviour and craft-control.

Like many other royal burghs in Scotland, Linlithgow jealously guarded the land which it governed and which gave it wealth and advantage. Unlike most other Scottish communities, Linlithgow still annually patrols its boundaries or Marches. On that duly appointed day, the whole community comes together to celebrate and perpetuate those sentiments which bind a township together: camaraderie, fellowship, esprit de corps, fraternity and a shared sense of history and local pride.

WHEN IS THE RIDING OF THE MARCHES?

The Riding of the Marches of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow takes place every year on the first Tuesday after the second Thursday in June. Why this particular day should be fixed for the town`s official`s celebration is not certain. It may be connected to the date of certain Medieval religious festivals or fast days and the Church traditionally did play an active part in the ceremonies of marking and blessing the boundary stones. Indeed, the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, verse 14, exhorts that "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour's landmark which they of old time have set in thine inheritance."

WHEN DOES MARCHES DAY BEGIN?

The town`s most important day begins at 5 am when the residents are awakened by flute and drum: as they would have been in the 14th century when the first recorded Riding took place. At 6 pm the town piper makes his rounds, in case the populace has fallen back to sleep.

Finally, at 7 am, the Linlithgow Reed Band, having begun their day with the playing of the 23rd Psalm, marches from the West Port to the house of the elected Provost for fraternisation and refreshment.

WHEN DOES THE PARADE START?

The Deacons’ Court official party breakfasts in the Burgh Halls at 8-30am. Other organisations meet in establishments around the burgh. The various groups begin to rally around the Royal Palace before taking their places in the High Street for the 11 o’clock start. On the ringing of the Burgh Hall bell, at 11 am sharp, the parade moves off towards Linlithgow Bridge. Anyone and any organisation can enter a float or tableau or decorated bike in the parade - just email the clerk for details Email rosswmcintosh@btopenworld.com

WHAT HAPPENS AT LINLITHGOW BRIDGE?

The River Avon marks the western extremity of Linlithgow’s feudal power. The tolls collected on the bridge over the River Avon all helped to swell the town’s coffers and the mills which stood on or near the river were all owned and leased out by the burgh council. Today the "industrial" past of Linlithgow’s adjoining hamlet is remembered in a formal toast to the last remaining trade fraternity, the Dyers whose My Lord Deacon replies in suitable vein. Also toasted, on the steps of the venerable hostelry, is "The Brig" itself: still a vital and valued part of Linlithgow’s heritage.


WHAT HAPPENS AT BLACKNESS?

The real centre of Linlithgow`s wealth was the ancient haven and trading port of Blackness whose splendid castle helped to ensure the safety of the mercantile harbour. The roadside war memorial acts as a focal point to remember those in Blackness and Linlithgow who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of peace. As the Last Post is played followed by the pipe lament, "The Flooers o` the Forest" those Marches stalwarts who march no more are also remembered. Thereafter, the company fraternise over a concoction of "Blackness Milk" and fruitcake: symbols of the bounty of the earth and the wealth of Blackness. A toast is made to the Baron Bailie: an ancient title which goes back to the days when Linlithgow`s interests in the village were represented by a red-robed official. The Baron Bailie duly replies and then, following an impromptu and brief election, in the ceremonially established Court of Blackness, the Baron Bailie for the ensuing 12 months is installed under a bower of greenery on the ancient hill top shrine of Saint Ninian: a ceremony which goes back to the preaching of "The Word" under the Gospel Tree. After a lunch in a marquee in the grounds of Low Valley House, various dignitaries from the town`s premier organisations visit each other's chosen venues and exchange appropriate fellowship.

WHAT HAPPENS AT 5pm?

At 5 pm, the whole ensemble reunites at the Low Port of Linlithgow and, in somewhat less solemn manner than in the morning, circulate the ancient Cross Well three times: again a tradition with a religious connotation. Finally, after a long, tiring and emotional day, the Provost declares “Safe Out, Safe in”, the Deacon of the Dyers closes the proceedings on the steps of the Burgh Halls concluding with a resounding "Long Live the Marches." There remains nothing but memories and the strains of Auld Lang Syne.