The Riding of the Marches of Edinburgh probably began with the birth of the burgh, as a necessary part of marking out the boundaries and then keeping them untrammelled and in order. The burgesses of the burgh would have taken part, along with the forerunners of the town council, and among them were principally the craftsmen and the merchants who drove the local economy and provided the wherewithal for decent living.
We get brief glimpses of the Ridings in 1494 and 1528 and again in 1589, by which time the event had been attached to the Allhallows Fair (1st November). They are mentioned in the Council Register on 30th October 1579, when it was ordered that a proclamation should be made:
“chairging all merchantis craftismen and vtheris inhabitantis within this burgh to be in radynes the morn be xi houris to accompany the provest baillies and counsall to vesy thair meithis and boundis as ordour hes bene on horsbak and to proclame their Alhallovmes fair to begyn the morn be xij houris”.
The practice eventually fell out of use but has been revived to commemorate or celebrate particular occasions, such as in 1946, to mark the end of the Second World War. In 2009 the Ridings have been revived on an annual basis and are now an important fixed point in the civic calendar, attended by the Lord Provost, Lord Dean of Guild and the Deacon-Convener of Trades, all in their full robes and chains of office.
All the Incorporated Trades are represented at the Mercat Cross, opposite the City Chambers, proudly carrying their banners in the procession. In 2013 there was a special commemoration for the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. In 2014 the event being commemorated was the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. On both those occasions there was a minute’s silence for the fallen, during which the banners were dipped in reverent salute and a lone piper played the well-known lament, The Flowers o’ the Forest.
About 270 horses and riders make a circuit of the bounds of the city, some 23 miles in all, before riding up the Royal Mile from Holyrood to the Mercat Cross in a grand cavalcade. All those hooves clattering on the cobbles, together with the George Heriot’s School pipe band in full cry, make an unforgettable sight and sound.
The 2015 Riding of the Marches took place on the 13th of September. The Trade involvement was even more significant than in previous years as the Deacons and their banner bearers processed with the Lord Provost, Lord Dean of Guild and the Deacon-Convener of Trades down the High Street, to the Netherbow Wellhead. There they welcomed the riders and led them back up, through the crowds, to the Mercat Cross. There the Edinburgh Captain and Lass handed back the city flag to the Lord Provost having checked that the marches were secure for another year.