Every summer, towns throughout the South of Scotland celebrate the riding of their boundaries. This tradition, done on horseback, has been taking place for centuries. The festivals surrounding these ride outs commemorate the local history with music, song, parades and concerts culminating in the whole town celebrating. Steeped in tradition, these are some of the biggest and oldest equestrian festivals in the world.

They aren’t just an unforgettable spectacle of horsemanship, pageantry and community spirit. They are a custom upheld with real fervour by locals in homage to the South of Scotland’s unique identity, shaped in part by its tumultuous past. Here’s what to expect if you choose to visit and witness this wonderfully unique tradition…

Uncertain times

Common Ridings can be traced back to the 13th and 14th centuries when the border lands were in constant upheaval during the long wars with England. There was a tribal custom of plunder and cattle thieving, known as reiving (the ancient Scots word for robbing or stealing). It was commonplace amongst the major families along the border to engage in these activities. In such lawless times, townspeople would ride their boundaries, or ‘marches’, to protect their common lands and prevent encroachment by neighbouring landlords.

Celebrating heritage

Long after they ceased to be essential, the ridings continued in commemoration of local legend, celebrating a town’s history and heritage. Today’s colourful events, some involving hundreds of horses, celebrate this heritage, consisting of ride outs, barbecues, traditional sports, games, music and traditional tipples. There is always a famous ‘chase’ with horses galloping through towns thronged with people cheering.