A Photo Book Captures Scotland’s Common Ridings

  • Horsemen on the gallop during the Common Riding in Lauder.

    Horsemen on the gallop during the Common Riding in Lauder.

  • A festivalgoer in Hawick.

    A festivalgoer in Hawick.

  • Garry Ramsay, the Right-hand Man (or assistant fo the town's flag bearer) at Jedburgh's 2014 Jethart Callant's Festival.

    Garry Ramsay, the Right-hand Man (or assistant fo the town's flag bearer) at Jedburgh's 2014 Jethart Callant's Festival.

  • A boy in costume for the st. Ronan's Border Games in Innerleithen.

    A boy in costume for the st. Ronan's Border Games in Innerleithen.

  • In Langholm, one curious Riding ritual sees a man walk around town bearing a pole topped with a salted herring nailed to a loaf of bannock bread.

    In Langholm, one curious Riding ritual sees a man walk around town bearing a pole topped with a salted herring nailed to a loaf of bannock bread.

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Every summer, the townspeople of the Scottish Borders commemorate their region’s heritage with the Common Ridings, a series of festivals that trace back 500 years or more to a time when young men would ride out on patrol to protect their burgh’s common land against encroachments by neighboring landlords or raids by Reivers—lawless gangs of castle rustlers and freebooters from both sides of the English-Scottish border. Today, the Ridings count among the largest equestrian gatherings in Europe, filled with galloping cavalcades, pageantry and street parties, and beribboned and brocaded costumes. Yet they are almost unknown outside this corner of southeast Scotland. And it was with this in mind that Glasgow-based photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert set out in the summers of 2013 and 2014 to document the Border towns’ rich cultural tradition. The resulting images are now showcased in Unsullied And Untarnished (Brownlie Editions); a vivid photo book that captures not only the enduring legacy of the celebrations, but also, in a series of portraits taken against a white backdrop, the proud spirit of the men, women, and children who keep these customs alive. Until April 24, Sutton-Hibbert’s work will also be displayed at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh as part of the exhibition “The Ties That Bind” by Document Scotland, the photography collective that he co-founded in 2012. —Christopher P. Hill

This article originally appeared in the December/January print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Hoofbeats of History”)

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