The Beltane Festival


TO PEEBLES FOLK Beltane means instant recall: middle-aged men remember when they were 'little mice peeping out', women have more detailed memories of being 'Belgian ladies', 'Rainbow girls' or maybe 'Maids of Honour'. Older generations (we live a long time in Peebles!) can hark back to the twenties (1927 to be exact) when the heavens opened and it rained 'like steel rods' causing the abandonment of the children's procession and the curtailment of the subsequent sports. To 'incomers' - and their name is legion - the Beltane is a mystery and at first they are bemused by its nuances and take time to absorb its traditions.

Let's not be too modest about our celebration of the summer solstice for we boast a festival second to none - some would say unique in the annals of Border history. But in describing it we must distinguish between Peebleans who, like old soldiers you can always tell - but you can't tell them much! - and newcomers, bless them, who are mystified by the 'goings on' of Beltane week in the little old Burgh of Peebles. Festooned with flags, bedecked with bunting and huge hardboard coloured cut-outs, the town resounds to the music of silver and pipe bands with cheering children in their wake, crowds of grown-ups too make their way purposefully to points north and west of the High Street or just stand and shout 'Hooray!' when vast processions pass. Something must be happening.

Tl}is chapter then is written both for the locals who will forgive the writer for stating the obvious - 'what's aye been', and for those who have made Peebles their commuter town, visitors' centre or retirement residence. The latter, understandably, may well be perplexed in the third week of June to find on the Saturday morning, the High Street closed to traffic, the populace cheering vociferously, most shops shut and loud music wafting from the steps of the