THE CURTAIN has finally risen to reveal the Beltane principals who will lead the town’s historic festival this year.

Resounding cheers almost lifted the roof off the Burgh Hall when Gregor McGrath and Loryn Paterson were announced as this year’s Cornet Elect and Lass last Friday evening.

And, shortly after the popular pair graced the stage to be sashed, Chairman of the Beltane Committee Keith Brunton introduced Katharine Mathison as Crowning Lady, returning Warden of the Cross Kirk, the Reverend Barry Hughes, Warden of Neidpath Douglas Wright, and Reader of the Boundaries Douglas Neil.

Moments before they were revealed to the people of Peebles, the Peeblesshire News was invited into the Burgh Chambers to witness the 2018 principals being introduced and toasted by the Beltane Committee.

It was clear that the time-honoured privilege about to be bestowed upon them meant a great deal, as the smiles beamed from their faces as they met and congratulated one another.

Gregor thanked the committee for giving him the opportunity to represent “the great town of Peebles” as Cornet.

He said: “You all do so much for the town, and this is what keeps the Beltane the best festival in the Borders.”

As the time came to return to the Burgh Hall, the venue was now packed out with Peebleans eager to finally get a glimpse of the town’s best kept secret – or not so secret, as Chairman Keith later mused.

Whispers echoed around the hall with names of potential principals, and as the curtain was pulled back they were not disappointed with the two people who would lead this year’s festivities.

It was 18 years ago that a young Gregor McGrath sat in the audience in admiration of his father David and mother Karen, who were introduced as Cornet and Lass in the year 2000.

Gregor has lived in the town all his life and works at Holland and Sherry.

His family’s Beltane connections, however, don’t stop at his parents. Sister Rachel was in the court and his Aunt Susan Bell was Crowning Lady in 2015.

And this year’s Cornet is no stranger to riding with the cavalcade on Beltane Wednesday night, only not on a horse!

The year after his parents were Cornet and Lass, the horseback tradition was abandoned with principals and riders mounting bicycles because of the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

So this year is going to be somewhat different for the young Cornet-Elect.

He told the audience he felt very proud to be following in his parents’ footsteps: “I cannot tell you how happy I am, if anyone knows me, they know I smile near enough all the time. But it will be nothing compared to the smile on my face when I ride down Peebles High Street on the Wednesday night with the Burgh Standard.”

Gregor thanked his left and right hand and supporters for teaching him the ropes, from mounting a horse and how to stay on it.

He added: “Mr Chairman, I hope that I will be able to successfully fulfil all the expectations of yourself, the Beltane Committee and foremost the people of Peebles. I cannot wait to do this town proud.”

No stranger to the Beltane ride-out is Cornet-Elect’s Lass Loryn Paterson, who has ridden the marches for the past 16 years, winning the Callant’s trophy two years on the trot in 2015 and 2016.

She has been a member of the Peebles March Riding Association since the age of six and is currently on the committee.

Loryn is currently studying nursing at Napier University, but still finds the time to give back to the community by volunteering as a Girl Guide Leader with 3rd Peebles Guides.

True to her bubbly form and saying it like it is, Loryn told the audience that she was “absolutely buzzing” to be standing on the stage as Cornet-Elect’s Lass for 2018.

And it would appear that Loryn is already counting down the days, as she told locals that it is only 54 days until Beltane Wednesday.

However, instead of riding as a Marshall at the back of the cavalcade, she will have pride of place leading the ride-out alongside her long-term friend Gregor and their supporters.

She said: “It is a lifetime honour and a dream come true. I would like to thank my mum and the McGraths for all the support given to Gregor and myself leading up to tonight’s introduction.”

And as Beltane weather is unpredictable, she added: “Let’s hope the flaming skies of June make an appearance.”

Next to grace the stage was the Warden of the Cross Kirk, Reverend Barry Hughes, who takes great pride in being entrusted with the role for a second time.

Rev Hughes was Warden in 2010, shortly after which he became an ordained local minister in the Church of Scotland at Peebles Parish Church.

He is now undertaking a year’s placement at a church in Edinburgh, but his roots in both Cardrona and Peebles are strong. He was until last year the Chaplain at both Priorsford and Halyrude.

Rev Hughes is well-known in the community for his dedication to schools and the church, and also his volunteering with local Beavers, marathon running for MS, directing and acting with Tweed Theatre, and acting as concert convenor on the Beltane committee.

Introduction night coincided with another important event, that of his wife Gillian’s milestone birthday.

Instead of wining and dining her he told that he had put on a party at the Burgh Hall instead.

He said: “It is still a huge honour to be standing here as a Beltane principal, in many ways it is an even greater honour second time around.

There are not many perks of being a Church of Scotland minister, but maybe the chance to be a Beltane principal more than once must be one of them.

I do promise to throw myself into Beltane week, not just on the Sunday but on every evening.”

This year’s Boundary Reader is Douglas Neil of Cardrona who runs his own Solicitor and Estate Agency in the town.

His office is subsequently only a stone’s throw from the Mercat Cross where he will be addressing the town on Red Letter Day.

Douglas said it was a great honour to be asked to take on the role, and that in his experience as a court practitioner – where he was no stranger to talking “the hind legs off of people” – he was looking forward to fulfilling the duties of Boundary Reader.

Crowning the Beltane Queen this year will be Katharine Mathison. Best known for her roles on and off stage with Tweed Theatre, there was no acting required as it was evident from the smile on her face that she was thrilled to be given the honour of this prestigious role.

Having arrived in Peebles almost 20 years ago, Katharine’s first taste of Beltane was with the Silver Band and, like many who have never experienced this historic festival, she said was overwhelmed and excited by it.

And it wasn’t long before the Beltane and its community-spirited festival stalwarts entered her heart and became a huge part of her life.

Boasting an impressive list of roles in various organisations, Katharine has dedicated much of her time in benefitting the Peebles community.

She has served on the Community Council, Peebles Christmas Light Association, and as secretary to both the In-Chorus Community Choir, and Peebles Silver Band.

A member of Tweed Theatre, Katharine has most notably directed and produced the youth productions in recent years, as well as having written one of them.

Theatre-goers in Peebles will probably recognise her for her roles on stage, having played characters in ‘Shirley Valentine’, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Steel Magnolias’ and, most recently, ‘The Naked Truth’.

Katharine said she is looking forward to seeing the Beltane from a different angle as she crowns this year’s Beltane Queen.

She explained: “While I wanted to be Crowning Lady, I never thought for a minute that I would be invited to do this, or at least, I thought by the time I had been in Peebles long enough to be considered, I would be far too old and decrepit to walk up the steps of the Parish Church.”

The last introduction of the evening was the Warden of Neidpath, retired Police Chief Inspector Douglas Wright.

Douglas and his family moved to Peebles in 1975 and he has been heavily involved in the community for decades.

Among his many involvements with organisations, Douglas has served on the Beltane Committee and Community Council, and is currently the chairman and treasurer of the Peebles Gutterbuilds. His wife Sheila was Crowning Lady in 2012.

Douglas said it is a “great honour” to be selected, and having worked at various festivals in the Borders he thought the Beltane is by far the best and most colourful festival.

He added: “I look forward to a memorable week at Beltane this year, mid flaming skies of June, not like tonight and along with my fellow principals and everyone in the community I hope that we will all enjoy it.”

With the principals sashed, the Peebles community are looking forward to the festal week, which will see the town lit up in the famous red and white bunting.

All that remains now is the revelation of who will be crowned this year’s Beltane Queen.