THE Beating of the Retreat not only marked the end of this year’s Beltane Festival, it signified the end of a journey for one proud Peebles man who has been at the helm of this ancient burgh’s annual traditions for the past five years.

On Saturday evening the usually composed Keith Brunton could not hold back the tears as he dismissed the bands and gave his final salute as Chairman of the festival which he has led with honour and pride.

This week, Peeblesshire News reporter Hilary Scott, sat down with Keith and asked him to take us back through his journey to becoming chairman of one of the biggest festivals in the Scottish Borders.

What was your prior involvement with the festival and what made you take on this role of


I made a decision when my first child Ruairidh was born that I wanted to give something back to the town that had given me so much when I was young. Over the early years I joined a number of committees, but it was the Beltane which stuck. I had turned up to the AGM with a vague proposal that the Beltane should have an answer machine which people could call to find out the status of events. The idea came to nothing as someone else invented the internet instead. However, I ended up on the committee that night. What many people don’t know is that the Beltane Committee is really a series of sub-committees who report back to the main committee. Those sub-committees are based on the different events we run during the week. So I began in involvement with the fancy dress and the concert. Then one day I had a phone call. If memory serves me correct it was Alan Beveridge asking if I had ever considered taking on the role of vice-chair? I decided probably correctly that he had tried everyone else first and they had said no. I wasn’t too sure what was involved but a guide was given, written by the late and much missed Alistair McPherson which detailed the role of the vice-chair. In short it involved a number of speeches and taking care of our Principals. I knew I could handle the reading out loud and that my wife Yvonne was perfect for looking after our Principals and so off we went for the next five years under Chairman Alistair Dodds. I learnt a great deal from Alistair and his wife Anne, in particular the amount of diplomacy involved in being the Chairman.

I stepped up five years ago, slightly daunted by the responsibility but willing to take it on. The advantage of being chair is that you get praised for all the work that others do. I was soon to learn the disadvantages. Being the Chairman of the Beltane can mean at times keeping a number of balls juggling in the air which by nature would wish to repel each other. After a while the juggling just gets a bit easier. If truth be told I rather enjoy the responsibility and I will miss it next year.

What have you enjoyed most and are there any particular special memories that stand out? Any

funny stories?

I have enjoyed most as both vice and chair being 'inside the ropes' during our Beltane Week. I know that every single festival I have the privilege of attending during the summer feels that their festival is the best. I equally know that no other festival puts on the display and pageantry that we do. We make it our goal to ensure that each principal has the best week they can have. Our goal is that every child ends up with Beltane memories which will last a life time. Every single member of our committee, every single person who helps us before and during Beltane week, is an asset to our festival and therefore also an asset to our town.

Alistair Dodds wrote me a very good guide of the events prior to, during and after the Beltane that the chair was involved in. I can honestly say that following that guide would mean a faultless Beltane for the Chairman. I can also say that it sometimes doesn’t happen! I do remember a Beltane Wednesday Night at Neidpath. The Chairman and Warden of Neidpath arrive first. We get to go into the castle where Lorna and Janet are waiting and will serve up a tipple to keep out the cold winds around Neidpath Castle. The plan is this. There will be a first fanfare given when the Cornet and Supporters are about to enter to take their seats at the castle. On the second fanfare we as Chairman and Warden of Neidpath come out from the castle and the Chairman installs the Warden. The plan is simple and easy apart from one little-known fault. It is impossible to hear the fanfare from the top of the castle if you are actually in the castle itself. Therefore each and every Beltane Wednesday at Neidpath the Chairman, tipple of choice in hand, is staring through the keyhole of the castle trying to see if the Cornet has turned up yet. One year which will not be named this was what was happening when a sudden but horrible shudder came across me. I had forgotten to actually take the Warden of Neidpath Collar and medal with me from the car and therefore I had nothing to install him with. The next ten minutes lasted what felt a lifetime. I exited the castle in a mixture of rapid walking while at the same time trying to hide a growing panic to get back to the car.

I got some strange looks from the people there who knew what was supposed to be happening. On getting to the car it was of course locked. The next few minutes were a blur. However, order was restored, the warden was installed and all was relaxed again.

During my time I have had the change from two Secretaries who have given their hearts to the Beltane to our new secretary George Blair who I have complete trust in. I have nothing but admiration for all of them. I may have to juggle the balls but they have to supply them and that is a year round job.

What do you love about the Beltane?

Oh so difficult. I think I love the fact that it brings the vast majority of our town together. I know that for some it's an inconvenience. I work in Edinburgh. They have absolutely no idea at all what the Beltane is. They seem to think its some sort of gala day with stalls. I equally know that throughout the Borders they do 'get' the Beltane. I love the concept that our Cornet and supporters ride round the boundaries of our town to inspect them followed by people representing the same towns and communities who used to attack those boundaries in the past.

The Beltane brings people together to celebrate something we have in common. If you were brought up in Peebles you remember your Beltanes as a child. When I visit our next Cornet they can say easily what different characters they were.

How did you feel with this year being your last as the Chairman and what was going through your head when you gave your final salute at the Retreat?

I have been aware all year that this is it. My last as chair. However, this year has just been as busy as others and there has not been time to dwell on it. I sat this year at the retreat and just enjoyed it. I knew the final salute was coming but wasn’t concerned. That was until Alan Beveridge in his new role with the pipe band stood in front of me and asked for permission for the bands to leave the parade ground. I totally struggled to say what I wanted to say. I asked him to thank the bands and to go away before I cried. I am not ashamed to say that. If it had been anyone else I may have been okay but he as both an ex-Cornet and Chairman knew exactly what I was feeling.

Would you go back and do it all again if you could?

The honest answer is yes in a heartbeat. It has been said if you can’t be the Cornet then the next best thing is to install them. I have had the privilege of installing five Cornets and have enjoyed it to the full. If you look at the Beltane history I am only the 20th Beltane Chairman. We are a privileged few. I wish my successor well.

What does the future hold?

The immediate future is that I am still Beltane Chairman until the AGM and therefore I get a wonderful summer of being a guest at other festivals and representing our festival. Our swansong this year will be at Coldstream at Flodden Day. If anything, that is the day outside of Beltane which hits me most. There is a ceremony unseen by the public at the Flodden memorial where the Chairs of the Border festivals lay a thistle to honour those of our towns who fell at Flodden. It is a ceremony which hits home why we have the Beltane, why we celebrate our history. We need to remember our pasts to be able to take forward our futures. After I cease to be Beltane Chair it’s a matter of wait and see.

It is clear that being Chairman of the Beltane Festival is a memory that will be cherished by Keith for the rest of his days. I am sure during the last five years he has said many a heartfelt thanks to the community and the individuals who have supported him during his reign.

However, it is said behind every great man there’s a great woman. And in Keith’s case this is most certainly true. He said: “I must thank my wife Yvonne. The role of Chair's partner doesn’t exist. Except in reality it does. She has worked tirelessly during the last ten years.”

I believe I speak on behalf of the people of Peebles when I say thank you Keith, as the 20th Chairman of Peebles Beltane Festival you have done your town proud.