INNERLEITHEN’S Standard Bearer and Lass have been reflecting on “memories to last a lifetime” after the St Ronan’s Border Games made its long-awaited return.

The festival was curtailed in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic but townsfolk gathered en masse to welcome it back last week.

The run-up to the festivities was not plain-sailing, with the Standard Bearer elect, Blair Laurie, and his Lass, Rebecca McAvoy, resigning due to a change in the former’s personal circumstances.

But 23-year-old Jonathan Lea and Katie Archibald, also 23, stepped up to the plate, although they had to keep it quiet.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Jonathan, who admitted that being Standard Bearer had never crossed his mind before he was asked. “We found out at the end of March but we weren’t actually introduced until the start of May so it was a secret between my family and Katie’s family. Obviously talk starts in the town about who it’s going to be and you’re saying, ‘I don’t know who it’s going to be’. That was quite hard.”

Jonathan and Katie went to school together but became good friends during their time at Edinburgh Napier University.

On being asked by Jonathan to be his Lass, Katie joked: “I let him hang for a couple of hours and then I phoned him right back. I let him sweat for a bit.”

The festival kicked off with the ex-Standard Bearers’ dinner dance on Friday, July 8. Jonathan and Katie were joined by their parents and supporters.

On Saturday, 250 people attended the Standard Bearer’s Ball held in a specially erected marquee at St. Ronan’s Community School. The Standard Bearer’s Reel was danced at 11pm.

It was a big day on Sunday for Owen Thomas, who became the twenty-third Dux Boy and representative of St. Ronan to raise the community flag in Innerleithen.

The Bands Display also went ahead on Sunday. Innerleithen Pipe Band and St. Ronan’s Silver Band played to a large crowd that had gathered in bright sunshine.

An over 60s night was held on Tuesday at the Memorial Hall, with a quiz going ahead the following day.

On Thursday, the town saw some cracking outfits during the Fancy Dress Parade.

The Cleikum Ceremonies went ahead at 7pm on Friday, later followed by the ceremony at St Ronan’s Wells. The torchlight procession to the Masonic Ceremony rounded off the night.

For the final day of celebrations on Saturday, large crowds turned out for the Children’s Flower Parade at 11am, which was followed by the Race Round the Town.

The festival week ended with Burning the De’il. Owing to the dry conditions on Caerlee Hill, the bonfire and fireworks display were held in the field at the Health Centre.

“It’s been very, very busy but absolutely brilliant,” Jonathan said of the week. “I wouldn’t change it at all. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Obviously you hear the stories of the past but to actually experience it yourself is something different.

“The whole of Innerleithen has had a buzz about it the entire week. You’re walking down the street and you just get people popping up to you. All the pubs are packed, the shops are busy. It’s definitely needed in small places like this.”

Katie said: “It was unreal, it passed in a blink of an eye but it was amazing. The whole week was just so good. It’s been such a good summer, not just our week but going to other towns. These are memories to last a lifetime.

“It’s been so nice all week seeing the community come together and enjoy themselves. It’s been so nice to see everyone back enjoying the Games.”

And the Standard Bearer was full of praise for his Lass.

“She’s been fantastic, I cannot speak highly enough of her,” said Jonathan. “Everywhere she goes she’s just got a massive smile on her face.

“Once she said yes I was thinking I’ve got a responsibility to make sure she has a good time and I can tell you, she definitely has.”

Both Jonathan and Katie pointed to the Cleikum Ceremonies as the highlight of the week.

Jonathan said: “When I got installed as Standard Bearer, the feeling you get from that is something special.

“On the Thursday night there’s an ex-Standard Bearers’ event up at the Wells so I did a little speech there and that’s where I saw my name up on the board with all the ex Standard Bearers. When you see that it makes it all sink in a bit. You look at the list and you recognise so many names and you’re going, ‘Why is my name up there?’”

He added: “I really enjoyed Saturday. Obviously the bonfire and the fireworks at the end are a brilliant way to top it off but seeing the flower parade, you’re coming round the corner onto the High Street and the streets are just packed with people.”

Jonathan and Katie have followed in their families’ footsteps in being involved in the Games.

The former’s brother was Dux Boy in the late 2000s, while Katie’s grandparents have carried out the roles of Standard Bearer and Lass.

Jonathan moved to Innerleithen in 2004 and although his parents are not from the town, they have backed him all the way.

“My dad has been absolutely over the moon for it,” he said. “Mum’s been a bit more stressed because of the parties and trying to get me organised to get from A to B, but you can tell how much it means to them. And my pals couldn’t have been more supportive. It’s been a big group effort.”

He added: “Everyone’s in such a good mood, everyone just loves it. This is what a lot of people in our little town look out for, it is a big deal. To have it back has just been fantastic.”

Turn to pages 20-21 for more pictures from the week.

Photos: Helen Barrington