‘The Hut’, six simple letters making two words, but which in the Borders region of Scotland , and in particular in Hawick, conjure up images of men linking arms, swaying, singing, drinking and 500 years of remembrance and history.
I’ve photographed all over the world, in many exotic locations, from the jungles of Papua New Guinea to the boardrooms of Tokyo, but on returning to live in Scotland in the last few years I’ve begun to explore once more my own country, an exploration which during my recent ‘Unsullied And Untarnished’ book project, looking at the Common Riding festivals of the Scottish Borders, took me inside ‘The Hut’.
The event was the ‘Curds and Creams Repast’, a morning event at the Hawick Common Riding, an annual festival which commemorates the capture of an English Flag in 1514 and the ancient custom of symbolically checking the boundaries of the common lands. On the hills above the town, the riders approach the Hut, the men jump from their horses leaving youths to tend them, and run for the wooden farm building. The event is ticketed, and to some visitors surprising in that it is a male-only event. While the riders enjoy their hour or so inside, the female riders and participants of the Ridings mill around outside, listening to the proceedings over speakers.
Inside, men from the various Border towns representing other Common Riding festivals sit at long benches. Speeches are made and listened to, traditions are observed, songs sung, and copious drinks of rum and milk consumed.
I’ve been fortunate to gain entry twice to photograph, my presence tolerated if not exactly welcomed. Although visitors are welcome at the Common Ridings, these are essentially local festivals for local people. But photographing in the hut, with the condensation forming on my camera lens, the sweat dripping, the air humid with the heat, song and perspiration of 200 horsemen, stands as one of the more fascinating things I’ve witnessed in my own country, and certainly is proof that you don’t need to take off for foreign climates to see extraordinary sights and experience life.
Incredibly, even here in Scotland, the Common Ridings are little known outside of the Borders. With my latest project, Unsullied And Untarnished, out now as a book of the same title, and which also forms my part of a new show by Document Scotland photography collective, I hope others can gain an insight into the annual festivals, to learn about the pride and love the participants have for their communities, their traditions and the history of this country.
Unsullied And Untarnished book, with a foreword by photojournalist Harry Benson CBE and essay by Alex Massie, is available from Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s website. www.jeremysuttonhibbert.com
Unsullied And Untarnished forms Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s contribution to Document Scotland’s The Ties That Bind photography exhibition, on now until 24th April 2016 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland.
©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert. 2015.