Carterhaugh Ba' game takes rugby back to its 'roots'

Rugby has come home after 200 years, with an elaborate re-enactment of the historic Carterhaugh Ba’ Game on the site of the original legendary match held on the historic Bowhill House estate.


Organised by the Bill McLaren Foundation and Bowhill House on the 4th of December 2015, the glorious game of rugby was taken back to it's mythical roots.


The staged re-enactment took place at Bowhill House – the Selkirk home of the Duke of Buccleuch, whose ancestor the fourth Duke was instrumental in the 1815 game – the celebratory event involved local performers and members of the community.


It has been suggested that the famous Carterhaugh match, organised by Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg and the fourth Duke, could be the forebear of rugby. One historical account suggests the ball was at one point picked up and slung between teammates, eight years before rugby purportedly originated at Rugby School.


The anniversary event, exactly 200 years on, included a traditional hand ba’ game played by local enthusiasts, followed by a grand narrated interpretation of the epic original game featuring a local re-enactment group, drummers, flagbearers, halberdiers, musketeers and jesters.


‘Sir Walter Scott’ began proceedings by welcoming the players to the field and providing an explanation of the rules, before the current Duke of Buccleuch followed in his ancestor’s footsteps, officially beginning the match by throwing the ball into the air.


Throughout the staging, the narrator talked spectators through the history of the original game, explaining how it involved teams from Selkirk and Yarrow and was played on the Carterhaugh peninsula between the Ettrick and Yarrow Waters on the Bowhill Estate.


It is estimated that more than 1,000 men took part in the game, with over 2,000 spectators cheering the teams on.


The Duke officiated the match, with Sir Walter Scott championing the Selkirk men and James Hogg supporting the Yarrow team. The game was accompanied by pipes playing, banners flying, and wild celebrations from supporters on both sides, and a grand dance took place at Bowhill House following the event.


The re-enactment follows an exhibition held over the summer at Bowhill House celebrating the career of Bill McLaren, featuring memorabilia and the famous ‘big sheets’ from The Voice of Rugby’s illustrious five-decade career commentating for the BBC.


Linda Lawson, Bill’s daughter and Director of the Bill McLaren Foundation, said;


“We are very proud to have marked this magnificent anniversary in such an exciting way, especially as the re-enactment involved young people and the local community."


“The event was a remarkable spectacle, with many elements of the original game carried through in a nod to the rugby history of the whole Borders area.”


The Duke of Buccleuch said:


 “History was made by all of our Borders ancestors on the Carterhaugh field 200 years ago to the day and a sporting tradition created that spans the globe.


“It was wonderful to see people from the local community and further afield come together to celebrate this landmark anniversary.”


The Foundation wishes to extend their heartfelt thanks to the warm hospitality and support of the Duke of Buccleauch and Bowhill House.

© Bill McLaren Foundation 2016 Registered Charity Number SC041238

The Bill McLaren Foundation

Heart of Hawick