PEEBLES Beltane Festival is an important event for many in the town – but for one man, the celebration has been a priority for more than 70 years.

Bitten by the ‘Beltane bug’ 75 years ago, Mitchell Johnston, known to many as Mitch, has not missed a single festival since.

Mitch first took part in the Beltane Festival at the age of five as a Beltane mouse in 1948.

“The Beltane bug caught me at an early age,” said Mitch. “I was five years old when I first took part in the Peebles Beltane fancy dress parade. My school chums and myself were dressed as mice which have been a recurring theme for years.

“My first memory, however, was when I was seven. I was so excited as we were dressing up as cowboys and my uncle in Canada had gifted me the previous Christmas a six-shooter toy gun and holster.”

Border Telegraph: Mitch as part of the Beltane Mice in 1948Mitch as part of the Beltane Mice in 1948 (Image: Mitchell Johnston)

Mitch’s commitment to the Beltane has been a longstanding one.

After leaving school he went to work in March Street Mill before he spent five years with the Merchant Navy.

And even being far from home would not stop him from joining the festivities as he always made sure to be on shore leave for Beltane Week.

Now 80 years old, Mitch is keen as ever to take part in the celebrations.

This year he joined the ‘Peebles Beltane The Greatest Show on Earth’ float where he was dressed as the Greatest Showman himself.

“I can proudly say that Peebles Beltane is the greatest show on Earth,” he added.

“Neighbours get together to help with various tasks, newcomers to Peebles are welcomed and get involved.

“Visitors come to Peebles just to see the festivities. Groups from the rugby club to nursery children all take part.

“It showcases our town and this fills me with pride.

“I hope that by keeping this tradition alive the baton will be handed on for generations to come.”

He added: “My fondest memory of Beltanes past has to be the 1983 [festival].

“My daughter Michelle was Chief Maid as part of the Beltane Court.

“She was beautiful and recognised the honour it was to have been chosen.

“My wife Pat and myself were so proud of her.”

Border Telegraph: Mitch (first on the right) dressed as the 'Three and a Half Musketeers'Mitch (first on the right) dressed as the 'Three and a Half Musketeers' (Image: Mitchell Johnston)

And in more than seven decades of fancy dress parades, Mitch has seen some funny moments.

Forty years ago on an Old MacDonald-themed float – featuring live sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens – the chickens managed to escape and Mitch and others had to gather them up before setting off for the parade.

Another year, a rocket to the moon float turned out to be taller than expected.

Mitch said: “We hadn’t considered the height of the said rocket until we were on the High Street.

“People were shouting and waving and we thought they were just getting into the spirit.

“It wasn’t until a policeman stopped us to inform us we had dragged all the flags which decorating the High Street behind us as they had snagged on the rocket!

“A quick apology and readjustment of the rocket saved any more carnage to the flags.”

When all the festivities are over, and Peebles has celebrated another Red Letter Day, Mitch takes a step back before setting his sights on the next festival.

“After every year, I take a breath and marvel at all the work every participant made to make the whole of Beltane week a success,” he said. “It’s about post-Christmas that I start to think about the next year’s Beltane and what we could make for that year’s float.

“I really look forward to it, the whole week offers something for everyone.”