Beating the Bounds.

When: Sunday May 4th., 1997 at 11.45 a.m.
Where: Pumping Station car-park, Calverton Road.
How Long: Distance about 8 miles (13 kilometers). Time: about 4½ hours.

At the car-park we will meet up with people from Stony Stratford, who will be Beating their Bounds. They have kindly agreed to provide us with the necessary Willow Wands for Bounds Beating, and together we will Strip the Willow (penknife required). They will instruct us in what to do before we all set off clockwise around our respective Parish Boundaries. (Anti-clockwise is the Devil's way...)

We will follow the edge of Stony Stratford up to the A5, and walk along this road through the hedgerow to just beyond the Harrisons' farm at Two Mile Ash. There we turn south to Lady Margery's Gorse (nice place for picnic lunch?). We continue past Whitehouse Farm to Sheriley Grounds Farm, then down the Whaddon Road for ½ mile. We take the public footpath on the right towards Lady Carrington's Gorse, and thence follow the boundary towards Blacon Spinney and out onto the Beachampton Road. We cross the road and follow the boundary to the Great Ouse River, and then follow this back to the car-park.

The complete walk is not for the frail or faint-hearted! Some parts involve climbing over the odd hedge or gate, but the map shows various points at which the boundary crosses footpaths and roads which will return you swiftly to the Wealds. We are grateful to all the farmers and landowners who have given permission for their land to be passed over for this occasion.


In the past people living in the parishes of Stony Stratford and Calverton would have known the three days immediately before the Feast of the Ascension as the Rogation Days. The word comes from the Latin "rogare", meaning "to ask", and these were the days when God's blessing was asked on the crops, planted a few weeks earlier and just beginning to sprout.

Originally the custom came from Europe. It was initiated by the Archbishop of Vienna in the year 470 after terrible plagues and minor earthquakes had caused much hardship among the people. He ordered special prayers, asking God's blessing on their crops, to be recited as the villagers processed around their fields. The custom spread rapidly around Western Europe, and by the eighth century was established in Britain.

In days which offered little excitement to ordinary people, it can be imagined that processions around the countryside in lovely spring weather were very popular. In fact not only the fields were blessed: in seaside districts the parishioners would troop down to the waterside and bless the water and the fishing-boats and pray for a good fishing season ahead.

These processions had also been useful in showing people their parish boundaries. As time went on, these boundaries became even more important as administration was changing. So the custom of "Beating the Bounds" grew up, to show everyone, and especially the younger members of the parish, where the boundaries lay.

At the boundary-marks of the parish such as a pond, a big tree or a rock, the parson would stop and read the Gospel and when this had been done the boys of the parish suffered some indignity to imprint the boundary-mark on their minds. Sometimes they were bumped about, pushed into a stream, turned upside-down over a fence or hedge, thrown in a bramble-bush, or beaten with willow-wands.

Modified with thanks from Wicken News.

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Last updated
4th May 1997.