Beating The Bounds

“Beating the bounds” is the Modern English name for a number of overlapping customs across the Blessed Isles. Typically, these customs involve some sort of parade or community walk along the parish boundaries – and very often the Otherworld boundaries, as these generally coincide.

The English version appears to arise from the laws of Alfred the Great or his grandson, Æthelstan. The Welsh traditions are often considered to descend from the Roman Terminalia festival, although cultural interaction and overlap suggests that the reality is somewhat more mixed. The customs observed in the North of England tend to have more in common with the Norse-derived customs observed in the Shetlands, Orkneys and Faireys. Lowland Scotland tends to completing the tour on horseback, which may relate to Reaving or even older traditions, while Scotland as a whole has more in common with the Irish format of the whole village marking both parish boundaries and Waypoints in a procession. Some parishes continue to mark Waypoints that haven’t been functional in living memory, some of which appear to predate the Wardens’ records.

The Christian element appears to date from the 5th Century but the key element appears to be the marking of the physical boundaries so that community resources are correctly distributed. The associated marking of the Otherworld boundary, a role which often puts the local parish Wardens second in the processional order, simply aids with ensuring parishioners are not lost. None of which has prevented centuries, if not longer, of rivalry between parishes that make use of movable boundary stones.

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