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Bringing an ancient tradition back to life
Updated 5:25pm Thursday 27th February 2014 in News
ALDBOURNE has a date for our diaries.
Early on Monday, May 5 – May Day – people will gather at the Market Cross on the village green.
They’ll be in sight of the historic Blue Boar pub and St Michael’s Church.
Their mission will be to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the revival of something far older: Beating the Bounds.
At the stroke of eight they’ll leave and by around 4.30 that afternoon they’ll be back, having walked a circuit of about 18 and a half miles. The Blue Boar will beckon, just as it has on every such occasion for centuries.
Along the way the walkers will pass a sarsen stone at each of the four main points of the compass. The youngest boy and girl will be gently ‘bumped’ on the first of these stones.
“We understand Beating the Bounds goes back to Norman times,” said Paul Goodge, 49, a retired project manager who is co-organiser with David Parmiter, 55, a photographer.
David said: “It was originally a way of reinforcing or reasserting your boundaries, the boundaries of the parish or the church. These boundaries get blurred, and in the days before proper mapping or many people being able to read and write it was very necessary.”
In a period when a few feet shaved either side of a boundary could make the difference between relative comfort and grinding hardship, Beating the Bounds was done annually throughout the country.
“In the old days,” said Paul, “the Norman times, quite often it was a bishop who would lead, so he would be marking out the parish boundary.
“There’s a tradition at one of the sarsen stones of bouncing the youngest boy and the youngest girl, which was at the time considered to be some sort of benediction but also as a way of warding off spirits.”
The bouncing is apparently a lot less forceful than it used to be.
Tradition in Aldbourne also demands that the leaders carry a horn which is sounded at each of the four stones, and a stick bearing ribbons commemorating previous walks. A ribbon is also given to each person completing the circuit.
Records suggest the original Walking the Bounds lasted until 1947 before falling into abeyance. In 1959 a group of residents led by Commander JDR Davies began moves to revive it. The first attempt was in 1963.
Paul said: “Because he basically had to work out the route for himself as he went along, he had trouble finding the route around and ran out of light.
“But that served as a recce, and the following year him and two others, one of whom, Dr Trevor Tiplady, is still alive and living in the village, successfully completed beating the bounds.”
For 30 years the walk was organised by another local, Donald Barnes, assisted by his wife, Ann. The reins were handed to Paul and David last year.
The original piece of canvas used by Commander Davies to negotiate barbed wire fences is still carried on the day.
He seems to have been a wise man. In 1970 he wrote in a local history book: “It is a matter of worldwide comment that the spread of the motor car which has developed side by side with improved standards of living, has had the unforeseen effect of producing seemingly unending processions along our main roadways, making their way through clouds of noxious gases in closed vehicles, searching, at a snail’s pace, for the very beauty and seclusion which their journey is helping to destroy.
“Sickened and disillusioned, some are now turning to other forms of relaxation, and it may well be that man is now on the verge of re-discovering man’s first means of locomotion – plain straightforward walking, and learning something of its joys.”
A hundred people walked last year, aged from seven to 73. All are welcome to take part, whether villagers or not, and are asked to bring suitable clothing, footwear and provisions.
Because much of the route relies on the kindness of local landowners, many of whom have livestock, dogs are forbidden.
The organisers are grateful to the parish council for its support.
Further information can be found on the village website, aldbourne.net
- ALDBOURNE’S long history includes at least two brushes with fame, one of them highly poignant.
It was in the beautiful village that Easy Company of America’s 101st Airborne were posted prior to D-Day.
The exploits of Easy Company, parachuted behind enemy lines to wreak havoc on Hitler’s defences hours before the Normandy Landings, were chronicled by historian Stephen Ambrose in Band of Brothers, which was later adapted into a blockbuster TV series.
Many of the soldiers drank at the Blue Boar, where landlord Michael Hehir displays the veterans’ letters and memorabilia.
The Blue Boar also featured in an Aldbourne claim to fame of an entirely different kind. Renamed The Cloven Hoof for the benefit of BBC cameras back in 1971, it was a pivotal location in a classic Dr Who story called The Daemons.
The serial had Jon Pertwee’s Doctor battling to thwart a plot by the Master to raise an alien menace in the guise of a devil.
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