Proving the beat goes on for lovers of medieval ceremony

PUBLISHED: 14:38 04 October 2012

Beating the bounds, 2010

Beating the bounds, 2010


The ancient tradition of “beating the bounds” takes place this weekend but the ceremony these days is a lot more savoury than it used to be.

Any boys taking part in this year’s event will be happy to know that one aspect of it has not survived the test of time.

Established before maps were common, knowledge of parish boundaries had to be remembered in order to settle disputes over land ownership and parochial duties.

Making children remember the route was the way to ensure boundaries sustained through time.

So every year the parish priest, officials, landowners and a crowd of boys would make a formal march around the parish boundaries armed with green boughs to beat the boundary markers with them.

But the ground wasn’t the only thing whipped – often the children would be hit with the boughs to “help them remember”.

In 1981, the mayor of Gravesham, Frank Marven, who was also chairman of the Gravesham District Scouts, resurrected the old tradition – minus the child-beating.

Alan Skelton, a Scout leader who has walked Gravesham’s 35-mile perimeter nearly every year since then, said: “Frank wanted to have a memory of the boundaries and we have continued the tradition as it was a Scouting event and we want to keep that link going.”

The first day is an 18-mile trek, starting at 9am at Botany Marsh and continuing south to Vigo before heading back to arrive at Luddesdown at 4.30pm to stay overnight.

Day two kicks off at the Golden Lion pub and continues for 12 miles to finish at Cliffe Jetty in early afternoon.

It’s a long walk but Alan insists it isn’t too demanding, especially as the route has become more hospitable over the years.

“When I first started we got permission from private landowners in order to walk as close as we could to the boundary mark. However, as time went on some of the councillors found it very hard to walk across ploughed fields and so we looked at taking footpaths closest to the boundary lines.”

The route has also changed as the landscape has altered, which Alan has been witness to. “You see all the new buildings that go up, for instance, the high speed rail link and bridges that weren’t previously there,” he says.

It is now a tradition that the Mayor of Gravesham takes part in the walk and that it is a sponsored event.

This year Beating the Bounds will be supporting EllenorLions Hospice and Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support Services in Gravesend.

Beating the Bounds takes place on Saturday and Sunday.

To take part, email or call 01474 337725.

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