Crowds came out to ‘beat the bounds’ of Oxford’s historic boundaries for Ascension Day.

The celebratory tradition sees members of the clergy from St Michael at the North Gate and the University Church of St Mary the Virgin in the High Street check the edge of the parish and what is left of the old city walls by hitting them with sticks.

Last Thursday, May 18, about 40 people set off from St Michael’s to chalk the stones and pray for the people associated with the buildings, including the many businesses, colleges, libraries, shops and restaurants who allowed the group to see the stones.

Some of the points are now inside pubs, a library and shops, including Zara in the Westgate Centre.

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Clergy and dignitaries followed the ancient route, stopping at landmarks to bang their sticks and shout “mark, mark, mark” and marked the place with sticks. 

Oxford Mail: Beating the Bounds

The group grew to about 70 people as people joined and sticks were kept in reserve for them.

Participants traditionally enjoyed treats during and at the end their walks, such as cherry cake, ice cream and beer.

Reverend Anthony Buckley, vicar of St Michael at the North Gate, said: "It was a moment to honour the centre of the city of Oxford."  

He explained that churches throughout England go and “beat the bounds” on Ascension Day, reminding the community of church parish boundaries.

"That is important, but more important is the reminder that every business, person, student, enterprise and visitor to the parish is valued," he said. 

"People’s memories go deep with this tradition. Towards the end we realised we were going to be late for our lunch at Lincoln College and tried to walk quickly through the Covered Market, only - rightly - to be delayed by several people pausing us and asking, 'Are you beating the bounds?'

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"We made it to Lincoln just in time for lunch and Ivy Ale - there is a long and violent history behind that - choir singing from the tower and coins gently lobbed to primary school children. 

Oxford Mail: Beating the Bounds

"As we had gone round the parish we had valued and prayed for all those in, and visiting, this place." 

He added: "It was all rather fun, we shall be doing this again next year on Ascension Day, May 9, 2024.

"The invitation is to all, whether residents or visitors, inside or outside those ancient boundary stones."