Reprinted from Newsletter 137, dated 2012 July

Young George is sure to recall his Jubilee ‘beating’ the bounds of Glastonbury Stuart Marsh

12-year-old George Tucker has the location of this boundary stone at Hartlake Farm beaten into his memory so that he will pass it on accurately to future generations. (Stuart Marsh and Alan Fear are at left.) Don’t tell George, but in case he forgets the spot, the digital camera — in a phone owned by Jo Stevenson, headteacher at St Dunstan’s — did not forget. It made radio contact with satellites and filed precise coordinates inside the photo: North 51° 9.86´, West 2° 40.2´, altitude 9.65, camera bearing 277° (ie, pointing west).

As part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Conservation Society organized a rare repeat of the traditional “beating the bounds” walk around Glastonbury’s old borders. (See map below.)

The bounds beaten: It’s a 15-mile walk around the boundary of the old borough of Glastonbury. (The ancient Twelve Hides of Glastonbury was a far bigger area.) Queen Anne gave the borough its charter in 1705, and to commemorate the 250th anniversary in 1955 Mayor Henry Scott-Stokes instigated a set of boundary stones to replace those that had disappeared. The borough was abolished in April 1974, replaced by Mendip District Council when local government all over England was reorganized.

   We gathered with great excitement at the football ground on the Saturday morning, June 2. Alan Fear had already visited all the landowners along the route to check for obstacles.

   44 eager people strode out — young and old and different sorts. It was a chance to chat to old friends and new, as we wound along Green’s Drove and Great Withy Drove and then the long straight on the bank of the Hartlake river to the first refreshment stop at Hartlake Bridge, where the Wells road crosses.

   The first boundary stone — dated 1705 —was at Hartlake Farm, where the Redlake and Whitelake rivers join to form the Hartlake. Mayor Ian Tucker and some of us held his 12-year-old grandson George upside-down at the stone. Some say the old tradition was to beat the boy, but this was a 21st-century politically correct variation. The idea is that the youngster will never forget the exact location of the stone and will be able to point it out to future generations.

   On we went over rougher pasture and a few detours because of rhynes, but we stayed roughly on course. It was beautiful countryside and new to most of us, as it was off the beaten track (so to speak).

   We passed Graham and Gordon White’s 75-acre plantation wood, in what in the Abbot’s day would have been part of Norwood. Our leaders got briefly lost, but we soon arrived at the main road at Havyatt, where we had a pitstop — Derek Miller, retired from running St Anne’s Nursery, provided a WC. He has lived there for 50 years and had some stories to tell.

   At Havyatt the Avalon pioneer minister, the Revd Diana Greenfield, encouraged us with the traditional prayer for the land.

   The weather was just perfect: warmish with light cloud. On we went, passing another boundary stone. Again we had to divert from the route because of rhynes, and came to a more familiar track and Kennard Moor Drove along the river, and on to Cowbridge — the lunch stop.

   The vanguard set off around the last bend, to Coldharbour Bridge and then into the finishing straight. Of the 44 who started, 34 arrived back where we started the 15-mile perambulation, weary and triumphant after seven hours all told.

Custom dates back to King Alfred

• The custom of beating the bounds goes back at least to the laws of Alfred the Great. Parish boundaries mattered for taxation and burial rights. Similar traditions are found in many other cultures, such as the Roman and Chinese. Of course modern surveying methods made the practice obsolete in the 19th century. Some authorities say three years must elapse before a repeat.

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