On Rogation Sunday, the fourth Sunday after Easter, which this year was May 5th, Deputy Mayor Richard Slade and I were very privileged to take part in the ancient tradition of Beating the Bounds of St Neots Parish.

"Beating the Bounds" is a tradition rooted in the mediaeval practice of reinforcing parish boundaries.

Historically, community elders led younger members of the community in a ceremonial walk along the parish borders, where they would beat boundary markers with willow branches.

This ritual served not only to pass down knowledge of the borders through generations but also to invoke blessings for the land's fertility and protection from misfortune.

Organised by the St Neots History Society, the annual Beating the Bounds walk is just over 11 miles long - and follows the route of the parish boundary as closely as possible using public rights of way.

We opted against the longer 14 mile version, because we didn’t have permission for part of the route.

Recommended Reading: St Neots Art & Soul Café to close on Sunday May 12

Our journey traversed the stunning rural landscapes that surrounds our town, although some of that rural tranquillity will soon be eroded by the construction of the A428 upgrade, and the later phases of the Wintringham Park housing development.

In past times, the physical act of beating boundary markers with branches was believed to impress the borders upon the minds of young participants, ensuring that the knowledge of these boundaries would persist as older generations passed away. It was a crucial practice in an era when maps were rare and literacy was not widespread.

In those days border disputes might entail fisticuffs with groups beating the bounds of neighbouring parishes. Fortunately this year we did not encounter any ruffians from Eynesbury, Hardwick, and Abbotsley.

At one point during our walk, we stood where all four parishes meet—a unique geographical highlight and a poignant reminder of our shared history.

The Hunts Post: The 11.3 mile 2024 Beating the Bounds rout.The 11.3 mile 2024 Beating the Bounds rout. (Image: Cllr Stephen Ferguson)

Although we no longer adhere to the more vigorous aspects of the tradition, such as beating with willow branches, the spirit of the event remains unchanged. It is a day of community, memory, and continuity.

This year, as we walked, we discussed the importance of understanding our past and the geographical and historical nuances that shape our present. The walk offered a chance to connect with the landscape and our neighbours in a meaningful and reflective manner.

The involvement of the St Neots History Society also enriched the experience, providing insights into the changes that have shaped the boundaries over centuries. Their knowledge deepened our appreciation of the tradition and added layers of context that linked us more closely to our forebears.

As we look to the future, "Beating the Bounds" remains part of St Neots' cultural heritage. It is a testament to our community's commitment to preserving tradition while adapting to contemporary times. Such events not only remind us of our collective history but also reinforce our community bonds—ensuring that despite the inevitable changes, some customs continue to thrive, fostering a sense of identity and continuity.

As we concluded our journey, spirits were high amidst the camaraderie and shared experience of the day.

It was a vivid reminder that in St Neots, our past threads seamlessly into the fabric of our current lives, guiding us as we forge ahead into the future.