A BIZARRE ancient custom dating back almost 600 years, saw clergy and townspeople walking through central Oxford 'beating the bounds' of an historic parish boundary.

A procession followed the boundaries of the parish of Oxford's oldest church, St Michael’s at the Northgate yesterday, echoing a tradition was has been carried out since 1428 – and praying for the protection of Oxford.

Following the 9am Ascension Day service at the church in Cornmarket Street, Vicar, the Rev Anthony Buckley, led church wardens and locals around the city centre to mark the boundary stones.

The walk, which happens annually on Ascension Day involves going to each stone before the vicar marks it by drawing a cross with chalk.

Then, with willow wands, the wardens beat the stones shouting, "mark, mark mark!"

Yesterday's procession saw up to 60 people following Rev Buckley as he led them to the 29 stones, now hidden among busy city centre streets and shops.

When the group moved on to the second and supposedly oldest stone, they were faced with a peculiarly 21st century problem.

Oxford Mail:

In previous years, the ceremonial group had tramped freely through Zara in the Clarendon Centre to beat the site of the stone, now hidden by a wall in a store room at the back of the shop – known as the ‘Beat the Bounds room’.

Yesterday, however, the congregation arrived to find Zara had become TK Maxx, which was celebrating its grand opening in the centre.

When the group attempted to stride inside the store as usual, two security guards blocked the way and halted the procession.

After some hasty negotiations, Rev Buckley persuaded the guards to let them get into the store room through the shopping centre’s back entrance, after which they hit the stone and left, under the watchful eyes of bemused staff.

The group then made their way to other points in the city centre where the stones are located, including, New Inn Hall Street, Brasenose College, the Clarendon Building and St Aldate’s.

Some of the other stones have also found themselves in busy shops, including Marks and Spencer, where the boundary stone sits in a cabinet next to a metal plaque by the tills.

There is another boundary stone at the back of Wagamama in Market Street.

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The original purpose of the walk was to show local children where the parish boundaries lay.

Rev Buckley blessed the city yesterday as he prayed for its safety and protection.

Miriam Frenkel, St Michael at the Northgate administrator, said: “This is one of the ways we pray for the city.

We get a lot of diverse people who come to Oxford and to our services so this is a good way to bring everyone together.”

The new Lord Mayor of Oxford, Craig Simmons, also attended the service and spoke about how the community worked best when people did things together, as it created a sense of belonging and culture.