Tuesday, 22 April 2014

T is for Travel and Transport


This A-Z, I’m looking at aspects of medieval history that might be useful for writers. Travel in the Middle Ages is an intriguing one, because I think sometimes writers can be a bit inconsistent with it. They treat individual villages as entirely cut off, and journeys to foreign lands as huge adventures to be undertaken only with care, yet at the same time the heroes have no qualms about wandering around the place and messages seem to get through okay whenever the story demands.

Actually though, that’s probably a reasonable enough reflection of the reality. A lot of people wouldn’t have travelled that far (and would have been considered fugitives if they did in the case of serfs). Travel was also quite difficult at times, with walking, horses, and boats the only real options. There were bandits, animals, areas of poor roads, swamps, and more. There was also frequently a lack of convenient little inns along the way, meaning that people had to seek hospitality with nobles, in monasteries, or in villages.

Yet people did travel. Pilgrims, messengers, itinerant nobles… they all wandered around England regularly. The Canterbury tales were about a group of travellers and pilgrims, remember. Ship travel was dangerous, as with the disasters of the White Ship and the Second Crusade, but it could also cover large distances. People did end up in all kinds of places.


Colin Smith said...

I suppose there wasn't as great a need for many people to travel then, as now. My understanding is that families stayed closer together, and you really only needed to travel long distances if your work demanded it (tradesman, soldier, etc.). Otherwise, everything you needed was close-by.

Interesting article, Stu! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's still wild to think that back then, most people did not travel - they lived and died in the same place.

cleemckenzie said...

What amazes me is just how much people did travel back in the days of horse and not much more. I recently finished the bio of John Adams (I know not medieval days, but still). He was better travelled than some people I know today.

John Wiswell said...

You'd also have the state and safety of roads to be considered. At different times in inter-area power, there were actual highways in decent horse- or foot-shape. And, of course, professional highwayman.