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August 3rd 1845

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A Scottish Wells Fargo

One of the consequences of the Act of Union, and more particularly of the rebellion of 1745, was the development of the roads network in Scotland. From 1750 onwards, a number of Turnpike Acts were passed allowing local lairds and merchants to develop and maintain roads and bridges in return for the privilege of charging tolls at intervals along the roads, generally every six miles.

It was not a scheme that was universally popular but it allowed the creation of a network of stage-coaches giving relatively fast travel between the main towns of Scotland and into England. Travel was not either comfortable or cheap. The coaches had room for a mere six passengers inside sitting on unsprung horsehair seats, with a further twelve on top sitting on bare wooden planks. Even so the fare from Edinburgh to Aberdeen was £2.10s for inside and £1.16s for outside accommodation. That was for a single fare too. Joseph Mitchell, Chief Inspector of Highland Roads and Bridges gives some idea of the pleasures of travelling by stage-coach.

“At four o’clock PM set out for the north on top of the mail. Dr Johnston remarked that nothing afforded him greater pleasure than the rapidity of motion. Had he been in His Majesty’s this night he would have had ample enjoyment. In thirty five minutes we reached Queen’s Ferry, a distance of nine miles, and were in Perth (including half an hour or more at Queen’s Ferry) in four and a half hours, forty two miles.

The Edinburgh coachman seemed to have inspired his brother of the Highland road, for there was no lack of driving through the Vale of Athole. Down we swept one hill, and the impetus brought us half way up another. The quick turns were taken, sometimes within six inches of the stones placed to define the edge of the road, or the corner of a bridge; still, neither these, nor the belting or the kicking of some of the horses, nor the darkness of the night, diminished our steady pace of ten or twelve miles an hour. It was very dark until about two in the morning, and being an old traveller, I dozed, well protected by greatcoats between two less prudent passengers. I like to ride outside, if well protected, on a summer night, the pure morning air being so fresh, ……A great impetus was given to it, coaching, by an association of some country gentlemen, chiefly Mr Ramsay of Barnton, Mr Barclay of Ury, Lord Glen Lyon, afterwards Duke of Athole and others. They started a coach between Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Their coaches were luxurious and handsome, the horses beautifully matched and of the first character, harness in good taste and of the best quality. The drivers and guards in their uniform of red coats and yellow collars were steady and respectable men, great favourites on the road, obliging, full of conversation and local knowledge, and several of these played with no small talent on the bugle and cornet. Time was kept to a minute, and so complete and perfect was the whole establishment that a highly paid veterinary surgeon was employed to tend the horses and see they were properly looked to,” 

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