Saturday, 12 November 2011

Carriage Driving

Today, I went carriage driving and what a wonderful experience! 
For any writer who writes historical (especially 16th to 19th Century), the experience is invaluable.
It has certainly given me an insight into the difficulties of travelling in this manner. 

The condition of roads makes the journey extremely variable. Nicely surfaced modern roads are bone-jarring enough, but as soon as you go "off-road", you really get the real deal.
Unsurfaced country lanes toss the carriage all over the place and the skill of the driver comes to the fore in avoiding the worst of pot-holes, stones, verges, ditches and similar such hazards.
There are no safety belts in the carriage, any more than there would have been back in the Regency, for example, and you find your body working very hard to maintain your posture and position - and keep you in the carriage and in your own seat! No wonder heroines sighed with relief when the overnight stop at an Inn came into sight! It makes for a very exhausting form of travel.

We went off the lanes in places and over the stubble fields which was not to be missed - particularly as the land was very muddy and flooded with run-off from the surrounding hills and the many days of rain we have experienced this week in Perthshire.
The horses laboured to pull the carriage through the mud into which we alternately sank and were heaved from, in somewhat ungainly fashion. When the horses cantered, the speed and rhythm was exhilarating, enhanced, no doubt, by the thought (mine) of imminent overturning at every moment.
Travelling by carriage is certainly a hazardous pastime, made so much more tolerable only in the knowledge of the experienced driver in whose "in-hand" skills you totally rely. No wonder heroines thought twice before accepting a drive with just any male!
At times (such as trotting over rough ground) it became quite difficult to talk through the rigorous bouncing action and noise of the carriage and the driver certainly had to maintain concentration on the position of the carriage and the reactions of the horses to their surroundings at all times.

The photograph shows me, happily, in the safe hands of British Carriage Driving competitor, Jock MacFarlane, who is trying out a new pair of horses in preparation for competitive driving at National and International level, next year.
Jock has had a measure of success with single driving previously, with his super horse, Wodka, and is now bringing on this lovely pair of well-matched horses in anticipation of next season. He has owned 6 year old Peanut for about 2 years and 9 year old Vladimir for a scant couple of weeks. They need time to learn to work together, and to overcome problems, like skittish behaviour in traffic - both have only been used to single carriagework before. It makes you realise just how easy it was for carriage disasters to happen in busy Regency streets.

I am a very lucky girl. Jock has invited me to try my hand at single carriage driving with his steady 'gentleman' Wodka. I hope I won't need a Wodka of my own, afterwards!

If you ever get the chance to experience a drive in a carriage, then jump on in. For an author of historicals, it is useful research for authenticity. I know it will help me to bring that extra flair of truth to my writing about those carriage "moments".


  1. Great post Susan, I envy you. I've only ever driven a pony and trap and that was a long time ago, but I used to love going to the horse driving trials at Lowther and seening the variety of carriages and teams, from singles to 'unicorns' and 'four in hands;'. I'm sure you'll enjoy this new venture, and as you say, it must be invaluable for an historical writer!

  2. Hi,

    Oh absolutely! Nothing like a bit of experience gained to understand capability and limitations of a single, team abreast or in tandem and immense skill of any coachman. There is nothing like the sound of harness, horse and carriage.

    Loved my days breaking/schooling/training horses for ride/drive purposes! I at one time owned 14 horses and ponies, needless to say riding was kind of normal in our house, but driving really got everyone excited. Especially when a new recruit came off long-reining whilst decked out in harness and the moment of first time between the shafts in full harness upon us! Almost all the horses and ponies took to driving with no problems whatsoever. Except one horse who loved the long reining, didn't mind the harness, loved to be ridden, but would not have anything to do with a trap. His attitude was extreme in annoyance and he took two legged dancing: you wanna push/pull it, go ahead, but I ain't doing it for you. He was sold as straight honest riding horse! ;)


  3. I went for a horse-drawn sleigh ride one winter. What I remember most is the constant flatulence (from the horse). I now know why sleighs have those big fancy curved fronts--a barrier of sorts to obnoxious odors. Other than was jingle bells all the way in the one horse open sleigh. The runners made for smooth riding over the snow.