Researching Medieval Travel for ‘Duty Binds Us’

1190 – 1210

I am in the process of writing the sequel to my medieval romance. Within the novel I have three different journey that I am presently researching. There are two other journeys but I’m not yet concentrating on these, they may even just ‘happen’ with no great detail.

As with any journey the main questions are; How far is it? How long with it take? How do we get there? What problems are likely to occur? And, where do we sleep at night? Just stepping back to consider problems. The weather would have had a greater effect on travellers than it has today as they would have been more exposed when travelling. The terrain would also differ, roads did exist, the Romans had built some of them, but their conditions varied. Dirt roads would have dusky in summer, muddy when it rained and icy in the frost and snow. Many would be surrounded by forests and possible attacks from robbers, hence need for protection when travelling.

party ridingThe first journey is from Anjou to England. The destination is a fictitious place called Westbury, but as a guide for distances I’m substituting Warwick. Isabel, who is thirteen, has to travel from her home to the castle of her betrothed. Her uncle, who has the duty of accompanying her, has just returned from the Holy Lands arriving back in France in August. The journey involves crossing the English Channel, or the Narrow Sea as it called in this period. He will, of course, have to cross it twice as he, and his wife and retinue, will return to France. Besides knights, and their squires, Isabel is to be accompanied by three ladies to attend her and her aunt with also have ladies. Isabel will have trucks containing dresses, her dowry and linen so wagons will be needed. The ladies will ride pillion behind squires, few ladies rode astride. Would they take household servants? Unlikely as they aren’t setting up a household on arrival and would stay at castles, and other establishments, on route. Party consists of about 20 to 30 people.

Breakdown of first journey.

First leg will be from Anjou to port. Anjou’s capital is Angers, but I felt Isabel’s home would be further north. This may change with further research. For their destination I have selected Barfleur, which was a popular Norman port in this period. It is far north to make the crossing as short as possible. Distance from Angers to Barfleur is 367km or 228miles.

cogSecond leg is actual crossing. For landing I looked at two options, Lyme (later to be called Lyme Regis when Edward I gave town its charter) and Portsmouth which was popular with both Richard I and John. Lyme was too far west. Distance to Portsmouth is approximately 80 miles of sea crossing.

Third leg will be from Portsmouth to Westbury (Warwick), approximately 128 miles.

Total distance will be around 430 miles.

Timing and length of journey

Journey will commence in September. They would not want to travel through winter if it could be avoided due to shorter daylight hours and risk of bad weather.

Party consists of 20 to 30 people with wagons.

Depending on conditions, the average distance a wagon drawn by horses would travel a day is estimated to be 20 miles.

Therefore, the first leg of the journey should take 11 to 12 days.

Arriving in Barfleur in the middle of September.

Ships were very dependent on the wind and if it was in the wrong direction a journey could be held up for days. There are trade ships which will take passengers, but it is more likely the uncle will hire a ship. He has horses and wagons to be transported. The alternative would be to unload, send wagons back and hire, or buy, replacements in England. It is likely that a friend, who has lands in England and France, would recommend, or help secure, a suitable vessel.

Average speed is 4 to 5 knots, or 120 nautical miles, a day (a nautical mile is about 1.15 mile). Therefore the crossing should not take longer than a day. Time will also be taken loading and unloading so minimum of 3 days for this part of journey.


Back on dry land the final leg will be 6 or 7 days.

Total time approximately 21 days, but allow up to a month.


Isabel’s second journey is from Westbury to Winchester where King Richard will be re-crowned. She will not be allowed to go to ceremony but she will be able to see her betrothed. The party is a relatively small one; Lord and Lady Westbury, their two sons and a couple of ladies, plus a half-dozen household knights and nine squires. A party of 22 persons. The ladies will be riding pillion and there will also be a couple of pack horses for processions and presents.

Timing and length of journey.

Date of crowning is April 17th.

Horseback riding is subject to many variables. Henry I confounded King Louis of France by riding long distances in short time, but he was able to change horses. In general horses walk between 3-5 miles an hour. Horses could travel around 40 miles in a day. If necessary, the horse could go on for 60 miles before it needed a break, although unlikely to do so with two people on its back!

Horses can trot at about 8 miles an hour, as fast as a person runs. They canter at 15 miles an hour. Whilst they can gallop at roughly 30 miles an hour, however, the gallop was never meant for long distances, it is essentially a burst of speed in order to get to safety. A horse can only gallop for 2-3 miles before they need to slow down. Hence the need for a change of horse.

The distance for this journey is 99 miles. Therefore 2 and a half days seems reasonable. Two nights stay likely to be in castles. Second will be Edwin’s father-in-law’s, given time of year likely to arrive drenched.


Third journey takes place in France. Isabel’s husband is to escort Queen Eleanor from Mirebeau to Fontevraud. However Isabel’s first leg of the journey is from her husband’s castle to Mirebeau. They will then travel on horseback to Fontevrand. The battle took place on 1st August so journey will have taken place in early August.

Timing and length of journey.

Isabel’s first leg will take just a day, as her husband has arranged for change of horses and Isabel now rides astride!

The amount of luggage Eleanor needs to transport will determine the mode of transport used. She has been in north of France with her household, so it’s probable she has household and goods to transport to south. Given distance is only 62km or 38.5miles, I am tending towards a household transportation and 2 days of travel.




My characters are all nobles and have easy access to horses. However, the most common way to travel during this period would be on foot. The average person can walk 3 miles per hour, or a mile every 20 minutes. Pilgrims would routinely travel 10 to 20 miles in a given day. If necessary, they could go further, but, like horses, the conditions of terrain and weather needs to be taken into consideration.




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