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Strauss's avatar

In pre-industrial times, what was considered "a day's journey"?

Asked by Strauss (22359points) August 20th, 2012

I imagine it depends on culture, climate and other factors. A Sabbath day’s journey has been described at various times as approximately ½ mile, 1 mile or 2 miles (depending on how it was interpreted from Joshua: 3, 4–5). Another source estimates a days journey as 32 to 40 kilometers (20–25 miles). However, I seem to remember in school, when discussing Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, the instructor said that a day’s journey, at least in pilgrimage, was about 8 miles.

Anyone have any insight into this?

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14 Answers

downtide's avatar

Twenty miles on horseback, provided the horse is healthy and well-fed. I’ve ridden a ten mile trek in an afternoon.

Jeruba's avatar

For many it would be a journey on foot. I’m remembering Tess walking all day in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but I don’t know how far she walked.

One healthy young person alone and on relatively level terrain in decent weather would presumably travel a lot farther on foot than, say, a nomadic family with tents and livestock and children in the desert of Biblical times.

About 15 miles per day seems to have been the expected speed of a covered wagon train.

The 21 California missions were spaced so as to be a day’s journey apart by horse or wagon, and the distance between them is about 30 miles.

janbb's avatar

My references are from literature. In Emma, Frank Churchill rides 16 miles to London and back in a day to get a haircut and that is considered extravagant. In Sons and Lovers, Paul walks 10 miles back from his girl friend’s house and a similar distance to and from Nottingham to work. So I would conclude, 20–30 miles by horse and 10–20 by foot. (As an aside, my English brother-in-law will hike 12–15 miles in a day.)

zenvelo's avatar

I looked at distances of the California Missions, which were supposed to be a day apart. But the distances are all about 35 – 45 miles apart. That’s like two days apart for someone on horseback.

I looked at the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The albergues for pilgrims are 10 to 20 km apart, which is about right for an average walker.

My son just rode a horse in the mountains of New Mexico for a week, and they rested the horses for a day after one day doing 18 miles.

So I’d say 10 to 12 miles walking, 15 – 20 miles on a horse.

Strauss's avatar

From my own experience, I rode horseback on a trek from Denver to Tucson and back, and we could do about 18–20 miles on a good day, on horseback with mule-drawn wagons. Occasionally someone would also walk it, but a 20-mile hike was not an everyday occurrence.

gailcalled's avatar

I still consider 20 miles/day a reasonable trip. Catch me ever getting on an airplane again?

WestRiverrat's avatar

Ceasar Augustus’ Roman Legion was expected to march up to 35km per day with 40kg of gear.

Coloma's avatar

Yes to @downtide 10 miles a day on foot, 20 on a well conditioned horse.
As a lifelong horse lover/owner/rider/competitor people do not realize that a horse has to be in athletic condition to get the maximum miles. Just like a human.
You do not pull a fat, stabled horse that has not been ridden in months out of it’s stall and saddle up for a 20 mile ride any more than you would sign up a fat couch potato for a marathon run. lol

You will end up with a lame or dead horse.
Hollywood is to blame with all their spaghetti westerns for this myth that a horse, any horse, can be ridden at full speed for hours on end. Nope, dead horse. haha

Jeruba's avatar

Not just the westerns, @Coloma. Movies with medieval European settings, anything with palace intrigues, anything set in England before modern times—there’s going to be a scene with a cloaked figure galloping at top speed down a long road by night, either carrying news or escaping.

Coloma's avatar

@Jeruba True, very. Hollywood sets a horrible example of true ” horsemanship.”
Nobody would push a horse that way when it was their only means of transportation.
I recently read that General Grant severely punished the mishandling of his army horses, as it should be. :-)

gailcalled's avatar

@Jeruba: Or rushing to the castle to save a) the princess, b) the governess or c) the dauphin.

filmfann's avatar

The location of Missions in California was based on the distance you would ride horseback in one day. About 30 miles a day.

Supporting website

fundevogel's avatar

@Coloma Not that it’s historical, but I’m pretty sure the musketeers rode their horses to death trying to intercept the Cardinal’s man and protect the queen’s secrets in the novel. Maybe that was the Hollywood of the day but it’s certainly pre-industrial.

Coloma's avatar


LOL, probably.

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