Tourism and travel in a bygone age – horses

A double decker bus parked outside the Royal Hotel and an open charabanc waiting outside the Original Hotel, Roslin
A double decker bus parked outside the Royal Hotel and an open charabanc waiting outside the Original Hotel, Roslin

Roslin has been a tourist destination for centuries now with attractions like the Glen, Castle and Chapel to visit, but how did all the visitors get here in the older days? asks Winnie Stephenson, Roslin Heritage Society.

From the 1850s, they could travel by train, but many preferred to travel from Edinburgh by horse-drawn vehicles of different kinds.

We are very fortunate in Roslin to have the Bryce Collection of photographs, held at Local Studies in Loanhead.

Taken by Tom Ritchie in the first few years of the 20th Century and donated by the Bryce family, they not only record many local historic buildings and beauty spots but also give an insight into other aspects of life at the time. Many were made into postcards and sold in the post office to the visitors. Such was the efficiency of the postal service that many would be posted and delivered on the same day.

One such postcard showed the Main Street. The double-decker bus parked outside the Royal Hotel offered some protection from the elements on the lower deck but was open on the upper, reached by an external stair with a hand rail.

With its hard wooden benches, it seated 12 passengers inside and 14 outside but it could not have been a very comfortable journey. It must have been a hard pull even for three horses abreast given the poor road surfaces, especially in the heat of summer.

The open charabanc waiting outside the Original Hotel carried 24 passengers, pulled by four horses, fare one shilling, with a light canopy giving some shade from the sun. Wooden steps at the back led to a central aisle with seats on either side.

A similar charabanc called The Trinity, seen entering Roslin, had no central aisle but seated five passengers in a row, with one in this case hanging on the rear. There doesn’t seem to be much to stop the travellers falling off the seats at the outside.

The ladder hanging on the back puzzled me for a long time until I saw the photo of the passengers boarding the Roslin bus outside the Waverley Market in Edinburgh. This must have been a hazardous and not very elegant way to take their seats, especially on a windy day…!! And how did the men and women manage to keep their hats on as they bowled along?

In the 19th century, it is reported that more than 600 horses trotted around the city of Edinburgh. A very green way to travel you might think compared to our modern transport, until you consider, how did they cope with, well the “emissions” of all these animals? Yes, there were rose gardens in Princes Street, but the manure had to be composted before use.

A lot of it was used in the disused Scotland Street Rail Tunnel for growing mushrooms and wagon loads were taken by rail to a special siding at Longniddry – East Lothian being the market garden of Edinburgh at the time.

Many horses fell and died in their shafts and also had to be disposed of. Certainly a different aroma to the fumes many complain about today and the road sweepers had more than just litter to pick up.

Both the Royal and Original Hotels advertised “stabling for horses” and the three gentlemen leaving for a round of golf in their dogcart must have made use of this facility. Dogcarts were so called because of the space under the rear seat where the dogs travelled for shooting expeditions but such is the clarity of this photograph, you can see the golf bag and even the studs on the brogues of the man facing the rear, so they were not going hunting.

Picnics and special trips had a more leisurely pace than today, a farm cart providing the transport. Often a man with a fiddle or, in this case, bagpipes would entertain the travellers along the way and provide music for dancing at the destination. Habbie’s Howe was a popular picnic spot with a pure white cloth laid on the grass for a table, the blue sky for the roof and the everlasting hills for the walls of the dining hall. After dinner, the shadows of the hills would show that the sun was getting low and it was time to depart.