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I'm working a story currently and I ran into what could be a time management issue.

In my story I have a young woman (late teens-early 20's) walking from her home to town, having promised she would be back that same day. However I am now crunching numbers to make sure I did not over estimate her walking speed. Keep in mind this is a young lady that is part of a well off family, to give an idea of what she would be wearing. And while walking leisurely was common in this time in England, would the distance of six miles in north central England be something she was confident she could do quickly?

Most of the estimates of time I can find say it would take about 2 hours to walk that distance, so that is four hours if we count the return trip, allowing her to plan for maybe a couple of hours in town. (For story reasons she does not do the trip back, I just want to know if her plan would have been possible)

Thanks everyone!

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    Lady or simple country girl ? I imagine proper lady would have a coach and servant(s) to help her trough such journey, if it was a necessity. also, I doubt that young lady would roam the roads alone on foot. – rs.29 Jan 15 at 19:19
  • 2 miles per hour, as the ox walks, which is a dawdling pace. – Peter Diehr Jan 15 at 20:03
  • @rs.29 Not an aristocratic lady, and considering she is not a legitimate child she is not exactly used to asking for say the family coach for her journey. She goes off on this walk looking to get away from her home for at least a little while. – Scott.Bell Jan 15 at 20:08
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    @Scott.Bell Well then, she is a country girl and not a proper lady, with much more practical dress and shoes . Something like this I imagine : reading.ac.uk/merl/interface/public/countrypeople/women/… I guess it would be possible to rise early in the summer morning, walk to the town, do some business and start return around noon , with average speed of 2-3 mph. – rs.29 Jan 15 at 20:16
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    Bear in mind that such walks were normal for women selling for example fresh eggs in the town. – rs.29 Jan 15 at 20:18
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A young lady from the Victorian era would not walk that distance. A young lady would be driven that distance in the family coach.

If the young lady is running away from her family, or other circumstances force her to travel the distance on foot and unassisted, my hiking experience says it would take about four hours, and she'd limp into town with sore, blistered feet, complaining about having just made the longest walk in her life.

Now, ignoring the "young lady" criteria and assuming a generic "adult from the countryside", two hours each way is a reasonable estimate for that trip. A twenty-minute mile is a comfortable walking pace for an adult on level terrain and an established path, and someone who isn't a young lady or a city-dweller would be in shape to maintain that pace for several hours.

(Note that planning for "a couple hours in town" would be unusual. The length of the trip means she would likely be planning to spend all day in town, taking care of as many tasks as possible.)

  • Ironically in the 21st century it is city dwellers who are more likely to be able to maintain that pace! – C Monsour Jan 20 at 19:19
  • If they weren't carrying anything, I imagine someone from the country could cover that in 1-1.5 miles. Books from the time of WWI and WWII talk about how the older people could cover distance a lot faster than the newer generations who didn't work outside in the fields all day. A book on Australian bushcraft I read puts 4-6 mi/hr as an average distance on average terrain for an experienced bushwalker. – 23fc9a62-56de-47fb-97b4-737890 Jul 23 at 19:47
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Well, we do have an example of a literary heroine of that age who walks about half that distance in a morning's walk: Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice (Chapter VII) walks three miles, across fields and stiles, the day after a heavy rain, to be able to reach her sister when she has fallen ill while visiting the Bingleys.

The time it takes is not seen as particularly long - when she arrives, she finds the Bingley household assembled at breakfast. While the Bingleys are likely eating more fashionable late in the morning, there is plenty of time left in the day. Elizabeth was also apparently planning on walking back the same afternoon, and does not show any signs of exhaustion.

If there is a decent road from wherever your young lady is starting to town, I would not consider six miles as some extraordinary feat, provided she is in general good health and used to taking some exercise.

While Pride and Prejudice is set in decidedly pre-Victorian times, whether this would be a socially acceptable way of travelling depends very much on the family in question. The question says that they are "well off", but this does not really tell us much of their social status, or that the family necessarily would have been able to afford to keep a coach, or even a horse that she could use. Elizabeth's walk is seen as eccentric, but not really socially damning.

  • I believe Elizabeth Bennet's creator, Jane Austen, was quite comfortable with fairly long walks around Hampshire. – TheHonRose Jan 19 at 1:08
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Normal walking speed for a man is something like three miles an hour.

For a "lady," with a long dress and cumbersome shoes, it's more like two miles an hour. And that's at a fairly brisk pace, but I've seen a "Victorian" lady (born in 1896) walk at that pace in the 1960s (in her "young old" years).

So the lady could walk six miles to town, in three hours, spend an hour or two in town, and walk back "later" the same day, in a seven to eight hour period.

  • Comfortable walking speed for a man (or a woman in practical clothing) is 3 mph. A determined pace is more like 3-1/2 mph. – C Monsour Jan 20 at 19:22
  • Also, groups of walkers tend toward 3 mph because even the shortest adults can keep up whilst those with long legs tend to find anything slower results in an awkward gait – C Monsour Jan 20 at 19:33
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    @CMonsour: First, Victorian women (almost by definition) did not wear "practical" clothing. Second, I am a man, am taller than the average woman, and I do NOT consider 3 mph a "comfortable" walking pace (maybe because I'm overweight.) – Tom Au Jan 20 at 21:45
  • @TomAu, I'm a man of slightly above-average height, in reasonable shape. My "cruising" pace while hiking is 3 mph; I can push that to 4 mph if things are urgent (say, I need to get back to my car before dark), and can hit 5 mph if I need to (though without someone or something to pace myself against, I can't sustain that pace). – Mark Jan 22 at 8:41
  • I'm 5'10" in my early 20s. I can do 4 miles in 1 hour even when out of shape (i.e. end of winter with minimal exercise for 3-4 months). An old bush survival book I read once said that 4-6 mph was average for an experienced bushman on good ground. – 23fc9a62-56de-47fb-97b4-737890 Apr 2 at 1:49

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