A Nice Journey

A Journal ‘From Kilnwick To Nice’ (archive ref: DDSA/1113)

I don’t know about you, but it feels like, in our current ‘Covid’ times, my world has shrunk a little bit since free travel began to get curtailed.  Even now, with lockdown measures beginning to ease, it feels as though many people are self-restricting themselves in terms of how far and how freely they want to move around the country, and indeed the planet.

For me at least, those far-flung places feel less accessible at the moment, and so they seem further away, and my range of travel is much reduced. 

Transport technology has revolutionised our world.

The same was arguably true in the past, before major technological advances in transport, when places seemed more distant than we might perceive them in the modern era (owing to our simpler and quicker means of getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’), and I think the general contraction of travel for the average person during lockdown has helped give us that ability to empathise more with the perspective of someone living in the days of pre-mechanised transport, when destinations felt much less accessible. 

It’s certainly the effect it’s had on me anyway!

The problems that we encounter on a journey can also have their effect on our perception of distance; you know, that feeling you get as though you’re never going to reach your destination.

A Journal ‘From Kilnwick To Nice’ 1814 (archive-ref: DDSA/1113)

Everyone’s got a story to tell about the horrible journeys they’ve had when going on holiday; traffic jams, breakdowns, punctured tyres, flight delays…  Sometimes it all just goes wrong, and it seems like we’ll never reach where we want to be.  But our modern day experiences pale in comparison to those of one young man who, together with his parents, sisters, and some servants, set off on the painstaking journey from Kilnwick (East Yorkshire) to Nice, in the south of France back in 1814.

Former assistant Elaine Pymm peruses the journal (archive ref: DDSA/1113)

It took them 32 days to reach their destination at Frejus, near Nice, averaging about 33 miles per day across a distance of 1073 miles.  Today, the same journey by car would take around 17 hours.  They travelled in carriages which were shipped across the English Channel and, where necessary, on the French rivers.

Modern route from Kilnwick to Nice (by land and sea)

The young man, whose identity remains a mystery, kept a detailed journal of the trip, which includes a description of being shipwrecked on the Rhone river:

“About 4 o’clock we got into the carriages to dinner & had scarcely finished our repast when we heard a most dreadful crash, & the water pouring into the boat too soon assured us we had struck upon a rock…we were up to our necks in water.”

Extract from the journal (archive ref: DDSA/1113)

Just imagine setting off on holiday and not reaching the resort for another 32 days! 

The perilous journey took place just after Napoleon had been exiled to the island of Elba, so France would not have been an enemy at this time.  Nevertheless, the poor roads and turbulent rivers provided enough pitfalls for this family from the small village of Kilnwick on the Yorkshire Wolds. 

19th Century map of Paris

Descriptions of the sights of Paris before the days of the Eiffel Tower, comparisons of French hospitality at the Hotel d’Angleterre and the Hotel de France to name a few, all make for fascinating reading of the journal, which is now permanently preserved here at East Riding Archives.

By Sam Bartle

Digtal Archivist

Twitter: @bartle_sam

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