From Tackety Boots to Aeroplanes: Transport in the Garioch

If you had lived in the 1800s your main mode of getting about would undoubtedly have been on foot! Unless you were rich enough to own a horse or a horse and gig. People walked everywhere and as a result, often lived and died within 20 miles of their birthplace. A farm worker would seldom take a fee further away than he could carry his kist.

Occasionally it was necessary to travel further distances and so a traveller would have to take the mail coach or one of the local coaches running through the district into Aberdeen. The roads were very rough and the camber was steep to allow the rain water to run off at the sides. Most were toll roads and so it could be an expensive trip, not taken too often.

1 1G f1 Hotel Lorne Hotel 81 High Street (greyscale)
A cart with a rather dapper driver at the Lorne Hotel c 1900

By 1830, however, the Garioch could boast of one of the finest coach services in the British Isles. In that year the famous athlete, Captain Barclay of Ury, started operating the noted stage coach, Defiance. Barclay never did things by halves. His coach, carrying four passengers, two coachmen and a guard, made light of the road, streaking through the countryside at an average of little short of 11 mph! The Defiance came down from Huntly and stopped at the New Inn in the High Street in Inverurie to allow the passengers to get a meal before setting off on the two hour journey to the city. The coach terminus was at the Royal Hotel.

1 1G f4 Snow Clearing in Market Place 1940Other local coaches included the Banks of Ury which was owned and driven by Geordie Gray. Geordie was partial to a dram or two and could be quite a cantankerous person. If he took a dislike to a potential passenger he would often refuse to let him onto the coach! He would drive with his back to the horses conversing to the passengers on top of the coach. Luckily the horses were so familiar with the route that they knew where to go . All the coaches changed horses at Blackburn before tackling the ascent over the Tyrebagger hill and on the return journey they changed at Woodside. Geordie eventually sold his coach to  John Annand the owner of the New Inn at 82 High Street and later, host at the Kintore Arms Hotel. Annand later served as Provost of the Burgh of Inverurie.

In 1805 the Inverurie to Aberdeen canal was opened with the canal basin at Port Elphinstone fed by a stream off the River Don.

1 1G f2 Canal Plan from Inverurie to Aberdeen
Inverurie Canal Plan

The Port was named after Lord Elphinstone who was the largest shareholder in the Canal company along. Other stakeholders were the Earl Of Kintore, the Aberdeen City Council and some local businessmen.  The idea of forming a canal was first suggested by Sir Arthur Grant of Monymusk who put forward a scheme to join Alford and Insch to Inverurie and Aberdeen using the waters of the Rivers Don and Ury but this was voted as being too impractical and too costly. However, the scheme to form the Inverurie to Aberdeen canal was given parliamentary approval. It certainly proved beneficial to the traders and farmers of the Garioch area. Now, the granite from the local quarries, the slate from Foundland, meat and carcases from the slaughter houses and farm produce could be sent south to the cities. At first the canal only went as far as Woodside a suburb of Aberdeen using 3 locks but by the addition of 14 locks in 1807 each ten feet deep it reached down to the harbour. The barges not only exported goods from the Garioch but on the return journey carried back fertilizer for the farms, coal and goods for local businesses. This all lead to the rapid population growth and wealth of Inverurie.

1 1G f5 Canal boat sign
Passenger Boat Sign, Carnegie Museum

Passenger boats also ran on the canal. They were known as fly boats. A cabin passenger was charged sixpence more than a deck passenger and as they barges were licensed to sell beverages, they were very popular for boozy outings. Such was the traffic to the Port that the Ship Inn at the canal basin was reputed to use 84 dozen eggs per day to feed the carters. At times the line of carts bringing goods to the canal stretched more than a mile up the road. The Ship Inn was also licensed so quite a few gallons of ale would also have eased thirsty throats.

Thomas Tait built a meal mill at the side of the canal as well as a snuff mill and other companies soon followed building warehouses for storing fertilizer , seeds, timber , cement and coal. Tait built a tunnel from the basin into his mill so that the barges could be towed into a loading dock for filling.


2 1C j1 Paper Mill Aerial View July 1938.jpg
Tait’s Paper Mill 1938


The granite arch at the entry to the tunnel has been reconstructed at the foot of Shunnery Brae in memory of the canal.

The canal traded until 1852 greatly benefitting the folk of the Garioch area but strangely never making much profit for its original investors. In 1847, when the GNS Railway was looking to expand north from Aberdeen, they offered to buy the Canal Company and their offer was readily accepted. The first turfs of the line were cut at Oyne in May, 1852 and the first train steamed into Huntly in September, 1854. The Loco Works opened in 1904 and employed many Garioch men until it finally closed its doors on 31st September 1969.

1 1C b2 Loco Works Aerial view enlarged 1962.jpg
The Loco Works in 1962

The first airfields in the Garioch were at Cairnhall , Kintore and Dyce. The landing strip at Kintore was for services to Inverness, Wick and Orkney using a De Havilland Rapide plane piloted by Captain Eric Freeson. Dyce established by Gander Dower was taken over by the RAF during World War 2 but post war became the centre of travel for the north-east and is still expanding under BAA who hope to make it a base for trans-atlantic flights in the future.

That’s a journey from tackety boots to aeroplanes! – Jack

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