A packhorse or pack horse refers to a horse, mule, donkey, or pony used to carry goods on its back, usually in sidebags or panniers. Typically packhorses are used to cross difficult terrain, where the absence of roads prevents the use of wheeled vehicles. Use of packhorses dates from the neolithic period to the present day. Today, westernized nations primarily use packhorses for recreational pursuits, but they are still an important part of everyday transportation of goods throughout much of the third world and have some military uses in rugged regions.

Pack Horse
A stockman with a packhorse


Guide Alice on Mt Buffalo with pack horse, c1912
Mountain guide Alice Manfield using packhorses to carry wooden chairs up Mt Buffalo, c. 1912

Packhorses have been used since the earliest period of domestication of the horse. They were invaluable throughout antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and into modern times where roads are nonexistent or poorly maintained.

Historic use in England

Packhorses were heavily used to transport goods and minerals in England from medieval times until the construction of the first turnpike roads and canals in the 18th century. Many routes crossed the Pennines between Lancashire and Yorkshire, enabling salt,[1] limestone,[2] coal, fleeces and cloth to be transported.

Some had self-describing names, such as Limersgate and the Long Causeway; others were named after landmarks, such as the Reddyshore Scoutgate ("gate" is Old English for a road or way) and the Rapes Highway (after Rapes Hill). The medieval paths were marked by wayside crosses along their routes. Mount Cross, above the hamlet of Shore in the Cliviger Gorge, shows signs of Viking influence. As the Vikings moved eastwards from the Irish Sea in about 950 AD, it is likely that the pack horse routes were established from that time.[3]

Most packhorses were Galloways, small, stocky horses named after the Scottish district where they were first bred. Those employed in the lime-carriage trade were known as "limegals".[4] Each pony could carry about 240 pounds (110 kg) in weight, spread between two panniers. Typically a train of ponies would number between 12 and 20, but sometimes up to 40. They averaged about 25 miles (40 km) a day. The train's leader commonly wore a bell to warn of its approach, since contemporary accounts emphasised the risk packhorse trains presented to others.[5] They were particularly useful as roads were muddy and often impassable by wagon or cart, and there were no bridges over some major rivers in the north of England.

About 1000 packhorses a day passed through Clitheroe before 1750,[6] and "commonly 200 to 300 laden horses every day over the River Calder (at a ford) called Fennysford in the King's Highway between Clitheroe and Whalley"[7] The importance of packhorse routes was reflected in jingles and rhymes, often aide-memoires of the routes.[8]

As the need for cross-Pennine transportation increased, the main routes were improved, often by laying stone setts parallel to the horse track, at a distance of a cartwheel. They remained difficult in poor weather, the Reddyshore Scoutgate was "notoriously difficult", and became insufficient for a developing commercial and industrial economy. In the 18th century, canals started to be built in England and, following the Turnpike Act 1773, metalled roads. They made the ancient packhorse routes obsolete.[9] Away from main routes, their use persisted into the 19th century leaving a legacy of paths across wilderness areas called packhorse routes, roads or trails[10] and distinctive narrow, low sided stone arched packhorse bridges for example, at Marsden near Huddersfield. The Packhorse is a common public house name throughout England.[11] During the 19th century, horses that transported officers' baggage during military campaigns were referred to as "bathorses" from the French bat, meaning packsaddle.[12]

Historic use in North America

California Miner with Pack Horse detail
A miner with a packhorse during the California Gold Rush

The packhorse, mule or donkey was a critical tool in the development of the Americas. In colonial America, Spanish, French, Dutch and English traders made use of pack horses to carry goods to remote Native Americans and to carry hides back to colonial market centers. They had little choice, the America's had virtually no improved waterways before the 1820s and roads in times before the automobile were only improved locally around a municipality, and only rarely in between. This meant cities and towns were connected by roads which carts and wagons could navigate only with difficulty, for virtually every eastern hill or mountain with a shallow gradient was flanked by valleys with stream cut gullies and ravines in their bottoms, as well as Cut bank formations, including escarpments. Even a small stream would have steep banks in normal terrains.

By the 1790s the Lehigh Coal Mining Company was shipping Anthracite coal from Summit Hill, Pennsylvania to cargo boats on the Lehigh River using pack trains in what may be the earliest commercial mining company in North America. Afterwards in 1818−1827 its new management built first the Lehigh Canal, then the Mauch Chunk & Summit Hill Railroad, North America's second oldest which used mule trains to return the five ton coal cars the four hour climb the nine miles back to the upper terminus. Mules rode the roller-coaster precursor on the down trip to the docks, stables and paddocks below. The same company, as did its many competitors made extensive use of sure footed pack mules and donkeys in coal mines, including in some cases measures to stable the animals below ground. These were often managed by 'mule boys', a pay-grade up and a step above a breaker boy in the society of the times.

As the nation expanded west, packhorses, singly or in a pack train of several animals, were used by early surveyors and explorers, most notably by fur trappers, "Mountain men", and gold prospectors who covered great distances by themselves or in small groups. Packhorses were used by Native American people when traveling from place to place, and were also used by traders to carry goods to both Indian and White settlements. During a few decades of the 19th Century, enormous pack trains carried goods on the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe, New Mexico west to California.

On current United States Geological Survey maps, many such trails continue to be labeled pack trail.

Other historic uses

Japanese packhorse (ni-uma or konidauma)
Japanese pack horse (ni-uma or konida uma) carrying two girls as passengers, circa 1900-1929.

Packhorses are used worldwide to convey many products. In feudal Japan riding in a saddle (kura) was reserved for the samurai class until the end of the samurai era (1868), lower classes would ride on a pack saddle (ni-gura or konida-gura) or bareback.[13] Pack horses (ni-uma or konida-uma) carried a variety of merchandise and the baggage of travelers using a pack saddle that ranged from a basic wooden frame to the elaborate pack saddles used for the semi-annual processions (sankin kotai) of Daimyō.[14] Pack horses also carried the equipment and food for samurai warriors during military campaigns.[15]

Modern uses

Trail Bridge near China Gulch-Oregon
Pack horses on a suspension bridge crossing the Rogue River in Oregon, USA

In North America and Australia, in areas such the Bicentennial National Trail, the packhorse plays a major role in recreational pursuits, particularly to transport goods and supplies into wilderness areas and where motor vehicles are either prohibited or impracticable. They are used by mounted outfitters, hunters, campers, stockmen and cowboys to carry tools and equipment that cannot be carried with the rider. They are used by guest ranches to transport materials to remote locations to set up campsites for tourists and guests. They are used by the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service to carry in supplies to maintain trails, cabins and bring in commercial goods to backcountry tourist lodges and other remote, permanent residences.

In the third world, packhorses and donkeys to an even greater extent, still haul goods to market, carry supplies for workers, and many other of the same jobs that have been performed for millennia.

In modern warfare, pack mules are used to bring supplies to areas where roads are poor and fuel supply is uncertain. For example, they are a critical part of the supply chain for all sides of the conflict in remote parts of Afghanistan.[16]

Training and utilization

Foundation training of the packhorse is similar to that of a riding horse.[17] Many, though not all packhorses are also trained to be ridden. In addition, a packhorse is required to have additional skills that may not be required of a riding horse. A pack horse is required to be tolerant of close proximity to other animals in the packstring, both to the front and to the rear. The horse must also be tolerant of breeching, long ropes, noisy loads, and the shifting of the load during transit. Patience and tolerance is crucial; for example, while there are many ways that pack horses are put into a pack string, one method incorporates tying the halter lead of one animal to the tail of the animal in front of it, an act that often provokes kicking or bolting in untrained animals.

Loading of a packhorse requires care. Weight carried is the first factor to consider. The average horse can carry up to approximately 30% of its body weight.[18] Thus, a 1,000 pounds (450 kg) horse cannot carry more than 250 to 300 pounds (110 to 140 kg). A load carried by a packhorse also has to be balanced, with weight even on both sides to the greatest degree possible.

See also


  1. ^ J.J.BagleyA History of Lancashire(Phillimore & Co, London & Chichester) 1976, chapter 20 Andrew Bibby South Pennines and the Bronte Moors (Frances, Lincoln) 2005, p88. See also Gladys Sellers Walking in the South Pennines (Cicerone Press, Milnthorpe) 1991, p25
  2. ^ Herbert C Collins,The Roof of Lancashire (Dent & Sons, London) 1950, p99
  3. ^ Herbert C. Collins, above, chapters 6 and 9. Keith Parry Trans-Pennine Heritage: Hills, People and Transport (David & Charles, Newton Abbot, London & North Pomfret, Vermont) 1981, chapter 3
  4. ^ Herbert C Collins, above, p99
  5. ^ Gladys Sellers, above, p26. Andrew Bibby, above, p88
  6. ^ Sue Hogg Marsden & Delph to Howarth & Oxenhope-Bridleway Rides in the South Pennines (Pennine Packhorse Trails Trust, Todmorden) 1998
  7. ^ Report of Quarter Sessions, 1632, cited by Herbert Collins, above, p163
  8. ^ Both Collins, at p.81, and Parry at p.31, above, quote in full the Long Causeway jingle, which starts Brunley (Burnley) for ready money
  9. ^ See Parry, above, chapters 5-8
  10. ^ "South Pennine Packhorse Trails Trust". Retrieved 12 April 2018.
  11. ^ "Packhorse Routes". Retrieved January 9, 2007.
  12. ^ Cresswell, Julia (2010). Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins. OUP Oxford. p. 39. ISBN 0-19-954793-9.
  13. ^ "Honda the Samurai". Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  14. ^ "A History of Japan, 1582-1941". Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  15. ^ "Warriors of Medieval Japan". Retrieved 18 February 2015.
  16. ^ "Half a century of the SAS". Retrieved 4 October 2007.
  17. ^ Kinsey, J. M. and Denison, Jennifer. Backcountry Basics Colorado Springs, CO: Western Horseman Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-0-911647-84-6. Chapter 3: "Making the Trail Horse"
  18. ^ American Endurance Ride Conference (November 2003). "Chapter 3, Section IV: Size". Endurance Rider's Handbook. AERC. Archived from the original on 2008-05-15. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  • Back, Joe. Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails.

Allerford is a village in the county of Somerset, England, located within Exmoor National Park, and is part of the parish of Selworthy in the district of Somerset West and Taunton. It appears in Domesday Book as “Alresford – forda Ralph de Limesy Mill”.

The parish was part of the hundred of Carhampton.One of the village's main attractions is the much-photographed packhorse bridge. Built as a crossing over the River Aller (from which the village gets its name), it is thought to be medieval in origin. Nearby is the New Bridge where the A39 road crosses Horner Water. The 18 feet (5.5 m) wide pointed arch rises 8 feet (2.4 m) with a 4 feet (1.2 m) span half arch on the side for flood relief. Originally the bridge was 12 feet (3.7 m) wide but another 6 feet (1.8 m) was added in 1866. The packhorse bridge is an Ancient monument and has been added to the Heritage at Risk register.Allerford New Bridge which carries the A39 road past the village is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade II* listed building. It is also on the Heritage at Risk register because of the risks of vehicle damage and erosion.The village is also home to Allerford House, childhood home of Admiral John Moresby, who explored the coastline of New Guinea and for whom Port Moresby, the capital city of Papua New Guinea, was named. Other traditional sights in the village include thatched cottages, a forge and an old-fashioned red telephone box. There is also a Reading Room, built by the Acland family to foster adult education.

One of the thatched cottages operated as the local Primary School between 1821 and 1981 and is now a museum containing the West Somerset Rural Life Museum and Victorian School. The museum houses the West Somerset Photographic Archive.

Badgworthy Water

Badgworthy Water is a small river which flows through Malmsmead on Exmoor, close to the border between Devon and Somerset, England.

It merges with Oare Water to become the East Lyn River.On the banks of the river are the remains of a few dwellings which formed a medieval village. The last resident left in the 1820s.The 17th century packhorse Malmsmead Bridge crosses Badgworthy Water, alongside an even older ford.The valley is associated with the book Lorna Doone.It has been used for canoeing and includes grade 2 and 3 rapids, walking and fly fishing.

Beckfoot Bridge

Beckfoot Bridge (also known as the Packhorse Bridge) was historically a significant crossing point over Harden Beck

in Bingley, West Yorkshire, England.The cost of repair and maintenance of bridges was meted out by either the county, wapentake, parish or township, dependent on the bridge's importance.

Beckfoot Bridge was the responsibility of Bingley Township as Ireland and Cottingley bridges were built rebuilt in stone and afforded better links to the town.It was constructed alongside the historical ford across the beck in 1723, replacing a previous wooden bridge.

Two contractors were paid £10 to build the bridge and to maintain it and keep it in good order for seven years. It is wide enough for pedestrians or single file horses.

In 1974 it was given grade II listed building status.

Bradford carpet

The Bradford Carpet is a canvas work embroidery made in the early 17th century (ca. 1600–1615) that originally belonged to the Earl of Bradford at Castle Bromwich.The carpet measures 16 by 6 feet (4.9 m × 1.8 m). In the Victoria and Albert Museum it covers an entire wall. However, it was made neither for wall nor floor, but as a table covering. Its 17-inch-wide (430 mm) border was designed to hang down over the edges of a table, and it would have been removed or covered with a linen cloth when the table was used.The carpet is worked with silk embroidery thread in tent stitch on a linen ground. The stitching is very fine (400 stitches/inch, 62 stitches/cm) and was worked in at least 23 different colours. The tension of the tent stitches over time has distorted the shape of the carpet. It is characteristic of professional canvas work popular for furnishings in the Elizabethan era. The field design is a grape vine trellis. The border, thought to represent human progression from a wild state to civilisation, depicts a variety of country pursuits set against a pastoral landscape, described as "perhaps the finest range of genre scenes to come down to us from Elizabethan times". A manor house, shepherd, travelling vendor with his packhorse, lords and ladies, hunting scenes, milkmaids, millers, water mills and windmills are all shown.

Gallox Bridge, Dunster

The Gallox Bridge in Dunster, Somerset, England dates from the 15th century. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building and scheduled monument. The bridge is in the guardianship of English Heritage.

The stone packhorse bridge crosses the River Avill at the southern end of the village, below Dunster Castle at a point which may have been the limit of tidal flow during the medieval period. It was important for the transport of wool and other goods to the market within the village which was established by 1222. The name is derived from the nearby gallows. The narrow bridge is approach via a raised causeway for pedestrians, while wheeled traffic uses the adjacent ford.

Grade II* listed buildings in West Somerset

West Somerset is a local government district in the county of Somerset which is in South West England. In the United Kingdom, the term listed building refers to a building or other structure officially designated as being of special architectural, historical or cultural significance; Grade II* structures are those considered to be "particularly significant buildings of more than local interest". Listing was begun by a provision in the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Once listed, severe restrictions are imposed on the modifications allowed to a building's structure or its fittings. In England, the authority for listing under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 rests with Historic England, a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; local authorities have a responsibility to regulate and enforce the planning regulations.West Somerset is a largely rural area covering 740 square kilometres (290 sq mi). The district has a population, according to the 2011 census, of 35,300, with the largest centres of population in the coastal towns of Minehead and Watchet. The council's administrative headquarters are in the village of Williton.There are 100 Grade II* listed buildings in West Somerset. The list includes a large number of churches and chapels, some of which are Norman. Stogursey Castle is also 12th century in origin. There are several churchyard and village crosses, which were small market crosses, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries. Packhorse bridges over Exmoor streams and some larger ones over rivers in the area are also included.

The houses on the list range from the Middle Ages to early 20th century. Agricultural buildings include tithe barns, dovecotes and a watermill.


Headlam is a village in the borough of Darlington and the ceremonial county of

County Durham, England. It lies to the west of Darlington. The population taken at the 2011 Census was less than 100. Details are included in the parish of Ingleton. The hamlet has 14 stone houses plus 17th-century Headlam Hall, now a country house hotel. The village is set around a village green with a medieval cattle-pound and an old stone packhorse bridge across the beck. Headlam is classed as Lower Teesdale and has views to the south as far as Richmond and to the Cleveland Hills in the east.

In the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870–72) John Marius Wilson described Headlam:

HEADLAM, a township in Gainford parish, Durham: 7½ miles WNW of Darlington. Acres, 780. Real property, £1,216. Pop., 102. Houses, 21.

Isdell River

Isdell River is a river in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, named in 1898 by explorer Frank Hann after James Isdell, who was prominent in the region and later served as a member of parliament.

The river rises in the Packhorse Range and flows in a south- westerly direction until it reaches Isdell Gorge at the foot of the King Leopold Range where it changes to a north-westerly direction before discharging into the eastern end of Walcott Inlet.

The river has eleven tributaries including; Sprigg River, Woolybutt Creek, Cadjuput Creek, Woomera Creek and Tulmulnga Creek.

The traditional owners are the Wangina Wunggurr Willingin people who maintain a strong connection to the river despite disruptions by pastoral activities.

Mount Jagungal

Mount Jagungal or sometimes Jagungal, Big Bogong, The Big Bogong Nr., or The Big Bogong Mountain, is a mountain within the Jagungal Wilderness Area of the Kosciuszko National Park in the Snowy Mountains region of New South Wales, Australia.

With an elevation of 2,061 metres (6,762 ft) above sea level, Mount Jagungal is the seventh-highest mountain in Australia and surpasses any elevation except for peaks in the Main Range and Gungartan (which is directly adjacent). Since it stands alone in an extensive plain Mount Jagungal is visible for many kilometres in all directions. Similarly, there is an excellent view from the top in all directions.

The Jagungal Wilderness Area is a large wilderness region north of the Main Range. Within this area there is some excellent alpine walking in summer and cross-country skiing in winter. As about 70% of the region is open grassland, it is possible to walk almost anywhere. The Alpine Hut, near Mount Jagungal was built in 1939 to cater for skiers. Access was arduous - via packhorse and ski. It burnt down in 1979.

Old Packhorse

The Old Packhorse is a Grade II listed public house at Chiswick High Road, Chiswick, London.It was built about 1905 by the architect Nowell Parr, who was the Fuller's Brewery house architect.

Packhorse Inn

The Packhorse Inn in Southstoke within the English county of Somerset is a Grade II listed building which was largely rebuilt in 1674. It was changed from a farmhouse to a pub in the 19th century but closed in 2012. A local campaign has achieved designation as an asset of community value has raised money to renovate it. The pub reopened in March 2018.

Packhorse bridge

A packhorse bridge is a bridge intended to carry packhorses (horses loaded with sidebags or panniers) across a river or stream. Typically a packhorse bridge consists of one or more narrow (one horse wide) masonry arches, and has low parapets so as not to interfere with the horse's panniers. Multi-arched examples sometimes have triangular cutwaters that are extended upwards to form pedestrian refuges.Packhorse bridges were often built on the trade routes (often called packhorse routes) that formed major transport arteries across Europe and Great Britain until the coming of the turnpike roads and canals in the 18th century. Before the road-building efforts of Napoleon, all crossings of the Alps were on packhorse trails. Travellers' carriages were dismantled and transported over the mountain passes by ponies and mule trains.

River Aller

The River Aller is a small river on Exmoor in Somerset, England.

It rises as several small streams around Tivington and Huntscott and flows through the Holnicote Estate passing Holnicote and through Allerford, where it passes under a packhorse bridge of medieval origin. It then joins the River Horner, which flows into Porlock Bay near Hurlstone Point on the Bristol Channel.Because of the surrounding geology the area has been at risk of flooding. To help manage this risk telemetry monitoring of flows and a siren warning system have been proposed.

River Avill

The River Avill is a small river on Exmoor in Somerset, England.

It rises on the eastern slopes of Dunkery Beacon and flows north through Timberscombe and Dunster flowing into the Bristol Channel at Dunster Beach.

The Gallox Bridge in Dunster dates from the 15th century. It has been designated as a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is a narrow stone packhorse bridge, on the southern outskirts of Dunster, with two arches over the River Avill. It was originally known as Gallows Bridge and has a roadway width of 1.2 metres (3.9 ft), a total width of 1.9 metres (6.2 ft) and is 13.5 metres (44.3 ft) long. The river then skirts Dunster New Park surrounding Dunster Castle.Near to Dunster Beach the stream is crossed by a bridge on the West Somerset Railway.

The river was part of the inspiration for the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.

River Kinder

The River Kinder is a small river, only about 3 miles (4.8 km) long, in northwestern Derbyshire, England. Rising on the peat moorland plateau of Kinder Scout, it flows generally westwards to its confluence with the River Sett at Bowden Bridge (a Grade II listed packhorse bridge). En route it flows through the Kinder Gates rocks, over the waterfall known as Kinder Downfall, and through Kinder Reservoir, built in 1903–12 by the Stockport Corporation Water Works. Until the 19th century at least, the name was formerly also applied to the River Sett as far as its confluence with the River Goyt in New Mills.


Sagmariasus verreauxi is a species of spiny lobster that lives around northern New Zealand, the Kermadec Islands the Chatham Islands and Australia from Queensland to Tasmania. It is probably the longest decapod crustacean in the world, alongside the American lobster Homarus americanus, growing to lengths of up to 60 centimetres (24 in).

Sutton, Bedfordshire

Sutton is a village and civil parish in the Central Bedfordshire district of Bedfordshire, England. It is just over a mile south of Potton and near the market towns of Sandy and Biggleswade. At the 2001 Census, its population was 299.


Utterby is a village and civil parish in the East Lindsey district of Lincolnshire, England. It is situated on the A16 road, 10 miles (16 km) south from Grimsby and 4 miles (6 km) north from Louth.

Utterby railway station (or Utterby Halt), on the line between Grimsby and Louth, closed in 1961.

Near to the Village is the site of a former Gilbertine priory. It is believed that the monks of this priory built the village's Packhorse bridge in the 14th century.The Prime Meridian passes to the east of Utterby.


Watendlath is a hamlet and tarn (a small lake) in Cumbria in England.

Watendlath is owned by the National Trust and sits high between the Borrowdale and Thirlmere valleys at 863 feet (263 m) above sea level.

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