The Wayfarer - Exploring the ‘lang Scots mile’

The “Lang Scots Mile” is a very interesting concept as at 1984 yards it is some 224 yards longer than the mile that is in use today.

224 yards does not seem much, in fact in my youth the 220 yard race was only halfway round a race track. But consider it over ten miles which means that the lang Scots mile is a mile and a quarter more than the mile of 1760 yards currently in use.

Perhaps we should consider using the Scots mile yardage in conjunction with all the Gaelic road signs that you meet the further north you travel. Well that would cause a bit of confusion and bring a lot more calculators into use. It would of course make Scotland much smaller in Scots mile terms and cars would do less mileage to the gallon once they crossed the border.

We are already confused enough with the new concept of kilometres and meters replacing miles and yards plus all the other changes they want us to embrace, so why not insist that we retain our individuality by incorporating a Scots mile north of the border.

Just a thought as I can just see a lot of heads shaking at such a daft idea, but we all want to retain some individuality and so far we have not as yet accepted kms and meters on our signposts. To add to the confusion there is also the nautical mile to consider as that again has a different measurement of some 2025 yards making it 41 yards longer than the Scots mile and some 265 yards longer than the mile in current use. Now to add even more confusion, travelling over water still covers the same nautical mile but is termed as knots when calculating speed.

Therefore a boat speeding at 26 knots is travelling at approximately 30 miles per land mile per hour. Trust the British to get themselves in a fankle over something which should be quite straightforward. But just think about it.

The term mile originally came from the Roman measure of 1000 paces which is approximately 1620 yards. The Romans were a very practical people and everything was worked out in a consistent manner so anywhere within the territory under Roman influence was precisely the same even to the layout of their various forts. The Romans ventured into Scotland but found it too difficult to maintain and eventually withdrew to Hadrian’s Wall. However with the Romans consistent methods of doing things they would hardly bring in the different forms of measurements that seem to apply today.

To find further proof of the “Lang Scots Mile” we can hark back to the days of Robert Burns and his use of it in his poem ‘Tam O’Shanter;

We think na on the lang Scots miles,

The mosses, waters, slaps and stiles

That lie between us and our hame,

Where sits our sulky, sullen dame,

Gathering her brows like gathering storm,

Nursing her wrath to keep it warm.

So Tam’s trip back to his farm in Kirkoswald after an evening carousing with his ancient, trusty, drouthy cronie Souter Johnnie in the hostelry in Ayr was less in Scots terms than in present terms. He still managed to pass many interesting landmarks and in his state of inebriation saw many sights, whilst poor old Meg had to cover all those Scots miles.

Anyway we have covered most of the measurements that have been in use for many, many years and no doubt the abnormalities can be put down to the passage of time. It does however give us a chance to reflect on the anomalies that exist in our interesting lives particularly in this area. Plenty more tales to come.