Before the Express
I was thinking today about how students would get to Hogwarts before the invention of the steam engine. I've got a few ideas, mainly involving horse and cart, but could there be any other ways, more magical ways to travel too and from school? Does anyone have any ideas about this?
Well, magic carpets used to be legal, so they could have used them. I suppose they could also have travelled individually as well - so broomsticks are a possibility.
Something I thought was that the population of the wizarding community is probably in line with the Muggle world, so there would have been less people at Hogwarts in the early days. Therefore they might not need anything as big as a steam train.
Durmstrang got to Hogwarts by boat; that's a strong possibility.
This is quite a fun topic to think about! In retrospect, the steam engine hasn't been around as long as magic has, and the Hogwarts Express has to be a relatively new transportation method compared to Hogwarts' age.
For starters, I believe brooms would be possible. It would be inconvenient (I mean, really, imagine the whole student body getting there by broom.), I'm sure, but it's a possibility. The first recorded broom usage for racing was in 900 AD, so I believe it's safe to assume broomstick flying was discovered long before that.
You may also want to take into account the Triwizard Tournament in GoF, how Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students got to Hogwarts. Durmstrang got there by a ship, and Beauxbatons by a flying carriage. Both ships and carriages have been around for a very long time, as has magic, so, again, it would be easy to enchant these kinds of objects.
There is also Apparition. Of course you can't Apparate to the grounds, but maybe just outside the grounds would be a possibility. Hogsmeade, perhaps? I don't know how early you're thinking, and I don't know how long Hogsmeade has been around in refrence to Hogwarts, but hey. You can always tweak things a bit.
If you're looking for a group transportation, I'm thinking that the Triwizard ideas might be your best bet, but I find it hard to believe that before the steam engine that there were ways to make large groups travel at the same time. I would imagine that pre-train, students had to find their own way to Hogwarts, but that's just my take on it.
Just my two knuts. :D
Hogwarts has a fleet of Threstral-drawn carriages. It is possible that they were used to pick up students from around Britain and drop them off at Hogwarts. Or they could have formed a caravan from London to Hogwarts, like the later train. Once the Hogwarts Express was constructed, the school governors might have decided not to let the carriages to go to waste, and kept them to ferry students from the Hogsmeade station to the school.
Just a theory...
Tim the Enchanter
I did think about the Thestral thing, but I think Hagrid says he bred them, so would Hogwarts still have had them back when?
I also thought about having a Beauxbatons style flying carriage, but for the purpose of my story, I don't particularly want to use it because it's not very original. It could well have happened, I think, but I don't want to use it.
I like the idea of carpets, they would have been legal. I also like the idea of travelling individually. I'm setting my story in the late seventeenth century, so there wouldn't be as many students (I think I've got around 150 in my notes).
Is it possibly that different students used different modes of transport, and that the school didn't actually provide any, or not much transport (say a magic carpet or two from London)? They could perhaps join together along the way.
I do believe it's very possible. I think that's what I was trying to get at in my earlier post.
The magic carpet idea is very grand! You could throw in a bit of everything, to to have people get there. Hogwarts could set up checkpoints of some sort to have different modes of transportation get there. Mountain regions could use the carriages, coastal regions could use the ships, and stragglers could use brooms and the such like.
There are also Portkeys. Those are another alternative option.