An Inland Voyage - Robert Louis Stevenson Part II

With Robert Louis Stevenson's later travelogues and novels becoming very popular, interest in "An Inland Voyage"  continued over the years. It was probably inevitable that fans of RLS would want to follow in his footsteps, or in the case of An Inland Voyage the wake of his canoe, so a late twentieth-century edition of An Inland Voyage was published that provided readers with itineraries that can be followed.

Cover of the 1991 illustrated edition published by Cockbird Press

The version was published in 1991 with travel notes by Andrew Sanger. It includes biographical details and four detailed itineraries that suggest hotels where the traveller may stop along the route. The edition also includes many helpful annotations and some delightful water colours by Michael Reynolds.  Material not in the early nineteenth century editions is also included. There is a chapter where Stevenson and Simpson travel south of Paris along the Loire (on foot). It was on this section of their travels that RLS first met Fanny Osbourne and her son eight-year old son Lloyd. Fanny was to become Stevenson's wife and Lloyd his long term collaborator. A preface by Lloyd Osbourne is included in the edition along with a charming note by Fanny Stevenson.

The itineraries and the illustrations are all based on the journeys through France, not Belgium. The section through Belgium is dismissed in the introduction by Sanger as being "not ideal boating country" and the Willbroek Canal as being "miserable, polluted and ugly". The four travel itineraries put forward by Sanger start in Maubeuge, with three north of Paris and one south. 

A typical itinerary map from the 1991 edition

The additional section south of Paris includes a passage where Stevenson, referred to as Arethusa after the name of his canoe, was arrested at Chattillon-sur-Loire. He was travelling alone at that time and was waiting for Cigarette (Simpson). He was accused by the local "Commissary" of being a German spy. Stevenson's incarceration lasted some time until his compatriot Simpson arrived. The authorities appear to have been impressed by Simpson's appearance. Unlike Stevenson, who was an eccentric dresser, Simpson was a "man of an unquestionable and unassailable manner" and his passport referred to him as a Baronet. The authorities were therefore impressed and soon released Stevenson. 

It is interesting to note that this modern edition is now over 25 years old. Much of the information added by Sanger is probably now not current. Nowadays such information would probably be consigned to blog-site, missing the charming illustrations. It illustrates the point that, to a certain extent, all books are "of their age".

Many copies of this modern edition are available through the usual web sites. Most are priced at less than £3 - who could resist that?

A visit to Ely

On Sunday we went with friends to Ely. It is a convenient place for a group of us to get together.

Ely Cathedral 

The weather played its part in what turned out to be a good day. Saturday was wet, Monday was wet and windy, but in between Sunday was just a perfect November day - sunny but cold. 

We had morning tea at the award-winning Peacocks Tea Room, took a stroll around the town and the cathedral grounds and then had a roast at The Cutter; it never fails to impress. Our visit was rounded off by rummaging around the Waterside Antiques Centre.  

The river wasn't particularly busy and there were spaces on the visitor moorings. We recalled out visit to Ely on Albert in 2006 when we moored up in the town for several nights. It was August then and so much busier. During our stroll along the embankment we saw a Cambridge University eight out training.

Ely Visitor Moorings

A Cambridge University crew in training from their new boathouse at Ely

Out of the Dock

Today Albert came out of the dry dock at Yardley Gobion.  As is the routine at Baxter's Monday is changeover day for boats being blacked. At 9:00 AM we duly arrived at the dock and found Albert with a new coating of epoxy blacking and the dock being prepared for flooding. It should last us a few years. The stern gland has also been renewed; I thought it a wise precaution especially after our engine mountings failed in 2016.

Ready for the water

In it comes!

We tool Albert onto the moorings alongside the dock since moor work needs to be done on Albert. The chimney collar has been fixed and now looks very serviceable and much neater than the old hard-wood version.

New chimney collar
 The bathroom has been stripped of tiles, shower and sink. Some of the wood has also been removed. The next step is rebuilding and tiling. 

There was a shower there once!

Sink gone.

Half of the contents of our bathroom are now sitting in a wheelbarrow.

Our bathroom tiles and shower

Looking forward to the construction phase.

Blacking at Baxters Boatyard


On Monday we took Albert into the dry dock at Yardley Wharf. Baxters Boatyard are blacking Albert's hull with epoxy, but we are also having some other jobs done.

We had Albert's hull grit blasted and coated with epoxy-based bitumen at Debdale back in August 2013, The coating appears to have lasted well but we decided that coming up to 5 years it was time to recoat it. The anodes that were renewed in 2013 have still plenty of life left.

One of the other jobs is a repair on the forward chimney collar. A hard wood fillet was used to make the chimney vertical. The wood has, after 23 years, finally failed and become cracked. We had a few small water leaks over the last year that I filled with silicone sealant. A metal fillet plate is being made and fitted which should be a better solution..

We are also starting a partial refurbishment of the bathroom. The tiles have lost their surface and need replacement and various other items also need attention. A new shower tray, hand basin and shower valve are being fitted along with some new tiles. More on this later.

An Inland Voyage - Robert Louis Stevenson Part I

I was browsing the web a few of weeks ago and came across “The Canal Boatmen 1760-1914 by Harry Hanson”; it turned out to be a good buy and one of my most fascinating recent reads, but that is another story. On the title page of Hanson’s erudite book, it was based on an MA thesis, was a quote which immediately caught my eye:

There should be many contented spirits on board, for such a life is both to travel and stay at home …. and for the bargee, in his floating home, travelling abed, it is merely as if he were listening to another man’s story or turning the leaves of a picture book in which he has no concern

Great quote – but by whom – Robert Louis Stevenson, An Inland Voyage, 1878

Robert Louis Stevenson

At that point I was hooked – I just had to know more of An Inland Voyage. I quickly found that it was Stevenson’s very first book and well before Treasure Island. It chronicled a canoe voyage with a companion down the rivers and canals of Belgium and Northern France. RLS and his friend Sir Walter Grindley Simpson took a 200 mile journey in 1876 in two canoes named Arethusa (RLS) and Cigarette (WGS). 
Sir Walter Grindley Simpson

The canoes were wooden and it appears they were capable of being moved by sail as well as paddle. Although their trip was in the summer, their journey was plagued by bad weather. In common with much similar Victorian literature, RLS does not use given names in the book and refers to himself and Simpson by the names of their canoes.

I obtained my 1896 eighth edition in good condition from a well-known second-hand book web site and paid less than £10. I read it quite quickly, enjoying the narrative but I found, like some other modern commentators, that it is quite impenetrable in places. At one point I read over two pages before I realised I hadn’t a clue what was happening!

So is this book is a travelogue? – well no; it's more an evocation of boating as a way of getting away from everyday life. It’s full of philosophy, charm, wit and the occasional flight of fancy. Meeting local people is a continuing feature of many chapters. It is definitely short on detail and therefore not very helpful for others following the same route.

One or two sections really impressed me and made me feel that I was alongside the canoeists (in the rain). In particular I enjoyed the wonderful chapter describing the pair meeting a group of enthusiastic oarsmen from the Royal Sport Nautique club in Brussels. The travellers were so grateful for their help on a wet night but they found their hosts enthusiasm for rowing, and sport in general, so overbearing that it caused them to leave early next morning to avoid disgracing themselves at a promised rowing event. The RSN 1895 club is still operating today and appears to be continuing the traditions of friendship and enthusiasm discovered by Stevenson and Simpson.

Apart from the philosophical aspects, which could be termed Zen and the Art of Canoeing (borrowing from the title of the 1970s cult novel), only a few passages will stand out for the boating enthusiast. One passage early in the book particularly caught my eye. It was when Stevenson describes passing a train of boats pulled by a chain-driven steamer on the Willebroek Canal which runs from Antwerp to Brussels. He describes with wonderment how the steamer and its train moved “along the water with nothing to mark its advance but and eddy alongside dying away into the wake”. He must have been familiar with the turbulence created by paddle-steamers. This is a fascinating insight into the importance of the wide open waterways on Northern Europe and how technology was beginning to make its impact in the 1870s.

Warfare is another recurring theme in many passages in the book as the Franco-Prussian war had recently finished with government of France falling. Stevenson reports on several French communities where there was a significant military presence. Reading some sections, I also couldn’t help thinking about the horrors of the forthcoming World War that was to hit this part of Europe a few decades later; a lot of the towns mentioned in the book are unfortunately familiar as WW1 battlefields.

I will finish this post with a quote from preface to the first edition. The young writer Stevenson states:

It occurred to me that I might not only be the first to read these pages, but the last as well; that I might have pioneered this very smiling tract of country all in vain, and find not a soul to follow my steps

I understand that the book was not an immediate success, although he was paid £20 by the publisher, but it was the begining of a stellar writing career. There are many following his footsteps today as I will relate in another post.