Robert Louis Stevenson in Belgium

“The food, as usual in Belgium, was of a nondescript occasional character; indeed I have never been able to detect anything in the nature of a meal among this pleasing people; they seem to peck and trifle with viands all day long in an amateur spirit; tentatively French, truly German, and somehow falling between the two”
(RLS, An Inland Voyage [Boston: Robert Brothers, 1890], p. 16)

On this page you will find details of RLS’s travels through Belgium – the canoe trip he took through Belgium and France (later described in An Inland Voyage [1878]), and his visits to Brussels, Ghent and Ostend.

An Inland Voyage: The Route through Belgium and France, 1876

On 25 August 1876, RLS and Walter Simpson began their canoe trip through Belgium and France. This was to be a 200 mile journey which was plagued by bad weather – it rained almost every day of their trip. You can read about their journey in RLS’s An Inland Voyage (1878).

25 August
RLS and Simpson begin their journey at Antwerp.

26 August
RLS and Simpson make their way along the Willebroek Canal to Boom where they stay in the Hotel de la Navigation.

27 August
In the morning, RLS and Simpson set forth on the Willebroek Canal, journeying from Willebroek to Vilvoorde (RLS refers to it as Villevorde). They next approach Laken (RLS refers to it by its Dutch spelling Laeken), where the rain lets up.

They come to the threshold of Brussels, but find nowhere to put their canoes for the night. Friendly members of the Royal Sport Nautique allow them to store their canoes in their boathouse. They also show them to a hotel where RLS and Simpson spend the night.

28 August
In Brussels RLS and Simpson decide to take the train to Maubeuge in France where they will take to their canoes again (RLS points out that one deciding factor is the presence of 55 locks between Brussels and Charleroi – the men would have had to spend most of the time portaging the canoes between them if they had not taken the train).

RLS and Simpson stay in the hotel the Grand Cerf, in Maubeuge, while they wait for their canoes to arrive.

29 August
In Maubeuge, RLS and Simpson take to their canoes in the River Sambre, travelling to Hautmont.

In the evening they come to the lock at Quartes, where they leave the canoes to search for lodgings for the night. They walk from Quartes to Pont-sur-Sambre where despite the innkeeper confusing them for pedlars (a regular occurrence during this journey), they stay the night.

30 August
In the morning, RLS and Simpson walk back to Quartes to fetch their canoes, leaving their bags at the inn. They return to Pont-sur-Sambre for their belongings, and then begin their day’s journey along the Sambre. They pass the forest of Mormal (Foret de Mormal) and make their way to Landrecies, where they stay the night.

31 August
The weather in Landrecies is so bad that they stay a further day and night here. They find it a dull place, with little to visit besides the hotel and the café – although they do visit the church. In the evening they dine with the Juge du Paix.

1 September
In the morning RLS and Simpson leave Landrecies and travel along the Sambre-Oise canal (connecting the River Sambre at Landrecies and the Oise River at Tergnier.

2 September
RLS and Simpson put their canoes in a cart at Etreux. The men follow along, seeing the pleasant villages as they pass, such as Tupigny. They launch the canoes into the Oise at Vadencourt, Aisne.

The Oise is so swollen and wild from flooding, however, that RLS’s canoe is swept away while he clings to a tree. By nightfall, they reach Origny Sainte-Benoite, where they spend the night.

3 September
RLS and Simpson spend the day and night in Origny-Sainte-Benoite.

4 September
In the morning RLS and Simpson leave Origny, following the Oise to Moy (full name Moy-de-l’Aisne). In Moy they stay at the Golden Sheep inn.

5 September
RLS and Simpson travel from Moy-de-l’Aisne to La Fere, arriving in the evening. Unfortunately, they are turned away from an inn they had been looking forward to visiting. They wander disconsolately for awhile, at last coming upon an auberge run by M. and Mme Bazin. They spend a happy night there, in the genial company of the Bazins.

6 September
RLS and Simpson now follow the Oise, along the “Golden Valley” and passing Coucy-la-Ville. They stop in Chauny, Aisne, where RLS writes:

“Here I am you see, and if you will take to a map you will observe I am already more than two doors from Antwerp whence I started. I have fought it through under the worst weather I ever saw in France; I have been wet through nearly every day of travel since the second (inclusive); besides this, I have had to fight against pretty mouldy health: so that, on the whole, the essayist and reviewer has shown, I think, some pluck”

(Letter from RLS to W.E. Henley, 6 September 1876, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol ii [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 188).

7 September
RLS and Simpson now come to Noyon, where they visit the Cathedral:

“In the little pictorial map of our whole Inland Voyage, which my fancy still preserves, and sometimes unrolls for the amusement of odd moments, Noyon cathedral figures on a most preposterous scale, and must be nearly as large as a department. I can still see the faces of the priests as if they were at my elbow, and hear Ave Maria, ora pro nobis sounding through the church. All Noyon is blotted out for me by these superior memories; and I do not care to say more about the place”

(RLS, An Inland Voyage [Boston: Robert Brothers, 1890], pp. 195-96).

They stay in the Hotel du Nord.

8 September
RLS and Simpson leave Noyon. The weather is particularly miserable and they stop for lunch at an inn at Pimprez. They now join the Aisne river (which is the left tributary of the Oise) and arrive in Compiegne as the sun is setting, staying in a hotel there.

9 September
At Compiegne, RLS and Simpson receive the letters their friends and family wrote during their journey. RLS writes to his mother from here:

“I do not know that I would have stuck to it as I have done, if it has not been for professional purposes; for an easy book may be written and sold, with mighty little brains about it, where the journey is of a certain seriousness and can be named”

(Letter from RLS to his mother, 9 September 1876, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol ii [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 189).

10 September
From Compiegne, RLS and Simpson make their way to Pont-Sainte-Maxence, staying the night there.

11 September
In the morning, RLS goes to the church at Pont-Sainte-Maxence. He and Simpson then return to their canoes, stopping for lunch at Creil. In Creil RLS also visits the church. From Creil, RLS and Simpson paddle to Precy, arriving at sunset. They stay the night at an inn in Precy, “the worst inn in France”
(RLS, An Inland Voyage [Boston: Robert Brothers, 1890], p. 238). At Precy RLS also watches a rather bad marionette show.

(RLS, An Inland Voyage [Boston: Robert Brothers, 1890], p. 238).

12 & 13 September
RLS and Simpson continue their journey but RLS leaves the details vague: “Of the next two days’ sail little remains in my mind and nothing whatever in my notebook”

(RLS, An Inland Voyage [Boston: Robert Brothers, 1890], p. 258).

13 or 14 September
RLS and Simpson now arrive in Pontoise where An Inland Voyage ends. Here, RLS stays at Hotel du Grand Cerf, Dubec-Lebreton, Pontoise.

Brussels

“At Brussels we went off after dinner to the Parc. If any person wants to be happy, I should advise the Parc. You sit drinking iced drinks and smoke penny cigars, under great old trees. The band place, covered walks etc., are all lit up. And you can’t fancy how beautiful was the contrast of the great masses of lamplit foliage and the dark sapphire night sky with just one blue star set overhead in the largest patch”

(Letter from RLS to his mother, 25 July 1872, from The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, ed. by Bradford A. Booth and Ernest Mehew, vol i [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995], p. 231)

Aside from his visit during his “inland voyage” (above), RLS travelled through Brussels two other times.

His first visit occurred in the summer of 1862. He and his parents were visiting Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (then Homburg), the capital of Hesse-Homburg, Germany. The family stayed in Homburg from 11 July – 8 August 1862 for a health cure for Mr Stevenson.

From 1-11 July 1862, the family made their way to Homburg, traveling via Peterborough, London, Dover, Brussels, Koblenz, and Frankfurt to Homburg.

RLS visited Brussels again with Walter Simpson on 25 and 26 July 1872. The men stopped here on their way to a trip to Germany. In Brussels, RLS had his hair cut and shampooed, and then visited the public bath house St Sauveur, Bassin de Natation. On the 26th, while Simpson went to Antwerp, RLS spent the day in cafes and in the public baths. He also went to the theatre where he saw a French farce.

His mood in Brussels (see the quotation beginning this section) was carefree and excited. At 10:30PM on the 26th, RLS and Simpson took a train for Cologne, stopping in Liege and Verviers. For more on their subsequent trip to Germany, see the page devoted to Germany in the Footsteps section of the website.

Ghent

“There is much to be seen in Ghent, too, but the wet night prevents us from going out. The streets of this town are wide and spacious. The cathedral is, I believe, all lined with black marble. It will be rather somber for my taste. I don’t like dark, cheerless-looking churches but bright and cheerful looking ones”
(Alison Cunningham, Cummy’s Diary [London: Chatto and Windus, 1926], p. 185)

When RLS was 12, he, his mother, father, cousin Elizabeth (Bessie) Stevenson and nurse Cummy (Alison Cunningham) travelled through Europe from 2 January – 20 May 1863. They stayed in Ghent on 18 May 1863. Read more information on RLS’s travels through Europe in 1863.

Ostend

In the summer of 1862, RLS and his parents visited Bad Homburg vor der Höhe (then Homburg), the capital of Hesse-Homburg, Germany. The family stayed in Homburg from 11 July – 8 August 1862 for a health cure for Mr Stevenson.

Their return journey took from 9-16 August 1862. The Stevensons travelled via Heidelberg, Wiesbaden, Koblenz, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Amsterdam, The Hague and Ostend to Edinburgh.