Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Ode to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Wanderlust

with 2 comments

A few years ago, in the month of May, I took myself to Scotland. I went to the Cairngorms, Britain’s largest wilderness area.

I hiked mountains, rambled along wooded paths, and walked the shores of lochs. I was lucky to get fair weather and saw Scots sunning themselves, with some hardy individuals even braving the frosty waters of the loch.

Scotland is perhaps the only place in Britain where one can get lost in true wilderness, where the land rises and falls with a majesty and ruggedness found nowhere else on this compact island.

I remember walking through the woods, the beginning of a mountain path, and seeing a red squirrel, the endangered native squirrel of Britain, casually prance, like a bushy mouse-deer, across the sun dappled trail.

I remember buying a pack of sausages and a can of potatoes and cooking them in the hostel kitchen and swallowing it down with that fervid hungriness that accompanies a day’s hiking, when you eat with an enjoyment knowing that you’ve fully earned it.

I have to confess that for however long now I’ve been addicted to travel. Is it an addiction? That would imply that I can’t wean myself from it. That it’s a compulsion, a craving, even a dependence.

Stevenson with the King of Hawaii

On the way to the Cairngorms, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland’s atmospheric capital. I stumbled on a little museum where within they had exhibits on the Victorian-era writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

He’s best known for novels like Treasure Island. We read it in school and (sorry, Rob!) I wasn’t that thrilled by the overly plotted story even if if featured a character like Long John Silver.

But in this museum I discovered that Robert Louis Stevenson was an adventurer; a man totally fixated on the horizon. Here was a guy born in 1850 who took himself far afield; a sickly Scotsman who stepped onto schooners and into the graces of foreign royalty, becoming friends with the King of Hawaii.

Stevenson died young, aged 44, suddenly stricken from a probable brain haemorrhage, and was buried on a hill, carried up by the locals, who loved him, in Samoa, in the South Seas.

It was an image that did it; that made me forever remember that visit to Scotland. More than the hiking and the sparkling waters of the loch, it was a photo, faded, and taken nearly 150 years ago, showing Stevenson standing on the ropes of a schooner, with his crewmates, looking at something out of shot. Looking at the image, I could suddenly feel the salty water, the thrill of the breeze, and the sparkle of the sea. It was a picture that seemed so utterly modern, like I could step into it and talk to them.

I leave you with Stevenson’s unimprovable ode to what we both adore

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilisation, and to find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

September 27, 2020 at 7:17 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I’ve lived and work in Scotland and visited many times as a child, Sean Connery was a neighbour, delivered the milk, my fathers birthplace, I travelled in the highlands and western Isles, built a house in the wilds, assaulted by the builder, travelled to the local A&E, nearly run off the road by the builders Truck, discriminated by local police. In my lifetime racially abused three times, never in England, Wales or Ireland. Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from TB badly when no cure was available. He wrote one of his books in Samoa, sent it to his Publisher and received it back a year later with so many corrections and edits, he re-wrote it, which he did and became a best seller. I think it was ‘Kidnapped’

    Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
    Your impudence protects you sairly;
    I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
    Owre gauze and lace;
    Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
    On sic a place.

    Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
    Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
    How daur ye set your fit upon her-
    Sae fine a lady?
    Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
    On some poor body.

    Swith! in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
    There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
    Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
    In shoals and nations;
    Whaur horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
    Your thick plantations.

    Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
    Below the fatt’rels, snug and tight;
    Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right,
    Till ye’ve got on it-
    The verra tapmost, tow’rin height
    O’ Miss’ bonnet.

    My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
    As plump an’ grey as ony groset:
    O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
    Or fell, red smeddum,
    I’d gie you sic a hearty dose o’t,
    Wad dress your droddum.

    I wad na been surpris’d to spy
    You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
    Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
    On’s wyliecoat;
    But Miss’ fine Lunardi! fye!
    How daur ye do’t?

    O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
    An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
    Ye little ken what cursed speed
    The blastie’s makin:
    Thae winks an’ finger-ends, I dread,
    Are notice takin.

    O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!
    It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
    An’ foolish notion:
    What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
    An’ ev’n devotion!


    September 28, 2020 at 4:50 am

    • What’s this poem called? Yeah, it sounds like you had a real Straw Dogs situation up there? Hope they didn’t catch the trail of Scotsmen caught in bear traps 😉

      Lu-Hai Liang

      September 30, 2020 at 11:53 am

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