Edinburgh’s Stevenson treasure trove

Robert Louis Stevenson (aka actor John Shedden) rows towards South Queens-ferry to launch RLS Day. Picture: Lesley Martin
Robert Louis Stevenson (aka actor John Shedden) rows towards South Queens-ferry to launch RLS Day. Picture: Lesley Martin
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WALK in the footsteps of a young Robert Louis Stevenson, visit the scenes which inspired some of his greatest works and have a cup of tea in his old living room.

Fans of the world-famous writer will be able to bask in all things RLS on November 13 to mark the author’s birthday.

Now in its fourth year, Robert Louis Stevenson Day, organised by the Edinburgh City of Literature Trust, is packed with events to please both the hardened Stevenson fan as well as those who may only have a passing knowledge of Treasure Island.

“It tends to be a really broad mix”, explains Ali Bowden, director of Edinburgh City of Literature Trust. “We have an all-day reading at the Scottish Storytelling Centre which catches people unawares. You get people just moving into the cafe drifting in going “Stevenson who?”. You get people who have heard of Stevenson and Treasure Island but who don’t know any more than that. And you obviously get your die-hard fans who absolutely adore everything to do with him.

“Stevenson is amazing in that, although he wrote years ago, it feels very modern. Treasure Island has never been out of print and has sold very well in lots of different languages.”

There will be 17 events throughout the city including walks, talks, afternoon tea and plays.

The theme for this year’s RLS Day is travel – from crossing oceans on his way to Samoa, wandering France in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, exploring the landscape of his imagination in Treasure Island or meandering through the streets of his home city.

There will be guided walks through Colinton and South Queensferry – both places which feature in his work.

“We have events across the city this year, including a really nice event in Colinton, where Stevenson spent time as a young boy,” says Ali.

“He was born in the city centre, but used to go out to Colinton for holidays and breaks to stay with his uncle.

“The tour is all about walking where he would’ve walked and looking at the places where he spent time and identifying things that he wrote about.

“There’s also a lovely statue out in Colinton of Stevenson as a wee boy.

“We just want people to be able to walk in his footsteps and map locations which appear in his books.

“In South Queensferry, the walk will look at locations along the way that are captured in his stories. I love the idea of seeing through Stevenson’s eyes.”

She adds: “You open a book, particularly one by a writer as great as Robert Louis Stevenson, and you are instantly transported, whether it’s to a desert island, to a dark corner of the mind, to the sun-drenched South Seas.

“For RLS Day this year we’re travelling with the man himself in the broadest sense – on journeys across the world and through his life – and you can join him on walks, in talks and performances – or online.”

One of the highlights of the day will be the chance to afternoon tea in Stevenson’s former living room - something not usually available to members of the public.

Although Stevenson House, on Heriot Row, is available for hosting lunches, dinners, receptions and conferences, as well as bed and breakfast, this particular room is usually kept out of the public eye.

“This is pretty special because you can’t normally get into this space because it’s a family room,” says Ali. “It will be incredible to see Stevenson’s house and have afternoon tea there.”

Other events include a musical evening with author Alexander McCall Smith and a play depicting Stevenson’s life.

The keynote event of RLS Day will see actor and Robert Louis Stevenson devotee, Nigel Planer join journalist Allan Little and author Louise Welsh to discuss the unusual travelling lifestyle that Stevenson and his family led.

Nigel said: “Stevenson was a pioneer of travel writing and spent most of his adult life on unlikely journeys, ending up in Samoa where eventually, he died.

“He was a sort of 19th century Michael Palin, except wherever he went he took his wife and family with him, which in those days was quite a challenge.

“I’ll be flying up to Edinburgh, and I still dream that one day they will rename the airport ‘Robert Louis Stevenson airport’. That would be so cool. I think he would have liked that.”

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON DAY HIGHLIGHTS

EXHIBITIONS

Between 11am and 2pm, head along to the National Library of Scotland for a rare chance to see up close some 
Stevenson material only on display on 
November 13, including first editions and photographs.

WALKS

10.30am: From South Queensferry to Edinburgh, follow in RLS’s footsteps. Book by calling 0141 777 7006 or email ian@stevensonway.org.uk.

11am: Walk through RLS’s childhood in Colinton, through poetry and sculpture. Book by calling 0131 441 2537 or email ccct@colinton-conservation.org.uk.

TALKS

11am: Dr Julia Reid talks about RLS’s The Amateur Emigrant at Edinburgh Central Library. Book by calling 0131 242 8046 or visit edinburghreads.eventbrite.co.uk.

6pm: Hear curator Andrew Martin talk about Stevenson’s adventures in the South Seas. National Library of Scotland. Book by calling 0131 623 3734 or visit nls.uk/events.

6.30pm: An Evening with Robert Louis Stevenson, join Nigel Planer, 
Allan Little and Louise Welsh for a very special conversation at Parliament House. Tickets: napier.ac.uk/events. Tickets £7.

AFTERNOON TEA AND TALK

3pm: An afternoon tea for Idlers at RLS’s house at 17 Heriot Row. Book: prevhistfest.eventbrite.co.uk £15

DRAMA

2pm and 3pm: Edinburgh Living History will bring Stevenson’s characters to life with two performances. Drop in, the Writers’ Museum, Lady Stair’s Close, Royal Mile. FREE

For more information on Stevenson Day and to book tickets, visit www.cityofliterature.com/rlsday2014 or via #RLSDay on Twitter