ROBERT Louis Stevenson became famous as the author of such books as Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, but before that he was a travel writer. These publications included in 1875 an account of a walk in the Chilterns from High Wycombe to Tring. Stevenson was born in Scotland in 1850. His father was a lighthouse engineer and he was destined to be the same, but instead he wanted to be a writer and travel. He studied law at Edinburgh which he only briefly practised. Then aged 24 he came to London, where he mixed in literary circles.

High Wycombe

It was on Sunday, October 11, 1874 that Stevenson took the train from London to Maidenhead and then to High Wycombe. He wrote: “I begin my little pilgrimage in the most enviable of all humours: that in which a person, with a sufficiency of money and a knapsack, turns his back on the town and walks forward into a country of which he knows only by the vague report of others.” He left High Wycombe station late morning and he headed “up the long hill above High Wycombe”, probably Amersham Hill, and he wrote a “pall of grey cloud covered the sky, and its colour reacted on the colour of the landscape”.

It is not clear exactly what his route was but it seems he may have walked up towards Terriers and Hazlemere. “The sun came out… and as I got by that time to the top of the ascent, and was now treading a labyrinth of confined by-roads”, and after a while he “left the road and struck across country”. So it was probably at Holmer Green where he met “a great coming and going of school children”. Then he may have walked towards Little Kingshill and into some woods. Not sure of his way he wrote that “I found myself face to face with a prim little old maid… and besought her, after a very staid fashion, to put me on my way to Great Missenden.”

Great Missenden

He remarked that Great Missenden had “many great elm trees about it. The smoke from its chimneys went up pleasantly in the afternoon sunshine.” When he got to Great Missenden it was the afternoon and he visited the parish church. He noted that “it was fair day in Great Missenden.” Until 1883 Great Missenden held an annual Michaelmas Fair every Monday after Old Michaelmas Day (11th October), and in 1874 the Monday after fell on October 12. Stevenson wrote that he “went indoors, leaving the fair, I fancy, at its height.”

Red Lion, Great Missenden

He does not mention the name of the inn, but he says that he spoke with the landlord, who had spent “eight years’ service on the box of the Wendover coach”. Mr William Thorogood drove the stage-coach from London to Wendover from 1863 to 1871. In November 1871 he retired and took The Red Lion at Great Missenden, until he died in 1890 aged 68. The Red Lion has long since closed and is now 62 High Street.

Walking to Wendover

Stevenson wrote: “The next day was sunny overhead… I went up a chalky road, until I had a good outlook over the place”. It seems he walked up Frith Hill. From the description he seems to have walked from Potter Row to Hunts Green, and then to Kings Ash and into Wendover Woods.

From there he went up Boddington Hill and took in the view over the Aylesbury Vale. Then he met peacocks at Callaway’s Farm known as Peacock Farm and then put his “best foot foremost for the inn at Wendover.” He probably walked down Tring Road and then into the High Street. Stevenson wrote that “Wendover, in itself, is a straggling, purposeless sort of place. Everybody seems to have had his own opinion as to how the street should go”.

Red Lion, Wendover

He stayed at “a pleasant old house, with bay-windows, and three peaked gables, and many swallows’ nests plastered about the eaves.” This was The Red Lion, a former coaching inn established about 1620. Stevenson wrote about talking to the landlord’s young daughter Lizzie and her younger brother John. The landlord was Joseph Senior Holland, and in 1874, his daughter Lizzie was 4 and his son John, 2. Stevenson signed the visitor’s book and wrote “I never saw any room more to be admired”.

Elizabeth Holland, who later became manageress of the hotel, could regale the story of meeting Stevenson when she was a little girl, and she later wrote a history of Wendover. The Red Lion is still serving today at 9 High Street, Wendover.


In the morning Stevenson went to visit Wendover parish church, and then Mr Holland took him by his horse and passenger cart to Tring Station. (This was before Amersham, Great Missenden and Wendover stations were opened in 1892.) “Tring was reached, and then Tring railway-station; for the two are not very near… I had a last walk, among russet beeches as usual… And then the train came and carried me back to London.”

Beechwoods and Skylarks

One thing he remarked upon were the skylarks: “The air was alive with them from High Wycombe to Tring.” Today skylarks are not as common as in the 1870s but they are still heard over arable farmland. In his essay he also noted that “all the hills of Buckinghamshire, wear a sort of hood of beech plantations”. He wrote up his Chiltern walking trip and called it “In the Beechwoods” but it was by the name of “An Autumn Effect” that it was published by in The Portfolio magazine in April 1875.

Essays of Travel

After he died in 1894 people became interested in his previous works. In 1905 Chatto and Windus published “Essays of Travel” which included a collection of travel essays including “An Autumn Effect”. The story then became more well known.