It’s hard to think of someone who has itchier feet than Robert Louis Stevenson. One of the earliest travel writers – and still among the finest – he roamed the world long before the advent of interrail passes or England, Europe, America, the South Sea islands including Samoa, his last home, were reached and explored on foot, by donkey and horse, train and boat. Nowhere was too distant for him to attempt.

As he ventured forth, his motto was “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”

I’m with him on that, although I’m not sure Stevenson’s definition of hopefully chimes with mine. When packing his bags and planning his route, he exuded an enthusiasm I cannot muster. He really did hope for the best, whereas I head off praying things at the other end will not be as bad as I expect.

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Now the summer holiday season is upon us, we’re surrounded by people on their travels: cars with roof-racks bristling with bikes, campervans with foreign number plates, hillwalkers bowed under hippo-size backpacks, unfazed by camping in a tempest.

The other morning I attempted simply to reach Edinburgh, but turned back when train after train was cancelled. While I abandoned hope, several would-be vacationers could be seen humping enormous suitcases back into their cars and racing off, desperate to find an alternative way of making their flights in time.

From boyhood, RLS was eager to leave Edinburgh for warmer and less repressive climes. He had a point. Even today, Scottish hospitality can be as quixotic and chilly as its weather.

My husband once turned up, after walking the Southern Upland Way, at Tibbie Shiels’ Inn, by St Mary’s Loch in the Borders, where he had booked a room. Sun-scorched, bleeding from an encounter with a gorse bush and parched, he reached the bar and managed to order a pint of beer. As he described the rigours he had endured the past few days, the proprietress looked at him with an unfriendly eye : “Nobody made you do it,” she said.

Jay Parini, in his memoir Borges and Me, recounted the story – from an era when Scotland was in the ice-age of the hospitality history – of having to lead the blind poet through their B&B landlady’s bedroom to reach the bathroom. This trip was repeated several times during the night because of the quantity of beer they had consumed.

Robert Louis StevensonRobert Louis Stevenson (Image: free)

In similar vein, when we were in a countryside B&B not long ago, we had a bedroom with attached lounge, where we settled after dinner in near darkness to watch Netflix. At ten o’clock we almost passed out when the landlady, whose bedroom was reached by a staircase in our living room, glided past us in her dressing-gown.

When booking online, it’s too easy to forget the gulf that lies between website and reality. Like childbirth, previous painful experiences are inexplicably wiped from the hard drive.

Reaching a wind-blasted English seaside promenade, we dragged our cases for miles, passing immaculate guest-houses in search of the deluxe boutique hotel depicted in the photos. Once we had located it, the holiday mood instantly vanished. The front door hadn’t been painted since we retook the Falklands, there was no need for a cat flap since the corner was gaping, stucco was falling off the walls like broken meringue, and there was a sign in the window saying “Dogs Welcome. The Hairier the Better.”

Upstairs, the bedroom smelled as if it had just hosted a pipe-smoking convention. We spent a sleepless night between nylon sheets and next day left town, never to return. If we had been in an episode of Four In A Bed, our list of complaints would have had the hotelier flouncing out of the room.

More recently, what promised to be a delightful barn conversion in an English hamlet turned out to have unwelcome period features. The décor and bedding could have come from the BBC’s props department marked 1970: swirling patterns in faded shades of yellow and brown. The towels in the bathroom – a palace of toffee-coloured plastic – had enjoyed such a long life they were an exfoliator’s dream, and the kitchen saucepans and china would have thrilled the experts on the Antiques Roadshow.

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Unable to contemplate spending a single night, even though we had paid in advance for a week, we waited until nightfall and drove off, hoping our hosts were asleep. Behind us we left a note claiming we had been urgently called home. Which, in a way, was true.

A midnight flit back to base is not an option when abroad. In a hotel in an Italian hill town, we were met at the reception desk by an elderly woman who might have trained for the post at HM Belmarsh. Her daughter and granddaughter, who helped run the place, were even less friendly. It was as if the family reservoir of bonhomie emptied further with each generation.

At breakfast we were surprised to see other guests bringing in cartons of juice and boxes of cereal. Soon all was explained. The fare on offer was too scanty to be called meagre; starvation rations is closer to the mark. Served with stale bread from our dinner table the night before, we received a look of incomprehension when we asked if we could possibly have coffee to go with it.

So imagine our astonishment when a priest with two nuns took their seats and were greeted as if George Clooney had entered the room. Everything Tuscany had to offer was set before them: platters of prosciutto and pecorino, fruits from the orchard, freshly baked pastries, steaming pots of coffee. While smiles broke out among the hotel owners like sun after a long winter, we crept off to find a café.

These days, itchy feet such as Stevenson’s can be cured by a prescription spray. He travelled half way across the world, distancing himself from Edinburgh’s sooty gloom partly in the hope of finding a climate that would improve his health.

Yet the epitaph he wrote for his own grave in Samoa has a resonance for all of us whose spirits lift on our return from vacation: “Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/ and the hunter home from the hill”. It would seem that, for all his wanderlust, RLS knew where he was happiest. Don’t we all?