CRUIS­ING WITH THE CELTS

For those with a FAS­CI­NA­TION for wildlife, SE­CLUSION and wilder­ness, a cruise along the western fringes of SCOT­LAND and IRE­LAND should be on your bucket list, as Claire Pitcher dis­cov­ers

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For dis­cov­ery, wildlife and wilder­ness, take a cruise along the rugged coasts of Scot­land and Ire­land.

WHAT BET­TER WAY to un­cover the hid­den trea­sures of Scot­land than on the ocean wave? There’s a good chance not many peo­ple read­ing this even re­alise that Na­tional Trust Scot­land of­fers cruises? Their ‘Colours of the Celts’ cruise takes you aboard the lux­u­ri­ous Pearl II on a 12-day tour of the coast­lines of Scot­land, Ire­land and the Isle of Man. The Pearl II is a four-star ship; famed for its delicious cui­sine and small enough to nav­i­gate the wa­ters of small ports or drop an­chor off tiny re­mote is­lands.

AMONG THE CELTS

Set­ting sail from Greenock, the voy­age be­gins with a visit to one of the six re­main­ing Celtic na­tions, where com­mu­ni­ties have long stamped their unique mark on the land: the Isle of Man. The Manx lan­guage, folk­lore, an­cient mon­u­ments and par­lia­ment have kept alive a strong sense of iden­tity here. Dock­ing at its cap­i­tal, Dou­glas, you can take a chal­leng­ing hike in one of the is­land’s 22 na­ture re­serves, or opt for a gen­tle ram­ble through its leg­endary glens, nour­ished by wa­ter­falls and deep rock pools. Laxey, on the east of the is­land, is al­ways pop­u­lar as many flock to see its 19th-cen­tury wa­ter­wheel and pretty har­bour. If steam trains are more your thing how­ever, then you must catch the Vic­to­rian steam train and if you’ve a head for heights (and views), the Snae­fell Moun­tain Rail­way tra­verses ex­tra­or­di­nary scenery to reach the sum­mit, 620m above sea level.

IR­ISH CHARMS

Af­ter cross­ing the Ir­ish Sea, the next call is Waterford, Ire­land’s old­est city. Founded in AD 914 by Vik­ings, for over a millennium the city has been a hub for mar­itime trade. In the 18th cen­tury the town be­came syn­ony­mous with beau­ti­fully crafted crys­tal. Take in the Waterford Gar­den Trail, where you will dis­cover a wealth of stately gar­dens in­clud­ing those at Mount Con­greve and Lis­more Cas­tle Gar­dens, a 17th-cen­tury walled gar­den set along­side the Yew Tree Walk. Ed­mund Spenser is said to have writ­ten The Faerie Queene here.

INTO THE WILDS

Of course, Waterford’s not the only part of Ire­land to ex­plore. There is the south­ern tip, or as many refer to it, the ‘Wild At­lantic Way’. Fol­low­ing the foot­steps of Ire­land’s Ne­olithic im­mi­grants, trace a path to Bantry Bay, said to be the first in­hab­ited place in Ire­land. Then on to Gal­way Bay to visit Inish­more (Inis Mór), the largest of the Aran Is­lands. It’s a green and rocky patch­work of stonewalls and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites, in­clud­ing the pre­his­toric Dun Aen­gus, where con­cen­tric stone rings form the re­mains of a fort that perched 100m above the crash­ing At­lantic waves. Twitch­ers will want to visit the wet­lands of Kil­mur­vey beach to see a plethora of wild­fowl and rare birds. There could also be a chance of see­ing a Golden Ea­gle or Pere­grine Fal­con in Glen­veagh Na­tional Park, wild moor­land that’s also home to Glen­veagh Cas­tle and Plea­sure Gar­dens. There’s more op­por­tu­nity to see wildlife if you head back out onto the wa­ter on the wa­ter­bus into Done­gal Bay, where you can spot a huge seal colony

KING OF CAS­TLES

Re­turn­ing to Scot­tish wa­ters af­ter an Ir­ish ad­ven­ture, the next stop is Tober­mory. This lively vil­lage, the heart of Mull’s fish­ing in­dus­try, is un­miss­able from the sea with its string of gem-coloured cot­tages lin­ing the shore. Mull’s val­leys and high moun­tains are Golden Ea­gle ter­ri­tory, an amaz­ing sight to see dur­ing a drive in­land. Mull was once land of the Ma­clean clan, who were part of a loose coali­tion of fam­i­lies that sup­ported the Lords of the Isles in me­dieval times. Their strong­hold, Duart Cas­tle, is a for­mi­da­ble fortress atop the craggy cliffs and in part dates from the 13th cen­tury. It’s well worth tak­ing the tour to find out its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and view the fam­ily por­traits, dun­geons and wooded grounds.

GAN­NETS, GAR­DENS ANDA GORGE

Leav­ing Mull it’s back into the open At­lantic to­wards the high cliffs of St Kilda, the ar­chi­pel­ago renowned for its iso­la­tion, unique wildlife and for­mi­da­ble ge­o­log­i­cal struc­tures. St Kilda is made up of four main is­lands – Hirta, Soay, Dun and Bor­eray – and is the only dual UNESCO World Her­itage Site in the UK, recog­nised for both its nat­u­ral and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. Al­most a quar­ter of the world’s pop­u­la­tion of gan­nets live here, a real spec­ta­cle to wit­ness. Af­ter a stop ashore at Lochmaddy, a port pop­u­lar with pi­rates in the 17th cen­tury, it’s time to sail back to­wards the main­land, and more ex­tra­or­di­nary gar­dens be­long­ing to Os­good Macken­zie in In­verewe. The Trust’s Cor­rieshal­loch Gorge is a short scenic drive away too; a plung­ing box canyon, cleav­ing through the for­est, spanned by a Vic­to­rian sus­pen­sion bridge that was built by John Fowler, joint de­signer of the iconic Forth Bridge.

THE LASTWILDERNESS

Sail­ing south, the next port of call is the largest of the Small Isles, which lie south of Skye. Rum’s di­a­mond shape and volcanic hills cast a strik­ing sil­hou­ette on ap­proach. In­hab­ited since Mesolithic times, the is­land is now a Na­tional Na­ture Re­serve man­aged by Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage, and a Spe­cial Pro­tec­tion Area for birds. Rum is also known for its slice of ec­cen­tric Bri­tish his­tory: the Vic­to­rian-ed­war­dian sport­ing es­tate of Kin­loch Cas­tle. The cas­tle boasted leg­endary ex­trav­a­gance in its hey­day with hum­ming­birds flit­ting through air vents, a Jacuzzi and scan­dalous balls, from which ser­vants were barred. In Septem­ber, the rut­ting sea­son will be un­der­way and you may catch sight of stags strut­ting across the moor­land or hear their dis­tinc­tive pri­mal roar. Pos­si­bly sav­ing the best un­til the last full day, there’s plenty of time to ex­plore ‘Bri­tain’s last wilder­ness’, the Knoy­dart penin­sula. Known tra­di­tion­ally as the ‘Rough Bounds’ and ac­ces­si­ble only by sea or via a 16-mile hike over moun­tain­ous ter­rain, the penin­sula is renowned for its stun­ning beauty, rugged grandeur and bliss­ful tran­quil­ity. Much of it to­day is owned by the Knoy­dart Foun­da­tion – a part­ner­ship of lo­cal res­i­dents, the High­land Coun­cil, John Muir Trust and Chris Brasher Trust. There’s a pop­u­la­tion of just 100, but its four Mun­ros, broad glens, rivers and lochs make it an ap­peal­ing, if chal­leng­ing, place to visit. Ex­plor­ing the small vil­lage of In­verie, you can find a small vis­i­tor cen­tre, pot­tery, tea­room, shop, post of­fice and pub. The Old Forge is clas­si­fied as the most re­mote pub in main­land Bri­tain by Guin­ness World Records – what bet­ter ex­cuse for a pint? Knoy­dart is great for walk­ing, be it a coastal stroll, a wood­land ram­ble or more chal­leng­ing hike.

IM­AGE © VISITS­COT­LAND / KENNY LAM

The Cal­lan­ish Stand­ing Stones on the Isle of Lewis

Glimpse the won­der­ful seals in Done­gal Bay

Be­low: Garin­ish Is­land is lo­cated in the shel­tered har­bour of Glen­gar­riff in Bantry Bay, in Southwest Ire­land. Gar­nish is world renowned for its gar­dens, which are laid out in beau­ti­ful walks and it has some stun­ning rare spec­i­men plants

Sun­set over Loch Ewe, High­lands of Scot­land

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