Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

The Scot­tish Field team get their cruise on and head off into the great blue yon­der to ex­plore Scot­land from the sea

Cruis­ing around Scot­land’s coast­line is a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence, whether you’re in a hefty ocean-go­ing liner ex­plor­ing the North­ern Isles or a small but per­fectly formed trawler-style ves­sel is­land hop­ping along the West Coast, find Morag Boot­land and Richard Bath

The face of cruis­ing has changed be­yond recog­ni­tion over the past 100 years. Had we been board­ing a lux­ury cruise ship at the turn of the cen­tury our lug­gage would have looked de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent.

Trav­el­ling first class would have ne­ces­si­tated sev­eral huge chests filled with ball gowns, evening suits, tiaras and enough jew­ellery to fill ev­ery inch of shelf space in Hamil­ton & Inches. Of course a team of porters would have been on hand to load all of this fin­ery safely on board while guests sashayed up the gang­plank of their cho­sen grand ocean liner.

They would have been in good com­pany be­cause en­joy­ing a life on the ocean wave has long been the hol­i­day of choice for celebri­ties and roy­als alike. That pen­chant for the nau­ti­cal still per­sists, with stars from Ni­cole Kid­man and Tiger Woods to busi­ness ty­coons like Ro­man Abramovich and fash­ion­ista big shots like Dolce and Gab­bana own­ing their own su­per yachts.

Since Her Majesty’s Royal Yacht Bri­tan­nia took up per­ma­nent berth in Leith, The Queen has twice char­tered the lux­ury liner He­bridean Princess, first to cel­e­brate her eight­i­eth birth­day and then again to ex­plore the is­lands around Scot­land. But times have changed since the golden age of cruis­ing and this type of trip is now typ­i­cally a far more re­laxed, less for­mal choice of hol­i­day. It can also be en­joyed on very dif­fer­ent scales.

Grand de­signs Huge ocean lin­ers still cruise around the wa­ters of Scot­land of­fer­ing in­cred­i­ble fa­cil­i­ties and the chance to ex­plore far flung des­ti­na­tions, as our ed­i­tor Richard Bath dis­cov­ered when he boarded the Vik­ing Sun to ex­pe­ri­ence a Vik­ing Ocean Cruise which started at the Nor­we­gian town of Tromso in the Arc­tic Cir­cle, where in sum­mer there is bright sun­shine 24 hours a day.

‘From there we headed north­wards, vis­it­ing the home of the in­dige­nous Sami peo­ple at the north­ern­most point of Europe be­fore head­ing back to Leith via the North­ern Isles of Shet­land and Orkney.

‘The Vik­ing Sun car­ries 930 pas­sen­gers in sur­pris­ingly large and lux­u­ri­ous rooms, each with their own bal­cony, which meant that I savoured the fab­u­lous views as we ap­proached Shet­land. On ar­rival in Ler­wick a planned trip gave a real flavour of th­ese rugged and unique is­lands, with a visit to a Shet­land pony breeder, fol­lowed by a de­tour north­wards through the ver­dant Ting­wall Val­ley, the site of the Norse par­lia­ment, fi­nally ar­riv­ing in the peat and heather-cov­ered land­scape of Girl­sta, which is stud­ded with hill lochs.

‘Later, back on board, there were nightly talks on his­tory and cul­ture, in­clud­ing that of Scot­land, and as we had learnt about Shet­land be­fore land­ing, so we learnt about our next

port of call. Orkney is in­cred­i­bly rich in ar­chae­o­log­i­cal his­tory, and most of it is quite ac­ces­si­ble. A bus trip to the Bronze Age stand­ing stones at Ring of Brodgar was out­stand­ing, while a wan­der around the achingly quaint lit­tle town of Strom­ness gave us the op­por­tu­nity to browse shops filled with lo­cal crafts be­fore re­turn­ing to the ship via Scapa Flow and a visit to the fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum in Ler­wick.

‘As I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to visit Orkney be­fore and taken the op­por­tu­nity to sam­ple much of what it has to of­fer, that sched­uled ex­cur­sion was enough to keep me happy. How­ever, sev­eral of the more ad­ven­tur­ous folk from the cruise liner hired cars in or­der to visit sights like the beau­ti­ful and at­mo­spheric Ital­ian Chapel, built by pris­on­ers of war dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, while the High­land Park dis­tillery also proved pre­dictably pop­u­lar.

‘They also vis­ited Skara Brae, a unique pre­his­toric vil­lage of eight dwellings linked by cov­ered pas­sages which were buried be­low the sand for four cen­turies be­fore the sav­age storms of 1850 re­vealed this hid­den gem. But the high­light for most peo­ple was the un­for­get­table ‘Light in the North’, St Mag­nus Cathe­dral, founded by the Vik­ings in 1137 in Kirk­wall.

‘Stay­ing on board is also an op­tion, and you can opt to dine in your room too, as I did ev­ery other day dur­ing my week long break, de­spite the re­mark­ably high culi­nary stan­dards on­board. Given that the Vik­ing Sun has sev­eral restau­rants serv­ing all types of global cui­sine, two pools, a gym, spa, cock­tail bar, vast liv­ing rooms and a theatre with nightly shows, I was some­what sur­prised to find that the 745-me­tre long Vik­ing Sun is still classed as a small ship.

‘It was, how­ever, too big to berth in Leith, so we dis­em­barked via ten­ders to mark the end of an ed­u­ca­tional jour­ney packed with his­tory, glo­ri­ous land­scapes and a mind-bog­gling choice of food and cock­tails (for­tu­nately, un­like many cruise lin­ers, Vik­ing’s ships are gen­uinely all in­clu­sive). By the time I stepped off the ten­der at Leith, a week of re­lent­lessly lux­u­ri­ous re­lax­ation had left me ready to face what­ever an Ed­in­burgh sum­mer could throw at me.’

‘The Vik­ing Sun car­ries 930 pas­sen­gers in large and lux­u­ri­ous rooms, each with their own bal­cony’

Small but per­fectly formed

But not all lux­ury cruise lin­ers carry hun­dreds of pas­sen­gers, as Morag Boot­land dis­cov­ered as she headed off is­land hop­ping with The Ma­jes­tic Line.

‘Ex­cite­ment lev­els were high as I made my way to Oban pier to board the Glen Shiel. The Ma­jes­tic Line’s lat­est ad­di­tion is a cus­tom-built small cruise ship which car­ries just 12 pas­sen­gers and four crew mem­bers, en­sur­ing a re­ally per­sonal level of ser­vice. Cab­ins are en­suite and large enough to com­fort­ably sleep two.

‘My three-night cruise had a rough itin­er­ary but the route was sub­ject to change depend­ing on weather and tides, adding to the sense of ex­cite­ment and free­dom. And when hol­i­day­ing in Scot­land, the abil­ity to fol­low the sun is al­ways a dis­tinct ad­van­tage.

‘Glen Shiel, Ma­jes­tic’s fourth ship, was launched in June this year. It is equipped with a pow­er­ful en­gine and en­hanced sta­bilis­ers, mak­ing the longer trip to the Outer He­brides and St Kilda quicker and more en­joy­able.

‘Our ad­ven­ture be­gan with a glass of fizz and in­tro­duc­tions to my cruis­ing com­pan­ions. Head­ing to Loch Na Droma Buidhe I got my bear­ings by head­ing up on deck and hav­ing a nosey in the wheel­house. Once an­chored the fun re­ally be­gan with din­ner, taken each evening at a large com­mu­nal ta­ble with some of the best views in Scot­land. Win­dows on three sides and the gen­tle cur­rents pro­vided panoramic vis­tas of the gor­geous sun­sets.

‘Our chef Mike was a ge­nius in the gal­ley, and I espe­cially loved his hearty break­fasts which al­ways started with por­ridge (with or with­out a nip of whisky). Elevenses of freshly baked cakes, muffins or scones were fol­lowed by lunches of lob­ster, lan­goustines or pasta, ac­com­pa­nied by Mike’s di­vine home­made bread. If that was all good, din­ner was in­cred­i­ble: roast Gigha hal­ibut fol­lowed by roasted plums and bal­samic ice cream one evening, roast loin of veni­son or seared fil­let

‘My three-night cruise had a rough itin­er­ary that was sub­ject to change depend­ing on weather and tides’

of seabass on oth­ers. The food on the Ma­jes­tic Line show­cases Scot­land’s larder in fine style.

‘But back to the trip. Wak­ing up to a fair day we weighed an­chor and set off for the Small Isles, ar­riv­ing on Muck in time to tra­verse this com­pact and pretty is­land that is home to just 38 peo­ple be­fore lunch. The beau­ti­ful white beaches af­forded great views of the neigh­bour­ing is­lands of Eigg and our next des­ti­na­tion, Rum.

‘The larger is­land of Rum is home to the grand, but crum­bling, Kin­loch Cas­tle. A tour of the cas­tle re­vealed its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and the fad­ing glory of its in­te­rior. Con­struc­tion be­gan on the cas­tle in 1897 at the be­hest of Lan­cashire in­dus­tri­al­ist Ge­orge Bul­lough, who spent the equiv­a­lent of £15 mil­lion build­ing this lux­u­ri­ous hunt­ing lodge.

‘We an­chored for the night in Loch Scre­sort in the shadow of the cas­tle, din­ing and then tak­ing af­ter-din­ner drinks in the lounge. Eat­ing as a group on board made the whole trip a hugely so­cia­ble ex­pe­ri­ence, our wee group bond­ing over a few drams as if we were old friends reunited.

‘The next morn­ing we headed to Tober­mory on Mull in bright sun­shine, sun­bathing on deck. The ten­der whisked us ashore so that we could browse the cheer­fully painted shops, ex­plore the dis­tillery and en­joy a beer by the har­bour.

‘Fol­low­ing an un­promis­ing weather fore­cast, we headed for the shel­ter of Bern­era Bay off the is­land of Lis­more for our fi­nal evening on board. Here we watched seals bob­bing around be­fore join­ing them for a swim in the re­fresh­ing (or some might say ab­so­lutely bone-chill­ingly freez­ing) wa­ter. Feel­ing suitably in­vig­o­rated, a few restora­tive drams in the lounge with fel­low guests soon warmed us up while some tunes – cour­tesy of ship’s en­gi­neer Robert, a tal­ented mu­si­cian – per­fectly rounded off my fi­nal evening on board.

‘Eat­ing as a group on board made the whole trip a hugely so­cial ex­pe­ri­ence’

Clock­wise from top left: The Ital­ian Chapel on Orkney; Ring of Brodgar stand­ing stones; a Shet­land pony en­joys the view; St Mag­nus Cathe­dral in Kirk­wall; the Vik­ing Sun. Op­po­site: Vik­ing know how to do lux­u­ri­ous in­te­ri­ors.

Clock­wise from top left: Lob­ster lunch; The Glen Shiel; Har­ris Tweed cush­ions in cab­ins; Morag on the sil­ver sands of Muck. Above: The group eagerly await one of Mike’s fab­u­lous din­ners in a room with a view.

Top: Guests en­joy the sun­shine on deck on route to Tober­mory. Above: Kin­loch Cas­tle on the Isle of Rum. Be­low right: Sun­set on Loch Na Dromna Buidhe.

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