LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE
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.