Over the sea from Skye
A seafood tour from Portree to the tiny island of Rona aboard the MV Seaflower, which ends with guests enjoying a seafood feast, is a heavenly adventure for true foodies, finds
If you go over the sea to Skye – and I insist that you do – you can be sure of a few things; friendly locals, absolutely spectacular scenery and some of the best tasting and freshest seafood in the world.
I don’t have an answer as to why it took me 29 years to set foot on the isle of Skye but the promise of a luxury seafood tour was more than enough to convince me it was time to make the trip.
As with all trips to Skye or any one of Scotland’s 790 surrounding islands, the first step is getting across the water. For the old romantics among us and those keen to switch gears to the island way of living as soon as possible, travelling on the Glenelg – Skye Ferry is the way to go. Thought to be the last turntable ferry of
its kind in the world, it offers a chance to slow down and spot some seals, herons or possibly the local sea eagle. With the very probable wind in your hair, you have the opportunity to start your island adventure in an authentic and unique way.
It’s no secret that Skye has become a go-to destination for tourists either visiting Scotland from across the country or indeed the world. While the summer months see the island’s population swell substantially, the autumn presents the perfect opportunity to avoid the throngs of tourists and enjoy the beautiful colours of the season to boot.
We had the pleasure of staying at Kiltaraglen House while we were on Skye and were made to feel instantly at home by our friendly host Pamela Simmister. Offering three lovely fully equipped self-catering units and only a ten minute walk from the centre of Portree, it was the perfect base for us to head out on our foodie adventure. (www.kiltaraglen.co.uk)
With access to top quality produce including langoustine, scallops, monkfish and Dunvegan crab, eateries in Skye boast some of the freshest seafood in the country. You’d be hard pressed to find fresher than the gorgeous Scottish langoustines and squat lobsters served on Seaflower Skye. Owned and operated by couple Janice Cooney and Ewen Grant, the 40-foot catamaran carries up to 12 passengers, setting off from Portree harbour on a range of tours taking in fantastic sights such as Storr and the Cuillins.
Ewen and former nurse Janice’s own journey from world travellers to Skye skippers is a heart-warming story in itself. After travelling around countries like Thailand and Australia both separately and then together, the couple returned to
Ireland (where Janice is from) for a year before the opportunity to purchase the MV Seaflower prompted a move to Ewen’s home town of Portree.
‘It took me leaving Skye to realise how stunning it is,’ says Ewen. The couple’s venture is not overly surprising when you consider the fact both Ewen’s father and older brother have fished the local waters for almost 45 years.
Our own Seaflower Skye experience began when we headed to the picture perfect Portree harbour, bordered by buildings painted in a veritable rainbow of colours. We hopped on board and were met by the very welcoming Ewen and Janice. For our particular tour (Rona with seafood lunch) the boat sets off at 11am and returns at 4pm, costing £90 per person.
As we headed out and the pretty harbour faded into the distance, everyone took a few moments to settle into their chosen spot on the boat, whether that was the heated main cabin, the lower deck or – my personal favourite – the flybridge. From here I had unobstructed views of surrounding waters, dramatic coastline and special wildlife guests which included an adorable seal pup patiently waiting for mum to return with brunch.
To keep any possible chill at bay, Janice handed out cosy fluffy blankets and soon after, took requests for teas and coffees.
We were lucky enough to see Ewen’s father and brother hauling in their catch for the day which would then be served for the following day’s tours. To know the seafood we were enjoying was caught in the surrounding waters by Ewen’s own family was a wonderful touch and left us comfortable in the knowledge it was responsibly sourced and incurred minimal food miles.
After a 50-minute journey we reached our destination of Rona, the group disembarked and headed off to explore the island – which recently experienced a population explosion taking it from two to four. Walking routes take in the ruins of a 14th century chapel, a church
Rona recently experienced a population explosion, its inhabitants doubling to four
cave which was used for worship up until 1970. Some guests might even spot one of the island’s red deer.
Of course the piece de resistance of the day has to be the lunch. When the Scottish weather decides to play nice, the glorious smorgasbord of seafood, bread, salad and quiche is served on board Seaflower Skye itself. If rain does strike, guests can retreat to a cosy bothy – dating back to the 17th century – which sits at the mouth of the harbour.
With such top quality produce in our midst, our lunch didn’t need to be overcomplicated. ‘With the seafood we keep it simple and serve it with bread and a salad – we let it speak for itself really because it’s so fresh,’ says Janice. Vegetarians are accommodated for with dishes like goats cheese and caramelised onion tarts or a roasted vegetable quiche. There was a generous helping of cream cheese to accompany the smoked salmon and a classic but tasty thousand island dressing for anyone who prefers something a bit saucier. Along with our feast, we enjoyed a few glasses of wine, which paired with both the shellfish and smoked salmon perfectly.
On our journey back to Portree harbour, we were lucky enough to spot a minke whale which rounded off the afternoon wonderfuly.
Like Janice says ‘I have moments where I think “right, I should probably get back to work now”, before realising this is it. This is my job and I love it.’ I too take a moment to pinch myself before realising that this stunning corner of the world is still just another part of my beautiful home.