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Issue 23 - Princess of the Scottish seas

Scotland Magazine Issue 23
October 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Princess of the Scottish seas

Vivien Devlin finds that a life on the ocean wave improves dramatically when you're on a small but perfectly formed luxury liner

It’s a balmy June evening as the Hebridean Princess makes steady progress up the Sound of Jura, the sea calm and shimmering in the amber summer sunlight.

A flock of Little Tern skim swiftly over the water, undisturbed by the buzz of conversation and clink of glasses as a few dozen passengers sip cocktails on the sundeck. We are returning from the ‘Islands at the Edge of the Sea,’ the old Norse name for the Hebrides, towards the end of a Scottish Temptations cruise.

This is island hopping in style. The Princess combines traditional country house living with the leisurely ambience of an ocean cruise ship, but in miniature.

She has just 30 single and double cabins with every comfort – satellite television and video player, mini-bars, quality bedlinen, soft towels, bathrobes and twice-daily maid service. For extra luxury, reserve a cabin with private balcony or the Isle of Arran suite.

The Tiree Lounge with panoramic views is where guests gather for afternoon tea and drinks from the bar. Elsewhere, relax in a quiet corner of the conservatory, library or sundeck.

These are voyages for discerning travellers who appreciate the extraordinary beauty of Scotland’s natural wild landscape, deserted sandy beaches, lochs and craggy mountain peaks.

Our cruise began in Oban, ‘Gateway to the Isles,’ later mooring for a peaceful night at anchor near the pretty village of Tobermory, Isle of Mull.

A breakfast banquet sets you up for an active day ahead: fresh fruit, cereal, porridge, bacon and eggs, omelettes and daily specials, such as pancakes or smoked haddock risotto.

First port of call is Rum, National Nature Reserve and home to Kinloch Castle, an Edwardian shooting lodge, where antiques, tigerskin rugs, porcelain and paintings are preserved in a time warp.

Over lunch – three course menu or light salads – we sailed over the sea to Skye. Motorboat tenders take guests ashore to visit the Talisker whisky distillery – dram included.

Back on board, it’s nearly time to dress up for the welcome Champagne reception hosted by Captain Hepburn followed by a fabulous gala dinner. The cuisine in the Columba Restaurant is exemplary – fine, organic Scottish produce simply prepared with flair.

For dinner, perhaps, asparagus soup, Colonsay oysters, monkfish, venison, fillet of beef, lemon tart and Scottish cheese, with selected wines.

Next morning we sail on to the 13th century Dunvegan Castle, ancestral home of Clan MacLeod with a fine collection of Jacobite artefacts. From the castle jetty we then took a fascinating seal-watching boat ride, spotting grey-speckled mothers with newborn pups basking on the rocks.

Over the next six days we visit the islands of Eigg, Colonsay, Islay and Jura as well as Gairloch, Crinan and Craobh Haven on the mainland. The Gulf Stream creates a warm micro-climate for exotic, sub-tropical trees and plants to flourish.

We explored two gardens preserved by the National Trust for Scotland – first, Inverewe which boasts giant Chinese rhododendrons, gum trees and Australian daisy bushes. Then down the coast, the tranquil oasis at Arduaine, renowned for Himalayan lilies and water garden. On ‘God’s Island,’ Gigha, fringed by white sandy coves, we strolled around the lush Achamore garden, blooming with azaleas and gunnera from the cloud gardens of the Andes.

These excursions are meticulously organised by tour guide Sandra Felton-Edkins, who offers every assistance with alternative plans to suit everyone – walks, golf, cycling or fishing. The chance of an exhilarating speedboat ride proved very popular: “It’s like being in a James Bond movie,” said one adventurous grey-haired lady, zooming around the bay.

Captain Hepburn and chief purser Charles Carroll ensure life on board is run in impeccable, shipshape fashion. With a maximum of 49 guests, the passenger/crew ratio is almost 1/1 and service – from the restaurant team to the motorboat crew – is first class and friendly.

An added attraction is that alcoholic drinks and excursions are part of the all-inclusive tariff.

Between March and November a wide choice of itineraries explore the Hebridean islands, West Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and Norwegian fjords. Footloose cruises specialise in walks while new for 2006 are four tutor-led painting and photography cruises. Seventy per cent of passengers are regular guests and solo travellers are particularly welcome.

Highlights? A shoal of dolphins diving alongside; stimulating walks across Eigg and Colonsay; blood-orange sunsets; the silhouette of distant islands at dusk; the vivacious house party of international guests.

This luxury wee ship, gourmet cuisine, island tours and the enchanting ever-changing landscape all exceeded expectations – magical, mesmerising, carefree and very memorable.

As one guest commented: “this is simply one of a kind.”

Hebridean Island Cruises Limited
Griffin House, Broughton Hall, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 3AN, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1756 704 704
Fax: +44 (0)1756 704 794
Summer 2006 brochure now available. Fly Cruise packages and coach transfers to and from Glasgow/Oban