A ferry tale princess fit for a queen.
Our coach driver skilfully navigates the last twisty turn of our journey from Glasgow to Oban, gateway port to Scotland’s Western Isles. In the soft light of gloaming awaits Hebridean Princess, which will become our stately home afloat for a seven-day cruise of the Inner Hebrides.
She is smart-as-paint with black hull, crisp white superstructure and red funnel, colours reminiscent of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Very fitting, as we want Her Majesty feel at home which clearly she does as she has chartered Hebridean Princess on two occasions: for a birthday in 2006, and a family party in 2010.
Hebridean Princess a sturdy Scottish lassie was originally built as an inter-island ferry then converted into a boutique luxury cruise ship in 1989 - a fairy tale come true? She is ideal for island-hopping itineraries, the occasional jaunt to Norway or across the channel to Normandy.
Hark! the pipes are calling. Greeting us with warm handshakes and beaming smiles, we are welcomed aboard by Captain, First Officer and Purser. No starchy formality here. “You’ll be wanting a cup of tea and a wee dram” they chorus. We bound up to the lounge where a robust afternoon tea awaits - though others are busily preoccupied with the single malts at the well-stocked bar. Plaid and paisley-upholstered furnishings predominate and an Inglenook fireplace contributes to the clubby ambience.
The ship, crew and service are immaculate, a perfect match for the beautiful, thoughtfully-considered interior space, soft furnishings, classy appointments, and comfy cabins. Is our princess a little bit Balmoral or a little bit Britannia we ponder? Once Royal Yacht Britannia was mothballed, The Queen must have shed a tear, and maybe this charming, traditional Scottish country-house vessel fills a void in her heart.
Along with Tiree Lounge and bar, Columba Restaurant is the social fabric of the ship. All meals are served in single-sittings, with assigned tables impeccably clad in crisp white linen napery, sparkling crystal and gleaming silver. The conviviality is contagious and the cuisine faultless.
Menus showcase regional produce - oysters, langoustine, salmon, beef and lamb. For breakfast there’s always porridge – with a wee dram if you fancy. Or, kippers, Finnan haddie perhaps, eggs any which way, fresh fruits, home-baked breads and home-made berry jams. In every respect, the food on board is equal to, if not better than the three legendary fine-dining restaurants on our itinerary.
Hebridean Princess’ is renowned for destination-immersive programs where ship board life and shore visits blend seamlessly. These include visits to distilleries, cheesemakers, oyster growers, and private receptions hosted by clan chieftains in brooding castles, walks through spic-and-span white-washed villages such as Shieldag and pretty Plockton.
Our first port is the island of Islay – home of Laphroaig one of the finest whisky distilleries in the world. There is no doubting Laphroaig’s authenticity. You can inhale its intoxicating smoky, peaty aroma in every sip.
Then followed captivating Colonsay for an oyster tasting. Watched by black-faced sheep grazing nonchalantly around peat bogs, we stuck to paths well-trodden up to the local school hall while admiring gorgeous coal-black tulips blooming in local gardens. Topped with a drizzle of Talisker, and washed down by champagne, which our indomitable Purser brought ashore, freshly shucked oysters never tasted better.
This evening was the formal, welcome aboard dinner with officers in mess dress. Many guests wore kilts, ladies too – or at least a breath of heather and a swish of tartan.
Sometimes scheduled ports vary depending on conditions. Disappointment is rare despite Scotland’s reputation for dreich (damp and overcast) weather. Captain always has a trick or treat up his sleeve if weather conditions are dodgy.There are usually two shore trips per day. All are accompanied by a crew member and designated guide. Those who remain on board can enjoy the mesmerising scenery, plump down in a leather library chair, play board games, or go ashore for a bike ride.
We love the endearing names of islands such as Mull, Muck, Eigg and Rum.
Rum was a curious experience. A brisk walk through lovely forests up to Kinloch Castle, revealed a somewhat faded, chaotic Edwardian extravaganza that had seen better days. Stuffed to the gunwales with hunting trophies and clunky furniture it would be a perfect setting for an Agatha Christie Murder Mystery. Meanwhile our Purser lifted our spirits with rum punch before we returned to our princess.
Dunvegan Castle seat of Clan McLeod on Skye houses Bonnie Prince Charlie memorabilia including Flora McDonald’s corset. Flora rowed him to safety and inspired the lyrics of the “Skye Boat Song”. Another majestic castle is Eilean Donan. Poised on a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet, it is instantly recognisable as it is widely featured in films.
Other tasty highlights ashore were the three high-profile restaurants included in the cruise fare: Torridon Hotel - a luxurious Victorian pile at loch’s edge with a backdrop of glacial mountains, a whisky bar with 350 plus malts and a menu comprising fresh ingredients from the kitchen garden and trout from the loch. Other celebrity restaurants were Three Chimneys - on the island of Skye and Eriska Isle Hotel – a Scottish baronial pile on a private island.
Back on board, there’s no time for a nap. We don evening finery and head off to a cocktail reception in the banqueting hall of Duart Castle hosted by the Laird, clan chieftain of the MacLeans. On our departure, a lone piper patrols the castle’s ramparts, his bagpipes echoing eerily across the Sound of Mull.
No prizes for guessing what was featured on the menu for our farewell gala dinner. It wouldn’t be complete without haggis and neeps and poet Robert Burns’ Address to the Haggis. Then Auld Ang Syne- a fitting finale to our Ferry Princess.
|Hebridean Princess carries 50 passengers and 38 crew comprising UK officers and Lithuanian service personnel. There are 30 cabins all with private bathroom and shower. There is no casino, swimming pool or hot tubs. There’s a no-key policy on board, but you can lock your door from the inside.
All meals on board, including wines, spirits, and champagne are included - except for those on the Wine Library list.
Wi-Fi access is free, and the ship has a no-tipping policy. Dress code: By day, casual attire. For dinner, jackets and ties are expected. Jeans and joggers are not acceptable unless related to a shore activity. There are two formal nights on each cruise. Black tie for gentlemen, cocktail dress for ladies. Scottish national dress is encouraged.
|Luxury Cruise Link: www.hebridean.co.uk , www.discovertheworld.com
Maggy Oehlbeck, 04/09/2019