Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch – Dublin, Scotland – Pt. 2

Tarbert and Fort William

Day 4, and looking through one of the port holes I see the familiar sight of Tarbert on Loch Fyne, the only port on the itinerary we have visited before, therefore no rush this morning. Time for a leisurely breakfast in the Glentanar Restaurant served by Ian our dinner waiter. Porridge with maple syrup followed by eggs, bacon, beans, mushrooms and fried bread washed down with copious amounts of coffee are the order of the day, can’t beat a healthy breakfast! Tarbert Harbour Looking through the large picture windows the rain is still falling but with a few patches of blue, there is hope it will clear. By noon the rain had stopped and the sun is trying hard to make an appearance. Being anchored in the bay we make our way to the tender station for the 5-minute tender ride into the small harbour. Tarbert according to the last census in 2001 had a population of 1338 although in fairness it has increased since then but not by much. Tarbert has a long history going back to 731, an area set in a small cove that is stunningly beautiful, overlooked by its castle built in 1326 by Robert I of Scotland and a harbour fringed by shops, cafes small hotels, shops and artist studios. The cafe that we discovered on our last visit had to be revisited, it was that good. The Galley Cafe or to give its full name The Galley Cafe and Chef Shop from the outside looks like any other but step inside and be amazed at the decor. Walls adorned with paintings by local artists, comfortable seats, tables that don’t wobble and a rear wall sporting quality items for the kitchen that any chef would be proud of. At the counter, you are greeted with a genuine smile as you select from the largest scones I had ever seen, current, cheese, plain, with jam, butter, cream the choice is yours and when you have decided, the question is, warm, toasted or cold. This is a place I could while away an afternoon without any problem but soon it’s time to walk back down the slight incline to the harbour and board the tender back to Black Watch but not before we have watched two Swans parading along one of the harbour slipways with 5 baby cygnets. The wind has increased and we have a bumpy but exhilarating ride back but once on board all is again tranquil.

Time to freshen up and change for dinner as we are early seating at 6.15pm and meeting friends in the Morning Light Pub for drinks first. This is a delightful venue adorned with Chesterfield style chairs and settees, large picture windows giving wonderful sea views and overseen by a picture of the original Olsen brothers, Fredrik Christian, Petter and Andras who started the company back in 1848 in the small town of Hvitsten on Oslofjord in Norway.

Black Watch at anchor in Fort William Day 5 and it’s up on deck early to see us pass through the Corran Narrows as we progress our journey along Loch Linnhe towards Fort William passing the Corran Point Lighthouse, built in 1860 and still active today, we slow almost to a stop to allow the Corran Ferry to pass in front of us on its short journey from Nether Lochaber to Ardgour with its cargo of cars and foot passengers. Soon we are underway again and along with Simon the Cruise Director I visit the navigational bridge for the last leg of our transit. For those who have never visited, the bridge is a place of calm, adorned with screens, controls, computers, the lookout is constantly scanning the way ahead through high-powered binoculars whilst Captain Age is very much in charge and control making sure we are all safe. The view from here is, as to be expected, superb. Soon we are dropping anchor and chain, over 6 tons of it to secure us in a stable position. Unfortunately, rain is still falling and a breeze is blowing causing the mercury a struggle to reach 15C.

Once tendered ashore we board our tour coach to take in the local scenery. Leaving Fort William, we head south passing the Corran Narrows and Ben Nevis in the distance, through areas of forest and rugged mountains before arriving at our first stop, the Glen Coe visitors centre. Glen Coe once the domain of Clan MacDonald, but now owned by The National Trust of Scotland has volcanic origins and the village is named after the river Coe on which it stands. From the centre take in the panoramic view of the ‘Three Sisters of Bidean’ as their peaks rise to the sky. This is an area familiar to Harry Potter fans as many of the Highland scenes were filmed in the area and the famous Hogwarts Express travels across the Glenfinnan Viaduct full of tourists on a daily basis in the summer months. The scenery is beautiful as we drive across moorlands with peaks, rivers and streams in abundance before making our way back to Fort William where it is still raining and Black Watch can just be seen through the rain and mist.

Afternoon tea at the Observatory Lounge Back on board it’s time for one of the Fred Olsen speciality teas held in the Observatory Lounge. Tables laid with white table cloths, sparkling cutlery complemented by shiny cups and saucers. White gloved waiters deliver cake stands, the bottom level full of sandwiches filled with prawns, cucumber, salmon and other delights whilst the centre level contains cream wafers, cream eclairs, small tarts topped with fresh strawberries and orange, the top level, pots of jam, cream and butter ready for the scones. Now to choose the tea, so many to choose from it’s a difficult choice but whichever you select it will be delivered in a tea pot complete with strainer. Real tea, not tea bags, as some would say, the only way to drink tea. The attentive waiters are always there replenishing the sandwiches, tarts and scones. Everything was perfect but for me the scones oozing cream and strawberry jam were a delight. Tea finished its time to make use of the Promenade Deck of which 5 times around is a mile, how far did I get, sorry that’s a secret.

Fingal's Cave, Staffa Island Days 6 and 7, it’s up early as we pass Fingal’s Cave known for its natural acoustics on the uninhabited island of Staffa, one of the islands making up the Inner Hebrides. Unfortunately, it is still raining so the view is a little limited but Simon the Cruise Director gives the history of the cave over the ships PA system followed by a recording of the famous overture by Felix Mendelssohn. Heading towards our next port, Portree on the Isle of Skye the weather worsens, the wind force increases, white crests can be seen on the wave tops and it comes as no surprise when Captain Age announces that we are to miss Portree on grounds of safety and continue to Kirkwall in Orkney the following days port. People are naturally disappointed but safety is paramount. Extra activities are arranged on the ship and I decide to attend the afternoon quiz organised by Alex the Senior Cruise Host. For once the questions appear easy, they must be as I know some of the answers. After swapping papers and marking those of another group I get mine back and find I have scored 18 out of a possible 20 as have another couple so time for the tie breaker, “In what year were traffic wardens introduced in London?”. My mind races back over the years and in the end, I plug for 1962, the other couple have said 1963. In time honoured tradition Alex keeps us on tender hooks before announcing “the answer is, 1960”. This is the first time I think I have won anything on a ship and what is the prize, a token of one point, enough to get a key ring which will be a memento of that quiz as we steam full speed for Kirkwall.

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Alan Fairfax

Travel writer & cruise journalist

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