Kirkwall, Invergordon and home
6pm and 550 miles later sees us arriving in Kirkwall, where they are celebrating the St. Magnus International Festival, a midsummer festival of the arts on Orkney. After dinner, a quick dash to the shuttle bus to get to the parade held by the harbour which is thronged by crowds of people, with a population of only 9,000 it seems that everyone has turned out for the occasion. The rain has stopped, the sun is now shining from an almost cloudless sky, the Kirkwall Pipe Band are playing, people are dancing and the area dominated by a huge green cloaked effigy of St Magnus. The band stop playing, dancers become still as the effigy speaks “I wish everyone to be good, I wish no one was sad, I wish the people all over the world would smile more, I wish for everyone to have food and water, I wish to discover new animals and their wishes given to all of you”, before wishing everyone ‘Goodbye’ and being wheeled away into the town centre followed by the pipe band for further festivities. The sun was just setting as I looked out across the harbour where fishing boats rested gently on the rippled water, a small cruise ship, Hebridian Sky, sets sail for another port and it’s time to return to Black Watch for a good night’s sleep ready for the next day’s tour.
Day 8 it’s a leisurely breakfast of porridge with Maple Syrup and full English breakfast washed down with lashings of coffee as our tour does not leave until 11.00 so 10.45 we join the rest of our coach party in the Neptune Lounge waiting to be called. Finally, number called we make our way to the waiting coach. The weather has changed back to rain but we are told it will clear. Travelling across the island our guide gives us a brief history of Orkney and how the new industrial area used to be an RAF aerodrome during the last war before we arrive at what is probably the most visited part of the island, that which during the 2nd World War was known as Camp 60 and the site of the Italian Chapel. In 1942, 1300Italian soldiers were captured in North Africa and brought to Orkney to help construct the Churchill Barriers which were four causeways created to block access toScapa Flow. 550 of these prisoners were housed at Camp 60 on Lamb Holm. They asked for a place of worship which was agreed by the camps Commandant and the camp’s Catholic priest.
Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end, the interior was covered with plasterboard and the altar and altar rail were constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers. Much of the interior decoration was done by prisoner Domenico Chiocchetti who painted the sanctuary and other prisoners decorated the rest of the interior. They created a frontage of concrete concealing the huts shape, corned beef tins were transformed into light holders and the font was made from the inside of a car exhaust covered in a layer of concrete. Shortly before the war ended the prisoners were released but Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel. The interior is amazing, beautiful, a work of art and for me, certainly the highlight of that day’s tour. Leaving the chapel, we make our way to the premises of a product for which Kirkwall is world renowned, Highland Park Whisky. The distillery founded in 1798 by Magnus Eunson gets its name from being located in an area called High Park. The tour begins with a “Wee Dram” in special glasses which we are allowed to keep and is followed by a film of the brewing process and a tour of the distillery. Did you know that the whisky is matured in barrels that have been used for storing sherry in Spain and that gives Highland Park its distinctive flavour!! Highland Park is one of the few distilleries that utilises locally sourced peat and malts its own Barley. Time to move on to our last stop, the magnificent St. Magnus Cathedral, Britain’s most northerly cathedral dominating the skyline above Kirkwall, building began in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald in memory of his uncle St. Magnus. The building is not owned by any church but by the people of Kirkwall and has become a huge tourist attraction. The interior can only be described as magnificent with its ornate ceiling, wood carved pulpit, alter with miniature Viking long boat, flags and so much more. To the side on the opposite of the road are the ruins of the Old Bishops Palace and tourist office in its grounds. This is a venue I will return to as there is much to see that shortage of time on this visit prohibited. Returning to the ship the rain has indeed stopped but it is still thick cloud with more rain on the way as we sail to our last port of the cruise, Invergordon.
Day 9 I wake to the sound of the pipes. On the quayside is a lone piper standing in the rain welcoming us to his Highland home. This is an early start and we are aboard the coach before 9am heading away from Invergordon towards Loch Ness, will we see Nessie!! The rain has eased and is now a fine mist that restricts viewing the beautiful scenery and old castles that adorn the area. Soon we are at our first stop on Loch Ness where we sample delicious home-made scones, again with lashings of jam and cream. The mist is such that we can’t see the far side of the loch and Nessie has not made an appearance so back on the coach and head for Inverness, capital of the Highlands. Inverness stands on the banks of the River Ness and located near two battle sites the most famous being the 18th century Battle of Culloden. Several surveys carried out show that Inverness is the happiest place in Scotland and home to many beautiful old buildings. Inverness Castle built in 1835 overlooking the river, St. Andrews Cathedral with its square topped spires and the church of St. Michaels Mount by the river. Inverness is also the host city for the Highland Games and famous for the Inverness Cape, worn in the rain by pipers all over the world. Leaving this beautiful city behind we continue to the small town of Beauly standing on a river of the same name. It’s where Mary Queen of Scots stayed in 1564, the site of Beauly Priory founded in 1230 and Lovat Castle. The small town is bedecked with brightly coloured flowers in pots, beds and baskets, the priory ruins stand regally in the sun light, yes, the sun has arrived. This is a place where the shops still close for lunch, people are polite and drivers courteous, a town I intend to return to. We are now heading back to Invergordon and to Black Watch passing seals sun bathing on the rocks that protrude above the water at low tide, small coves with secluded beaches and into the town where houses boast large murals on their side walls. Too soon we are back at Black Watch and we access the gangway for the last time. Passengers throng the outer decks to witness our last sail away. The sun shines from a clear blue sky, the water so calm it reflects the ship and surrounding landscape when we are brought back to the immediate world by 3 long blast on the ships whistle as we say goodbye to Invergordon and Scotland, a pipe band plays us away, passengers wave, some with tears in their eyes as we move slowly away from the quayside and make our way along the Cromarty Firth past oil drilling platforms at anchor into Moray Firth, The North Sea and set course for Dover.
That night we dine in the Black Watch Room, the ships speciality restaurant with one wall depicting the Black Watch Regiment of Scotland. Sat at a quiet table for 2 we enjoy pan seared scallops on a crushed pea and broadbean base topped with crispy pancetta and mint dressing as a delicious starter, 35 day aged prime cut sirloin steak grilled to perfection with hand cut chips, cherry tomatoes and garden vegetables was a mouth wateringly good main course. Desert, a yummy vanilla ice cream topped with a very generous covering of amaretto and coffee followed by coffee and mints to finish off a memorable dinner. The wine throughout was a chilled cava that just kept flowing. Was it worth the cover charge, yes it certainly was.
The following day being a sea day I book in for a Swedish Massage at the Atlantis Spa on deck 4. Never having had one before this for me was a voyage of discovery. Lying face down on the massage table discreetly covered by towels, soft music playing, the Thai masseuse began her work. Starting with neck, shoulders, back using a wonderful warm oil it was then legs and feet. Turn over please. This time it was start at the bottom and work up. 55 minutes later she has finished and whilst still 73 years of age I felt more like 33 years. A wonderful experience that massaged tired muscles and removed tension. I can now understand why many people have massage on a regular basis certainly an experience I will repeat.
How do you sum up this cruise, with great difficulty is the answer. People travel in their millions to locations overseas failing to realise what is on their own home doorstep and yes, I have been one of them. In 10 days, we sailed a total of 2,229 nautical miles, cruised to places I had never been, but now want to revisit and made many new friends. Dublin has so much to explore, you need at least a long weekend, not a day to take it all in, the beautiful scenery, lochs, glens, mountains and history of Scotland where even after a two week touring holiday there would still be a great deal more to see. The ships tours were excellent and represented exceptional value for money with guides who were not only knowledgeable but obviously enjoyed their work and it showed.
There are many areas that are a favourite with walkers and hikers and if you wish to have the best of both worlds and take up these activities then what better way than booking through Ramblers Walking Holidays who combine some of their walking holidays with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.
As for Black Watch, what can I say that I haven’t said before. The ship although launched in 1972 is pristine, the crew are very professional, friendly, polite and efficient, the food is up there with the best, drinks are a reasonable price as are the daily gratuities, cabins comfortable and the entertainment well presented by the ships show team. A special thank you to Ian our table waiter who remembered our names from the first day and was always there to greet us at our table, Gladys who kept our cabin in such splendid order together with all the other staff who give such fantastic service and Simon the Cruise Director for arranging things for me. It’s easy to see why Fred Olsen’s passengers keep coming back time after time, as I said earlier 52% on the cruise were repeat passengers. This is a cruise that not only would I recommend, but I want to do it again.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.
- Dublin, the Isles and Lochs of Scotland onboard Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch – Part 1
- Dublin, the Isles and Lochs of Scotland onboard Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch – Part 2