Escape to the Inner and Outer Hebrides for immersion in natural beauty and isolated lochs.
St Hilda Sea Adventures is the antithesis of cruising as we generally know it. Glamorous frocks and DJs are not required. With just three small and quirky boats based at Dunstaffnage Marina, near Oban, this company is quietly growing. The latest vessel, Gemini Explorer, joins St Hilda, a converted sail training boat and Seahorse II, an ex-Norwegian ferry. Sturdy Gemini Explorer started life as a cruising lifeboat in the ‘70s, rescuing 44 people in the Fastnet Race disaster in 1979. She’s since been a diving boat and had various other incarnations, however now she’s fitted with five luxurious cabins, three en suite, whilst still retaining much of the original woodwork and style.
A typical day onboard involves a few hours sailing to one of the islands or lochs, taking in the scenery on the way, then a few hours exploring the destination. The boat offers kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing and wild swimming, which is blissful in the remote lochs: there’s no one else there. And of course, there are spectacular wildlife moments spotting pilot whales, pods of orcas, seals, dolphins, otters, eagles, the curious and friendly puffins of Lunga, the gannet colony on St Hilda along with the 200 other bird species on the island.
Excursions on land take in castles, gardens and whisky distilleries, all reached by the boat’s tender, often onto pontoons a short distance from your place of interest. And the walks are magnificent, with rugged and empty landscapes, untouched beaches and dramatic skies. Summer months in the Hebrides are filled with long daylight hours and short nights, with blue skies and calm waters if you’re lucky. Although the lochs are ideal for the ships to hide from poor weather – a chance to curl up with a book and a dram.
Food on board is plentiful, three meals a day, often Scottish dishes like haggis, neeps and tatties, or ocean fresh langoustine, lobster and scallops bought directly from local fisherman, and afternoon tea.
Necessity being the mother of invention, during the pandemic, St Hilda Sea Adventures offered the ships as self-catering accommodation, moored up at the marina, giving people the opportunity to try a unique and very different experience. So successful has this new venture been that this option will continue to be offered in the winter months, keeping the boats ‘alive’ when they’re not at sea.
And come the summer months, it’s possible to hire an entire boat to yourselves, for parties ranging from 6 – 11 guests, although cruises are generally made up of a mix of people including solo travellers. It’s a great way to meet others whilst on an adventure!
For all the cruise information and to book, contact sthildaseaadventures.co.uk or call 01631 564121
Julie Marshall tells the Silver Travel Podcast about the great holidays this small ship cruise line offers. Listen here.