Many people holiday overseas each year not realising what history and beauty there is on their own doorstep, I was one of those until I embarked on a 10 day cruise with Fred Olsen Cruise Line around the British Isles on their cruise ship Black Watch. Boarding Black Watch at Dover the advantages become clear, easy parking, no arriving at airports 2/3 hours before the flight, no waiting in crowded seating areas and most of all no restriction on the amount of luggage you can take. Luckily the cabin has wardrobes and drawers that easily swallow the contents of the suitcases.
First port of call is Dublin capital of Eire, a city steeped in history and beauty. St. Patricks Cathedral, Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares with their Georgian architecture, famous O’Connell Street and of course no visit would be complete without a boat trip along the River Liffey, meander past the Glass Drum of the new convention centre, the Customs House and under the amazing white Samuel Beckett Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava with its spar and cables representing a harp, the national symbol of Ireland since the 13th century and not forgetting the Guinness Distillery on its banks. Drive to Phoenix Park, large enough to accommodate all the London Parks and still have room left over, home to many monuments and statues together with the magnificent residence of the President of Ireland.
On to Tarbert, a cosy little harbour town on the banks of Loch Fyne, the quayside, flanked by small hotels, cafes and restaurants. The Galley Café where you find not only large scones but a choice that is truly mouth watering, current, cheese, plain, with jam, butter, cream and when you have decided, the question is, warm, toasted or cold. Sit by the harbour wall, relax and dream, small boats bathed in sunshine floating on the calm water as 2 Swans sleep on a slipway with 5 baby chicks.
Fort William, cruise through the Corran Narrows flanked by mist covered mountains adorned with pine trees, we progress our journey along Loch Linnhe towards Fort William passing the Corran Point Lighthouse, built in 1860 and still active today. Visit Glen Coe once the domain of Clan MacDonald, view the ‘Three Sisters of Bidean’ as their peaks reach for the sky and then on to the region familiar to Harry Potter fans, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, crossed daily by the Hogwarts Express full of tourists.
Sail past 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 raining so the view is limited as we listen to a recording of the famous overture by Felix Mendelssohn. We are due into Portree, Skye but the wind is too strong for us to dock so we sail on to Kirkwall.
Kirkwall on the Isle of Orkney where the St. Magnus International Arts Festival is in full swing with pipe bands, dancers, exhibitions and a very large effigy of St. Magnus. Visit St. Magnus Cathedral the most northerly cathedral in the British Isles built in 1137 by the Viking Earl Rognvald, the Highland Park Whisky Distillery founded in 1798 and now world famous having won several awards for its Malt Whisky of which you can sample a ‘Wee Dram’ on your visit. And the jewel in the crown, the Italian Chapel built by Italian prisoners of war during WW2. Beautifully decorated interior and modelled exterior standing on a hill overlooking a small beach and loch.
The final port of call is Invergordon where the ship is welcomed by a piper reminding you that this is the Highlands. Take a tour visiting Loch Ness and see if you can spot Nessie, on to Inverness, ‘Capital of the Highlands’. The river Ness overlooked by Inverness Castle and the church of St. Michaels Mount set amongst trees on the river bank. 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. On to the small town of Beauly standing on a river of the same name. It’s here 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 looking tranquil in the summer sunshine. Driving back to the ship we pass Seals sunbathing on the loch rocks, fishermen, their rods waiting for the Salmon to bite.
The sun is still high in sky, a pipe band is playing, passengers wave from the open decks, some with a tear in their eye, as we slowly move away from the quayside and say farewell to Scotland as we set our course for Dover.
My home for 10 days has been a delight, excellent food, good service from friendly and polite staff. Entertainment professionally executed by the 8 members of the Black Watch Show Team ably assisted by the Cruise Director and his staff. I have dined in the Black Watch Room, the speciality restaurant where the food could not be bettered, had a Swedish Massage in the Atlantis Spa and visited places that have made me realise that home has a lot to offer. For those that want to explore the ports and beautiful surrounding ares by foot Fred Olsen work with Ramblers Holidays who if booked through them will have guides with you to make it very much a personalised cruise. Not only would I recommend this cruise to others but I want to do it again.