Friday, 10 February 2017

Spotlight on the Isle of Arran


Often referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’ due to the remarkable diversity of its landscapes, the Isle of Arran is the seventh largest, and one of the most southerly Scottish islands, lying in the Firth of Clyde.
 
Lochranza
Although culturally and physically similar to the Hebrides, Arran is separated from them by the Kintyre peninsula. The Highland Boundary Fault between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland divides the island almost exactly in two; the north is ruggedly mountainous and sparsely populated, the south is softer, more undulating and home to the majority of the population. The highest point on the island is Goat Fell and the profile of the northern hills viewed from the Ayrshire coast is known as the ‘Sleeping Warrior’ due to its resemblance to a resting human figure.


Holy Isle
Arran has two smaller satellite islands; Holy Isle is a two mile spine almost blocking the entrance to Lamlash Bay, creating a natural sheltered harbour, which houses a retreat and meditation centre for Buddhist monks from Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir. Pladda island lies a mile off Kildonan and is the haunt of seals, seabirds and some rarer migrant commuters.
 

Holy Isle
Arran has been continuously inhabited since the early Neolithic period and the fascinating Bronze Age remnants of the Machrie Moor Stone Circles and surrounding prehistoric burial cairns can be explored on the west coast of the island. From the 6th century onwards, the Irish Scots colonised the island and it became part of the Kingdom of Dalriada. During the troubled Viking Age, Arran became the property of the Norwegian crown before becoming formally absorbed by the kingdom of Scotland in the 13th century. The 19th century clearances led to significant depopulation and the end of the Gaelic language and way of life.
 
King’s Cave is a seafront cave near Blackwaterfoot which was formed where isostatic change resulted in a raised beach. Robert the Bruce is said to have sheltered here when returning to free Scotland from the English; the cave is also said to have been occupied by Fingal, Fionn MacCaul.
 

Brodick Castle
Brodick Castle played a prominent part in the island’s medieval history and is one of Scotland’s most battlescarred castles which has been rebuilt many times. The site of the ancestral seat of the Duke of Hamilton was a fortress even in Viking times. It was captured by English forces during the Wars of Independence before being taken back by Scottish troops in 1307. It was badly damaged by action from English ships in 1406 and sustained an attack by John of Islay, the Lord of the Isles in 1455. Originally a seat of the Clan Stewart of Menteith, ownership of the castle passed through various hands before it came into the possession of the Hamilton family in 1503. The castle is said to have several ghosts, the most benign figure usually seen in the library wearing breeches, a long green jacket and a powdered wig!
 
The walled garden at Brodick Castle dates from 1710 and has been restored as a Victorian garden; the woodland garden contains one of Europe’s finest collections of Rhododendrons. In the Country Park you can explore the 11 miles of waymarked trails among waterfalls, gorges and wildlife ponds. The castle and grounds, together with nearby Goat Fell are owned by the National Trust for Scotland.
 
Lochranza lies 2 miles southwest of the northern headland, the Cock of Arran, and is the largest settlement in the north of the island. Lochranza Castle is a romantic ruin on the tidal flats dating from the 13th century and is reputedly where Robert the Bruce landed on his return from Rathlin Island. Lochranza is also home to the only working distillery on Arran where you can enjoy a tour of the visitor centre and tasting of a wee dram.
 
Arran is renowned for its wildlife and many species are a common sight. Red deer are numerous on northern hills and there are populations of otter, red squirrels and badger. Offshore there are common seals, harbour porpoises, basking sharks and various species of dolphin. Over 200 species of birds have been recorded on the island including black guillemot, eider, peregrine falcon and golden eagle. The warm Gulf Stream gives Arran a rich and unusual plant life and nothing indicates the mild climate more than palm trees thriving outdoors.
 
Hebridean Princess is due to visit the Isle of Arran on the following cruises in 2017:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Prices from £1090 per person based on 2 people sharing an inside double/twin cabin.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Hebridean Looks Forward to 2017

Hebridean Island Cruises Limited, having just completed a successful management buyout, is once again an independently owned British cruise company and looking forward to a successful season ahead with the company’s flagship vessel, Hebridean Princess, returning to service in March after her annual refit.

Having successfully completed her dry dock during December, Hebridean Princess is now enjoying work being carried out on the upgrading of around one third of her cabins.

The first cruise of the 2017 season commences on 1st March when guests embark on the Clyde Island Explorer itinerary which includes some of the finest houses on the Clyde as well as Britain’s smallest cathedral and a mountainside botanic garden.

During 2017 Hebridean Princess will make a welcome return to Norway to explore the awe-inspiring fjords and islands between Stavanger and Bergen in a series of three stunning itineraries.  Hebridean has introduced a variety of new cruises in familiar cruising grounds off the west coast of Scotland, together with visits to the Gaelic neighbours of Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man and its 2017 calendar includes four fresh ‘Footloose’ walking itineraries. Further themed cruises have been specially designed for lovers of food and drink, history and heritage, golf, gardens, nature and wildlife.

Hebridean’s European River cruise programme includes new and exciting destinations all discovered from the comfort of Royal Crown and enriched by renowned guest speakers to bring each itinerary and the company will reveal the musical highlights of the Rhine, the flavours of the Danube and the architectural delights of the Main and Rhine.
 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Renowned Travel Writer Gary Buchanan Reviews Hebridean Princess for Cruise International Magazine


Renowned journalist Gary Buchanan has been a travel writer for over 22 years.  He is a specialist writer on cruise travel and has won several writing awards.  Gary is the author of 7 maritime books and former chairman of the British Guild of Travel Writers.  He is also a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and Fellow of the Institute of Tourism.
Hebridean Princess welcomed Gary on board during September 2016.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Melodies of the Rhine – Musical Highlights

Each of our genuinely fully-inclusive European River Cruises, on board Royal Crown, is accompanied by a renowned Guest Speaker chosen because they are passionate about their subject. 


Adrian Finnerty is a versatile musician and educator and as one of Hebridean's Guest Speakers he will explore a range of composers, musicians and musical works relating to the Rhine, and in particular, the cities we will visit on the Melodies of the Rhine cruise.

Adrian writes:

"The areas around the Rhine have been a veritable goldmine of musical inspiration throughout the centuries. It was home to one of the earliest known figures in the history of music, Hildegard of Bingen.  Abbess, author, mystic, writer, musician and medic, Hildegard was also one of the most influential medieval composers and one of the earliest named composers whose music has been preserved and is performed today.

During the eighteenth century, Mannheim was home to the Mannheim School of Composers, of which the leading figure was Johann Stamitz.  Introducing musical features, such as the Mannheim Crescendo and the Mannheim Rocket, Stamitz and his contemporaries exerted a huge influence on the development of the symphony.

One of the greatest composers of all time, Beethoven, was born in Bonn, making his first public appearance as a pianist there at the age of seven.  His grandfather was the Archbishop’s Kapellmeister and his father was a singer in the Kapelle of the Archbishop Elector of Cologne.  The young Beethoven became involved in the flourishing musical life of the court, playing the organ and the viola as well as teaching and composing.  Throughout his life Beethoven associated himself with the aristocracy, including Count Ferdinand von Waldstein to whom he later dedicated his ‘Waldstein’ Sonata.

Following in the musical footsteps of Beethoven, Brahms seemed to be the natural heir to the Classical tradition.  However, while his music does follow very much in the orderliness and discipline of the Classical style, it is essentially lyrical and Romantic in feeling.  During stays at his summer house in Baden-Baden Brahms worked on some of his most important compositions, including the first two Symphonies and the ‘German Requiem’.

Schumann composed his third Symphony, ‘Rhenish’, after a trip to the Rhineland with his wife, Clara. The solemn fourth movement was inspired by the installation of a cardinal at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Cologne.

Renowned as a highly respected seat of learning, Heidelberg university, founded in the 14th century, was also the setting for Sigmund Romberg’s operetta ‘The Student Prince’, immortalised in the 1954 film featuring the voice of Mario Lanza.

The Lorelei, a rock on the eastern bank of the Rhine, is associated with several legendary tales, poems and songs. Philipp Friedrich Silcher, a folksong collector and composer, wrote many songs of which his best-known is ‘Die Lorelei’. Several other composers were inspired to write songs based on the Lorelei legend, including Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt and even Gershwin.

The Rhine is also one of the settings for Wagner’s ‘Das Rheingold’, the first opera of his epic ‘Ring’ cylce. The story opens and ends underneath the Rhine, where three Rhinemaidens swim and protect a hoard of gold. The Rhine is indeed a musical goldmine flowing with melodies."

by Adrian Finnerty Royal Crown Guest Speaker

Prices from £2,880 per person

>> To read more about our Melodies of the Rhine click here.


Friday, 2 December 2016

To Sea Again - by John Noorani

Some of my favourite sights... 


There’s a rattle at the letterbox and a thump as a large white plasticised envelope hits the floor. It has a Skipton postmark, it can mean only one thing – a ‘fat lady’ beckons.

How to get to her – Queen Street tunnel is closed for electrification works with diversions via the Low Level and routes not normally served by passenger trains, I have got to make use of this opportunity.
 
It is Monday night, platform 1 at Euston, the 23:55 Sleeper to Edinburgh awaits the ‘Off’. I am comfortably tucked up in bed, there’s a slight lurch as the brakes release and the locomotive takes the strain. We’re off. We slow as we round the canted curve at Watford and stop at the station, then under way and into Watford Tunnel. It seems like only moments later we slow again, but it is daylight, a glance out of the window reveals distinctive buildings on the skyline, we are approaching Carstairs Junction. Now on the line to Edinburgh, breakfast arrives, next stop is Edinburgh Waverley, it is good to be back in Scotland. But I have an appointment in Oban, so a train via Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street Low Level, via the Annisland diversion is next.
 
The indicator board on the platform at Queen Street shows the next train is for Oban and Mallaig, that’s for me. We head east through Bellgrove to Cowlairs, then west, to Westerton, shortly the Clyde comes into view; at Craigendoran it’s north as we climb alongside Gare Loch, then Loch Long. There’s a puffer on the loch trailing black smoke – have we gone back in time?
 
We are past the stone signals in the Pass of Brander, no sign of the ospreys, now Loch Awe is on the right, I am almost there. As we run into Oban the view is blocked by lorries waiting for the Outer Isles – is she there? Walking across the ferry marshalling area, relief – there she is, one of Hall Russell’s three 1963 built ‘fat ladies’. Hebridean Princess has come to take me away from this ordinary world, what sights will she show me this time?
 
The formalities are complete, I have been summoned, it is time to walk up the gangway, and at the top familiar faces, Louise, Caz, Iain, Sergejs, Louis, Deniss, Doreen, too many to name, and not forgetting Angus playing the bagpipes. They welcome me back like an old friend and I am shown to my home for the duration.
 
It is 19:15, all the drills are complete. The Captain is on the Bridge Wing taking one last look at the pier, the crew are by the winches, the linesmen at the bollards. Captain rings ‘Slow Ahead’ on the Engine Room telegraph, and calls ‘Let Go For’ard’ then ‘Let Go Aft’. There is a roar, the Crossleys come to life, with a churning of water we’re off. We move sedately through Oban Bay, NLB vessel Pole Star is waiting close by, anxious for us to clear so she can berth. We pass the Hutcheson Memorial at the tip of Kerrera, Captain rings ‘Full Ahead’ on both engines, which immediately respond, followed shortly after by ‘Full Away’ and the engine tachometer goes up to 400 rpm – we’re cruising.
 
It is time for dinner in the Columba Restaurant; I am shown to my table and introduced to fellow guests, some of whom are old acquaintances. After an excellent meal we adjourn to the Tiree Lounge to discover what the programme is for tomorrow, will it be as scheduled, or changed because of weather?
 
We are in Bloody Bay to the north of Mull, the anchor is down, the land of nod calls, it is the end of the day and I fall asleep dreaming of what delights await.
 
I awake as it is getting light, a glance out of the porthole suggests it is going to be a sunny morning, but not yet, I can stay in bed another hour, it is only 4 o’clock, but it is not to be. The telephone rings, it is 1st Officer Caz from the Bridge, there is a large pod of dolphins around the ship. Within five minutes I am dressed and there, with camera at the ready, but there is not enough light and they are moving away so I watch them for half an hour. They are jumping clear of the water, and beating the surface with their tails, no doubt fishing. It is an excellent start but no pictures. Eventually they move off towards the open sea, it is time for a cup of tea.
 
Returning to the deck, the sun has just cleared the hills of Ardnamurchan and illuminating the detail of the cliffs of Mull. Time for photographs, but the quietness of the morning is disturbed by croaking ravens as they mob a buzzard on the moors – they are closer now, that is no buzzard, it is a golden eagle, and I haven’t got my telephoto lens. A couple of quick shots then a dash to the cabin for it. They are still there, and getting closer. The eagle is flying along the cliff, and lands amongst some bushes. We have anchored opposite the nest site!
 
It is 06:30, the anchor is being hauled, we’re off, past Ardnamurchan lighthouse and north. Through the Narrows at Kylerhea, with the last classic Scottish turntable ferry operated by the Glenelg Community, then on to the Skye Bridge.
 
Inverewe Garden holds a special treat, we are arriving at the pier in Loch Ewe, and the heron chicks are nearly half grown. With the telephoto I can get really close to them.
 
We are heading out into The Minch, there will be all the usual birds, but anything else? It is a flat sea, ideal for spotting Cetaceans. A quick word with Hotel Manager Iain, a Thermos flask of lunchtime soup is quickly arranged and I will stay up on the Bridge Wing. A black fin breaks the surface, then again, and again. It is a harbour porpoise. There are gannets diving ahead of us, must be a shoal of fish, but there is too much splashing.
 
Look closer, there are dolphins as well, breaching and twisting, thrashing the sea. We go within a hundred yards.
 
We are close to the Shiant Isles now, seabird numbers are huge. Then, as we cruise the cliffs there is a white-tailed sea-eagle, no two, three eventually four. The ship stops, we watch spellbound.
 
We arrive at Stornoway mid afternoon and a coach waits to take us to the Callanish Stones. We are virtually the only visitors. Why are these stones here, what were they for and who used them? Did they just serve the local inhabitants or did people travel over the sea, if so in what vessels? Even today The Minch can be treacherous, how much more so for the basic vessels they would have had? Where did they land – Loch Roag opens onto the Atlantic, did they walk across the island? We know the climate was milder then but even so it would have been a hazardous journey from the mainland – so many questions to speculate on. Now on to Dun Carloway Broch.
 
How was it used, without a water supply it could not withstand a siege, but it dominates the skyline and the stonework is exquisite. What did the inhabitants make of the Callanish Stones, two thousand years older than the Broch, or had the peat engulfed them by then? So much to think about.
 
Leaving Stornoway we head north, Orkney bound. There is more of a swell on the sea, nothing the ship cannot handle, after all she was built for these waters. One marvels at the judgement of fulmars and Manx shearwaters as they twist and turn, skimming but not touching, the ever changing surface of the sea. Off Cape Wrath the water appears to be boiling as the different currents meet, well named one thinks, then remember that Wrath has its origins in Norse for ‘Turning Point’, so a coincidence.
 
It is a misty day in Scapa Flow with intermittent drizzle. We are off Hoxa Head, the Pilot points and says ‘there’s a fin’. We look. There are more than one, and too big for a dolphin, could it be – yes it is, a pod of orca. We slow, they are unperturbed by us. There are five, two with distinctive fins. We watch for twenty minutes, and many pictures are taken.
  
The pod is later identified as regular travellers between Iceland and the west coast of Scotland, of the two with distinctive fins, one was first seen in 1999, the other is believed to be her offspring.

We are going ashore again. I have been travelling around the Highlands and Islands for the past 50 years, this is an important day as it is rare now that I set foot on an island I have not been to before. Although now uninhabited, unlike many Scottish islands this abandonment was relatively recent, in 1962. Although only 2 miles north of John O’Groats on the Scottish mainland, the strong currents of the Pentland Firth made this a very dangerous crossing, resulting in the islanders frequently being cut off. Welcome to Stroma. With great skill the ship is anchored, the Hardys are launched and we are off to explore this ‘time capsule’ and its wildlife.
We are back at sea, very misty with a disturbed surface. Is it worth staying outside - wait what is that grey shape, it is not a wave. The camera is on it. It’s a minke whale which launches itself into the air. Yes, I will stay outside.

And so our journey comes to an end. What sights I have seen, what memories I will take away. My lovely ‘fat lady’ has done me proud. But she is part of a bigger team, the Captain, the deck officers, the Chief Purser and team, the housekeeping and waiting staff and the boat crew. Equally important but unseen are the Chief Engineer and his officers and crew, the chefs and kitchen staff. Then there is Ken, Jonathan and the Skipton team, to whom all sorts of vital tasks fall. My thanks to you all.
 
I am now back home waiting for another plasticised envelope and the summons from my favourite ‘fat lady’ to come and join her on another adventure. Until then I will have to be content with my pictures and memories.
 
Note: Whilst all the events were recorded on Hebridean Princess cruises, they do not come from the same trip.

By John Noorani 
All photographs by the author

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Come and see us at various London cruise shows


During the early part of 2017 Hebridean Island Cruises will be attending some of the UK’s biggest cruise and travel shows.

Come along and meet our experienced team and have your questions answered face to face – we’d love to see you…

Save and book with exclusive show only deals, speak to impartial industry experts, meet your favourite Telegraph cruise writers and listen to talks in our Cruise Experts Theatre,
plus gain free entry into The Telegraph Travel Show and the London Boat Show.

Whether you prefer luxury indulgence on the high seas or exploring the meanders of a river cruise, The Telegraph Cruise Show showcases the best travel deals, holiday ideas and cultural experiences from every corner of the globe.

 

Packed with hundreds of leading and independent tour operators, over 70 tourist boards from across the globe, cultural entertainment, world flavours, travel celebrities and more Destinations: The Holiday & Travel Show is the UK's biggest and longest-running travel show. Taking place at Olympia London, 2 - 5 February 2017, the Destinations Show is the essential event for travel inspiration and is a brilliant opportunity to indulge your passion for travelling.

 

Start your next voyage at the CRUISE Show to uncover the hottest new destinations and latest trends from the world of cruise travel. Whether its the larger resort-style ships that appeal, or maybe the smaller more intimate vessels catering for only 50 guests, begin by talking to our exhibitors, cruise experts and journalists who will be on hand to share all they know and help you plan the holiday of a lifetime.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Read our 2016 Cruise Logs

Although the 2016 season has drawn to a close and Hebridean Princess has returned to her winter home in Greenock on the Clyde for her annual re-fit, you can still read all the Cruise Logs from this years cruises on our website.
Our Cruise Logs are a day by day account from life on board Hebridean Princess as each itinerary unfolds, illustrated with images of the stunning Scottish scenery, the remote destinations which we visit and life on board and ashore. They take you on a virtual voyage of relaxation and discovery; for guests who have cruised with us this year they will serve as an online diary and pictorial reminder of their holiday among the Highlands and Islands; for those of you who are considering your first holiday with Hebridean Island Cruises, they will give a real insight to life on board our unique, small ship.
 
 Highlights from the 2016 Cruise Logs include our first ever Whisky tasting cruise, Spirit of Scotland, in the company of renowned guest speaker and author Charles MacLean; a royal encounter with HRH Prince Charles in Wick during our Nordic Outposts cruise; several landings on Fair Isle during our summer cruises to the northernmost outposts of Orkney and Shetland; friendly seals alongside the jetty in Gairloch during our voyage Westward to Harris and Lewis in September and an unexpected trip to Northern Ireland during Captain Bailey’s Autumn Surprise cruise in October.
Our Cruise Logs will re-commence in March 2017 when Hebridean Princess sets sail from Greenock to explore the lochs and islands of the Clyde estuary, before heading north to her home port of Oban on Scotland’s scenic west coast and the Hebridean Islands which have become her familiar territory over the last 28 years.

 
 
It is of the utmost importance to us that all our guests enjoy their holidays with us and we welcome your feedback. If you would like to contribute to our Cruise Logs please send your pictures to us by email at reservations@hebridean.co.uk or upload them to our Facebook page facebook.com/Hebridean