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

 


Friday, 18 November 2016

New Guest Speaker: Joanna Macpherson

Historic Castles and Glorious Gardens - Tuesday 20th to Tuesday 27th June 2017

Scotland boasts an abundance of castles and the Hebrides are no exception. Several islands of the Inner Hebrides are home to fascinating structures dating back many centuries.

Scottish gardens are a delight to visit at any time of the year and are famous for their clear air and profuse flowers.  The west coast of Scotland is influenced by the Gulf Stream giving milder temperatures which enable great displays in spring and early summer of rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias.

We are delighted to announce that Joanna Macpherson, star of the recent BBC Scotland series Lady Lairds, will be joining this cruise as guest speaker.  

Joanna moved to her family’s estate, Attadale on the shores of Loch Carron in Wester Ross, 4 years ago taking her husband Alec Cormack with her.  They had both lived and worked in London until then.  Attadale had belonged to her grandfather so she has always spent holidays there since a baby.

Having studied History and Russian at university, she ended up in magazine publishing in London, working on a wide variety of titles from Classic Cars Magazine to Flight International and finally running the advertising sales on both The English Garden and The English Home magazines.  This proved a useful training ground for ending up in the Highlands of Scotland attempting to help run a large estate with a 20 acre garden, four holiday cottages and approximately 30,000 acres, mostly wild country, including two Munros and a lot of red deer.

Attadale Gardens play host to one of the visits on this cruise.  Started by Baron Schroder in the late 19th century, hill paths meander through 20 acres of conifers and rhododendrons. Totally transformed after the 1980 storms by owner Nicky Macpherson, Joanna’s mother, it is an artist’s garden designed to frame the magnificent views of Skye and the surrounding hills. 

Joanna will give us an insight into the running of the Attadale Estate, the making of the Lady Lairds documentary and the organisation ‘Discover Scottish Gardens’, a network of gardens which have come together to promote their rich diversity, a number of which we will visit on this cruise.

>> READ MORE ABOUT THIS CRUISE

Historic Castles and Glorious Gardens
Departing from Oban 
20th June to 27th June 2017

Prices from £3,995 per person based on 2 people sharing an inside double/twin cabin

Friday, 11 November 2016

An insight into river cruising on board Royal Crown

2016 marks the fifth year of operation for Hebridean River Cruises on board Royal Crown.  During this time I have seen many pictures of the vessel in our brochures and in photographs taken by our guests and crew, however until now I had not seen the ship in her full glory. 

I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to take a familiarisation visit to the ship and join the Flavours of the Rhine, Moselle and Saar cruise in July this year.  I thought I knew what to expect of the ship but what I was not prepared for was the similarity between this vessel and our very own Hebridean Princess.  Both ships have a similar traditional style with gleaming brass and polished wood panelling in abundance, both exude the same relaxed, friendly ambience and warm welcome.  They are comparable also in the small number of guests they carry and the all-inclusive nature of the cruises.

Hebridean’s legendary standards of care, service and attention to detail also extends to the river cruises with all itineraries including accompanied travel to and from the ship by air from London Heathrow or, on selected cruises, by Eurostar from London St Pancras. 

Our experience began with a very warm welcome at Heathrow airport from Hebridean Princess Chief Purser David Indge who was acting as Hebridean Host for our cruise, and lunch at the Gordon Ramsay Plane Food restaurant prior to boarding our British Airways flight to Amsterdam.

On arrival at Amsterdam we were met by our local guides and escorted to the coach for the transfer to the ship which was berthed right in the centre of the city, opposite the Central train station.  We were welcomed on board by our Cruise Director, Sheila Salmon.  Sheila has many years of experience sailing the rivers of Europe, is multi-lingual and makes sure that everything happens as and when it should!  We were shown to our cabin and our luggage was delivered minutes later by members of the ship’s crew for whom nothing was too much trouble and everything was delivered with a smile.

Once we had settled in to our cabin we made our way to The Lounge for a cup of afternoon tea, or something a little stronger if preferred!  After exploring the ship it was time to freshen up for dinner and, following an introductory talk by our Hebridean Host Dave Indge and a safety briefing by the Captain, we experienced our first taste of Royal Crown cuisine at dinner.

In contrast to Hebridean Princess, there are no tables for 2 on board Royal Crown but a free seating policy and tables for 6 or 8 makes for a very friendly and sociable atmosphere at meal times with all guests, and the Hebridean Rivers team, getting to know each other and share tales of previous cruise experiences.  The cuisine, however, was redolent of that on Hebridean Princess, with beautifully prepared and tasty dishes delivered with very efficient service, and the portion sizes neither too big or too small. 

There are 3 grades of cabins on board Royal Crown arranged over 2 decks.  The Royal Suites are located on the same deck as the public areas and feature large picture windows and a seating area, the Premium and Deluxe cabins are on the deck below and have twin portholes.  All the cabins are well appointed with en suite shower rooms, cleverly designed to make the most of the available space and enhanced with Hebridean slippers, bathrobes and Molton Brown toiletries.


During our cruise we were blessed with lots of sunny weather and blue skies so the social hub of the ship was the large Sun Deck which had ample space for all guests to relax and enjoy the superb scenery as we gently cruised along.  The ever-smiling crew were always on hand to provide us with liquid refreshments whenever we required them and one lunch time we enjoyed a fabulous deck barbecue.

Our days seemed to strike a perfect balance of tranquil cruising and visits to picturesque towns and cities with knowledgeable local guides to point out the highlights and regale us with historic tales.  In keeping with the theme of the cruise many of our visits were food and drink related and we tasted cheese in Edam, beer and chocolate in Cologne and wine and mustard on the Moselle!

Our Guest Speaker France Bissell revealed her passion for food at a series of 3 lectures during the cruise which were very well received, and she was even kind enough to share a selection of her own recipes in booklets which were a lovely memento of the cruise.  I, for one, cannot wait to get cooking!

Entertainment on board is provided by Hebridean’s Musician, Will Marshall, who plays the piano before and after dinner,  plays in the Haggis at the Farewell Gala Dinner on his accordion and also performs Robert Burns’ Address to the Haggis.  Will also tested our little grey cells with a quiz and ‘Call My Bluff’ which brought out the competitive spirit in some of us.

Royal Crown is a lovely ship with a very happy and efficient crew, and a river cruise is an excellent way to visit some of the most scenic and off the beaten track parts of Europe.  Add to this a little touch of Hebridean magic and I am sure you will agree that a Hebridean River Cruise most certainly is the relaxing way to cruise.

By Louise Pratt - Sales Consultant

Friday, 28 October 2016

Latest Offers

This year has been another hugely successful season for Hebridean Princess, with high levels of occupancy and 99.75% of guests telling us that they had an enjoyable holiday; 97% have also told us that they would consider cruising with us again in the future.  This is a huge testament to the high levels of service and attention to detail on which Hebridean prides itself.

For those wishing to explore further afield, our 2017 European River Cruise Collection on board Royal Crown, takes us to the Dutch and Belgian Waterways, the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers where you will be assured of being looked after in true Hebridean style.

Just as in 2016, we expect demand for our 2017 itineraries to be high and therefore early bookings is highly recommended.

For our latest offers please select the link below:


To reserve your cabin please call our experienced reservations team, Jonathan, Lisa, Louise or Abigail on 01756 704704 – they will ensure your cruise gets off the best possible start.

We very much look forward to welcoming you on board either Hebridean Princess or Royal Crown in 2017.

Yours sincerely

Ken Charleson - Chief Operating Officer

RNLI Presentation Plaque

During the evening of 26th October, Captain Bailey was presented with a plaque by guest Mrs Willoughby, a volunteer for the RNLI at Tighnabruaich. The plaque was presented in appreciation of donations made to the RNLI as a result of fund raising events held on board Hebridean Princess.

Pictured below are Captain Trevor Bailey and Mrs Willoughby.