There’s no better way to experience the Inner Hebrides than in the company of whales and dolphins, writes Kirsty McLuckie
There are many ways to tour the west coast of Scotland, but on a converted fishing boat, with luxurious en suite cabins, a top-class chef and among convivial company must surely be among the most relaxing. The Majestic Line has two vessels capable of providing such an experience, the Glen Tarsan and the Glen Massan, operating out of Oban and Dunoon, which offer a range of three or six-day cruises around the Clyde islands or the Inner Hebrides.
The Majestic Line’s name comes from a fictitious shipping company mentioned in Para Handy; a boat with a golden funnel that was the last word in luxury. It may be a figment of a sacked crew member’s imagination, but it is a good description of this beautiful vessel.
The enjoyment of some cruises must depend on your fellow passengers. With a group of around ten on The Majestic Line, this consideration could be more acute, but perhaps people who choose such a holiday are self selectingly friendly; certainly our fellow passengers were active, interesting and jolly good company, not to mention being expert bird spotters and demon Scrabble players. The layout of the boat means there are places to be sociable or not; there are quiet decks to sit out of the wind and take in the scenery or you can chat with the captain and enjoy panoramic views from the wheelhouse.
The atmosphere on board is relaxed, informal and very friendly. The boat has a crew of four, each with a multitude of talents, from the captain’s wealth of knowledge and his ability to follow the best weather to the Canadian chef’s gentle humour and delicious food prepared in a galley kitchen. Alastair the engineer has a capacity to manage on shore visits so no one else got their feet wet, an exhaustive knowledge of the nightly cheese board and fine handling of a guitar. The boatswain, Jacqueline, kept us topped up with food and drinks and the cabins immaculate. When coaxed she revealed a fabulous voice for traditional Scottish songs.
We boarded in Oban and that first afternoon, after a safety briefing, we set off smartly as bad weather was forecast and the captain wanted to get us into the harbour of Tobermory on Mull. The trip we joined, The Heritage and Wildlife of Mull and Glencoe, crosses and recrosses the sound of Mull, Lochs Sunart, Linnhe, Leven, and the Firth of Lorne with stops at islands in between. The captain consults with the passengers as to their wishes each day and heads for the best place so there is no set itinerary, but the chance to see the best of what is on offer at the time. If whales and dolphins are around, he will head for them, pointing out seabirds along the way. There are plenty of opportunities to explore on shore too, with excursions ranging from visits to pretty coastal villages, ruined castles, historic houses, famous gardens and hill walking.
On our first night, anchored off Tobermory, it struck me that many of Scotland’s west coast towns, like sheep, are at their best seen at a distance and not just because from our position on the boat we were out of the range of the midge. Being 200 metres from a beautiful town like Tobermory, with its colourful houses and dramatic backdrop laid out before you is surely the best vantage point. We dined on seafood, looking out on to the twinkling lights of the boats and houses in the harbour.
We got closer the next morning. After a breakfast of porridge, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, those who were feeling energetic were dropped off for a two-mile walk on a pretty woodland path past waterfalls, nesting birds and budding trees. The others were taken to town directly to browse the gift shops until we joined them and headed back on board to set off to have lunch in Loch Sunart which splits Ardnamurchan from Morven. A wall-mounted satellite map in the main saloon shows where you are at any given point so you can get a real feel for the topograghy.
On shore in Strontian later that day, we were caught out by the weather which for the most part had been kind with sunshine and light showers. Sheltering beside a tree at the side of the road as hailstones came at us horizontally, wearing life jackets, must have looked odd to the locals, but they waved cheerfully as we walked on. It was the same the next day as we walkers made our way down the length of the beautiful island of Lismore. No one batted an eye as we knocked on doors to ask for directions; they must be used to boaty folk turning up out of the blue. We found the path eventually and didn’t have to take the farmer’s advice to just stop any car at all if we needed a lift.
The last night was spent in shelter offshore the town of Glen Coe. It had been a bit of a dreich evening, so awaking in the morning to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine, feeling right at the centre of the thrilling range of mountains rising precipitously out of the sea was breathtaking. As we sat on deck in the sun to motor to our drop-off point, I was genuinely disappointed to be leaving life on board, the total relaxation of every whim catered for, ever-changing scenery and days peppered with the minor excitements of the excursions. It is a totally stress-free holiday. As one of my fellow passengers joked on being asked to post his wife’s postcards during a walk: “Oh no. Not more pressure.”
The Majestic Line offers a choice of seven six-night cruise itineraries and one three-night itinerary sailing out of Oban from April to October to the Isles of Skye, Mull, Colonsay and Gigha. Cruises also go inland to Glencoe, Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal.
The cost of a six-night cruise is £1,830 per person including all meals and wine with dinner. The cost of a three-night cruise is £965. Two double cabins are reserved on each cruise for solo travellers at no supplement; this is also ideal for groups of three or five people.
For further information visit www.themajesticline.co.uk