Some may say that it is the little things that make us smile…rainbows, baby animals, cheese. Fortunately for me, all three factored into Thursday, my third day on Hebridean Princess.
The morning began in Balamory, or rather Tobermory, although most know it as the former. The toy box town served as the setting for the children’s TV programme back in the early 2000s and hasn’t quite lived it down ever since.
The sun was shining when we arrived but it barely mattered, as the paint box houses here could brighten even the most grey of Scottish skies. The harbour was very pretty but we were on the Isle of Mull for one very special reason; a private tour of the Isle of Mull Cheese Farm.
Now, cheese. You either love it or, well, really love it. I love it and our visit to the cheese farm was what I expected would be one of the highlights of Hebridean Island Cruises’ ‘Flavours of Scotland’ itinerary. It didn’t disappoint. Arriving into a country garden conservatory, the samples started flowing immediately. We were off to a good start.
The Isle of Mull Cheese Farm is family owned and ships around the world but sells only in Waitrose in the UK. We were lucky enough to see the whole process from start to finish, with an opportunity to sample the finished goods at both the beginning and end. If standing in a storeroom lined floor-to-ceiling with stinky cheese wasn’t heaven enough, we then had a chance to meet the farm’s young calves. It is safe to say that I shunned veal at dinner tonight and probably shall for the foreseeable future.
Back on board, lunch thankfully wasn’t steak but a West Coast salmon seafood buffet. It was a fantastic spread, as my Nan likes to describe any meal in many dishes. Two enormous, cucumber covered salmon were carved as you liked by the ever-charming Chief Purser, Dave, piled on your plate with smoked salmon, oysters, langoustines and the obligatory greenery.
After dinner, we spotted rainbows dip down into the water as we cruised the coastline on route to Canna. Now, for as much as Scotland is stunningly beautiful, it is also an unpredictable so-and-so when it comes to the weather. Whilst the sun continued to shine, the wind whipped up around us and created a swell large enough to stop us anchoring in Canna. Apparently, dropping anchor could cause the ship to list, which nobody wants to endure on a stomach full of salmon. And so we carried on making our lovely scenic way along the coast.
On Friday, Hebridean Princess arrived at the Isle of Skye, where we were off bright and early to explore Dunvegan Castle and its gardens. The castle was great and the gardens gorgeous, particular the walled garden, but given that this is the ‘Flavours of Scotland’ sailing, it was lunch at a rather special restaurant which was to be the main event of the day, if not the week.
The Three Chimneys was recognised as The Good Food Guide 2018 Editor’s Choice for ‘UK Restaurant of the Year’ and it did not disappoint. It’s position overlooking the loch is jaw-dropping, the seals reclining on the surrounding rocks only adding to the overall effect. The restaurant itself is small but very smart, the service almost as attentive as that we had become accustomed to in the Columba restaurant on Hebridean Princess. Almost.
After assorted breads served with seaweed and woodruff herb butters, it was on to starters. I opted for smoked haddock ravioli with a smoked sea dashi and quail egg – delicious! Main course was Skye lamb three ways, dished up with my first ever haggis experience. It was fantastic, one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, although my tablemate’s roasted Mallaig hake did provoke some pretty hefty food envy. Last but not least, we tucked into homemade dark chocolates and a block of fudge; mmm-mmm! With our bellies full and all in need of a little snooze, we drove a scenic 20 minutes back to the castle, where Sanda the boat was waiting to whisk us back to the ship.
It was strangely quiet back on board, presumably as most were sleeping off lunch in their cabins. The Tiree Lounge was as peaceful as ever, the roaring ‘fire’ and free-flowing brews cosying us up as the cold wind blew outside. Four hours of cruising along the coast of Skye followed, rolling scenery of green hills and white lighthouses, broken up only by a Molton Brown bubble bath and yet more food. And that is what I call a Friday!