Saturday on Hebridean Princess started with a walk. It had to really, the ‘Flavours of Scotland’ cruise is proving as indulgent as its name suggests, calories sneaking into our cupboards and stitching our clothes tighter each night while we sailed. A walk was the only way to negate some of the damage and our seven miles along the coast of the Isle of Raasay certainly did the trick.
Having taken the hardy boats Sanda and Shona to the pier, most of Hebridean Princess’s guests strolled up the hill to Raasay House. The 18th century clan mansion has impressive views across the loch and towards the Isle of Skye, but our trio had already made a plan to put our pretty lacklustre orienteering skills to good use and follow the map towards Eyre Point. It was a decent walk for the three of us, through tiny rural villages banning football on Sundays and with some stop-you-in-your-tracks views across the water. The weather wasn’t playing fair but that caused the clouds to filter the sunlight so that it shone in patches of silver on the water and lit the clouds from within on the mountain peaks.
The road led us past plenty of honesty boxes, some offering a dozen eggs, others cakes and bakes. Which came first you wonder, those honest eggs presumably becoming part of the honest home baking. We passed the old pier, now gated, and a boat repair show, now closed. Further along were the Raasay Mines, scheduled to go into full production in 1914 but left deserted when 36 of the island’s men were called to fight in World War I, nobody left behind to man the mines that in turn went to ruin. We turned back at Eyre Point, opting out of a planned return route that scrambled over the hillsides in terrain more befitting of waders than skinny jeans. We made it back to the last hardy boat with a minute to spare, riding on the waves of the CalMac Ferry on our return to the ship.
Lunch in the Columba restaurant was fish and chips with mushy peas, followed by Eton Mess. We kidded ourselves into thinking that we had burned more than enough calories on our walk to allow for it.
Hebridean Princess cruised the coast of Skye for a couple of hours, sailing beneath the Skye Bridge and docking in Kyle. Shock and awe at seeing a Spar and Co-Op confirmed that I’d become quickly accustomed to life on these little isles. After a walk around the town, we were whisked away to Eilean Donan Castle, the second-most photographed castle in Scotland and one which film buffs will recognise from Highlander and James Bond’s The World is not Enough. After an introduction from a rosy-cheeked gent whose cheery disposition shone through the drizzle, we entered Eilean Donan Castle as the McRae and Fraser clans had done for centuries. Inside were regaled with stories of Spanish occupation overthrown by the Royal Navy and several hundred canon balls, some of which had survived the bombardment and were there to hold if you liked. The kilt-clad guides had historical knowledge as good as their sense of humour and it was interesting to hear that the castle had lay in ruin for more than 200 years, until the McRae family rebuilt it in the early 1920s. They still celebrate weddings and holiday there today, in an area squirrelled away from the visitors, though personal family photographs of celebrations and time spent at the castle are shared throughout its rooms. I couldn’t help thinking how exciting it must be to spend your childhood school holidays in a real Scottish castle, although you would presume that a little PlayStation time now interrupts days running around the ramparts.
Dinner came and went, more food, more wine, more raucous laughter from the Captain’s Table, before it was on to the Tiree Lounge for quiz night. Now, I think we can all agree that nothing invokes our competitive spirit quite like a pub quiz. There’s always the Googler and the shouter-outer, no quiz is the same without them, and there’s always a scowl or two at the end when the wining team rejoices, especially when the Captain told them the answer to the tie-breaker at dinner…