As another Bank Holiday sails past, it’s fair to say that we’re thinking about all the places we’ll go once a sense of normality begins to resume. Some of our future holiday plans are big, bucket-list trips, but we’re more keen than ever to explore closer to home too. In the name of living vicariously through past travels, we’re reminiscing about our week spent tootling around the Inner Hebrides with Hebridean Cruises. No other ship knows these fair isles quite like the Hebridean Princess and if a Highland fling has piqued your interest post-lockdown, you’ll be in good – some might say regal – company, as Into The Blue editor, Rebecca Martin, discovered.
An Island Fling on Hebridean Princess: Part One
I’m on Hebridean Princess, Her Majesty the Queen’s ship of choice, spending a whole week eating and drinking my way around Scotland’s western isles on the ‘Flavours of Scotland’ itinerary. I know, I’m a lucky girl. Although, if it’s any consolation, the weather is quite grey.
As far as Wednesdays go, it’s been a good one. A dolphin welcome started things off well, as they tend to, as did an early liquid lunch at the Bruichladdich Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Then there was lunch – grilled mackerel, followed by a raspberry sponge pudding and crème anglaise, eaten in the Columba restaurant with Scottish islets passing by. With the day already a winner, oyster and honey tasting in the tiny village of Scalasaig, Colonsay (we’d done a hop-skip-and-jump to another island by now) proved to be the icing on the cake.
Hebridean Princess holds just 50 guests, 49 if you bear in mind the fact that I may stay here for the foreseeable future if I can get away with it. The Queen has chartered the ship twice for celebratory sailings around the Scottish isles and coast, but the rest of the time it hosts those of us who like their cruises a little different. With 38 crew to only marginally more guests, satisfaction is guaranteed when it comes to service. I have been on board less than two hours when already everybody knows my name, how I like my coffee and that I’m terrible at packing a suitcase; thank you again to the housekeeper who kindly donated a packet of Simple skincare wipes to replace the ones languishing on my kitchen worktop at home.
If I were to describe my experience since embarking Hebridean Princess in Oban last night, I’d say ‘so far, so Scottish’. Many of the crew are Scottish, tweed and tartan abounds in the lounge, and there’s a wee dram in your morning porridge, should you want it. I’m 97% sure the ship runs on whisky.
Hebridean Princess started life as a hideaway for the Scottish government, intended to whisk away the ‘very important people’ in case of a nuclear war. Fortunately, it was never required to serve such a purpose, instead becoming a car ferry. Less James Bond indeed, but a necessity round these remote parts. Then, just over 20 years ago, it underwent a hefty transformation and became the Hebridean Princess myself and 49 more guests have made themselves at home on.
It’s billed as a floating country house and, whilst there is a distinct lack of sprawling gardens usually associated with such estates, it certainly ticks all the other boxes. My cabin – the Isle of Coll – could certainly be classed as stately. The country pursuit themed upholstery and flickering fire in the Tiree Lounge wouldn’t look out of place in a Scottish castle, along with the exposed brickwork and beams. If it wasn’t for the islands and islets passing by the window, with the odd appearance from dolphins, seals and seabirds, you could quite easily think you were squirrelled away in a stately home in the Scottish Highlands. Only the scenery changes here. The two islands we have seen today have been beautiful, bettered only by a little sunshine. If you have long-held hopes of visiting Scotland and its islands, this is the way to do it.
Local produce is a big deal to Hebridean Island Cruises. The ‘Flavours of Scotland’ itinerary focuses on food, funnily enough, and in the space of a day I have visited the distillery behind some of the whisky on board and met the beekeeper behind the honey used at breakfast. He helps out with the oysters too, switching between the two on a rotation governed by the Scottish seasons. Tomorrow we’ll visit a cheese farm, before walking off our dairy indulgences on the Isle of Mull. I like Scotland already.
Find out more about our time on board Hebridean Princess below…