Sailing the Scottish Highlands with Fred.Olsen
Sitting in a hot tub in the pouring rain may seem a bit odd - but when you are on a ship's deck sailing through the highlands of Scotland it's an experience not to be missed.
It might be the height of summer, but everyone knows you don’t go North of the border without a raincoat and brolly.
So, when we joined the Fred. Olsen cruise ship, Black Watch, at the Port of Rosyth near Edinburgh, we were well prepared for our scenic tour.
But, as it happens luck was on our side and we only got soaked twice - well three times if you count the hot tub.
Our first port of call was Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands, where flat open moorland stretches for miles in all directions. There are few trees on the islands because they cannot survive the harsh winters.
We headed on a tour to Skara Brae, an ancient site where the remains of a prehistoric village are proudly displayed, along with a replica construction of how the houses would have looked inside.
Although a rewarding visit in itself, Skara Brae stands above one of the most beautiful coastlines I have ever seen, it was a pull to drag myself away, but there was lots to pack into the visit.
Next stop was the Ring of Brodgar, one of the finest examples of stone circles in the world and, as our guide was understandably eager to point out, is older than Stonehenge. Originally more than 60 stones once stood and now only 27 remain, but they are well worth a visit.
Our next port of call was Invergordon - now what to do when you have been to Loch Ness several times? I decided to let my husband choose and found myself enroute to the Glenmorangie Distillery.
Donald our tour guide in his Macdonald tartan trousers - I asked he wasn’t called Donald Macdonald - insisted we learn how to pronouce Glenmorangie. It is Glen-morangie (as in the colour orange) not Glenmor-angie (as in a girl’s name), everyday’s a schoolday.
The distillery is set in beautiful surroundings and, although not a whisky drinker myself, the tour was really interesting and very informative, with a ‘wee dram’ to round it off with.
The tour then headed for the nearby gorgeous little town of Dornoch. Here in this picture-postcard place we took a look around the 13th century Dornoch Cathedral, the most northerly cathedral on the mainland of Great Britain, which was small, but absolutely stunning.
I would have liked a little longer in Dornoch, but the Black Watch beckoned.
There were a number of tours to choose from at the next pretty port of Ullapool, but we opted from Inverewe Gardens with a quick stop at Corrieshalloch Gorge.
The gorge, a mile-long box canyon, leads to the Falls of Measach, and is quite a spectacular sight and Inverewe Gardens is a paradise for plant lovers.
Ullapool itself is a gorgeous place, which I hope to return to one day.
Fort William was the next day’s stop and it was here I learned a valuable lesson for cruise life - book your tours well in advance.
We were hoping to go on the Jacobite steam train - as seen in the Harry Potter films - but sadly the tour was fully booked.
Instead we headed into Fort William where there were posters up welcoming the passengers and crew from Black Watch and the locals had even arranged entertainment of Scottish dancers and bagpipe players.
Our final destination was the Isle of Skye and there are no words to do justice to it’s breathtaking beauty. We disembarked at Portree, a gorgeous town, and took the bus to the Waternish Peninsula, taking in some of the most inspiring views.
Our tour guide said around 10,000 people actually live on the island, but tourists boost the number to 60,000 during the summer months and its easy to see why.
The final day on Black Watch was spent sailing, making our way back to Rosyth.
Carrying up to 804 passengers, Black Watch is one of the smaller cruise ships in the Fred. Olsen fleet and would be a great place to start for any first-time cruiser.
The atmosphere on board was unbelieveably friendly and by the end of the cruise big groups of people could be heard saying their goodbyes to new found friends.
Although mainly aimed at the more mature traveller, the average age of passengers on our voyage was 68, there was also a mix of families, with a few children, couples and a lot of solo travellers. Every one of them seemed to be having a fabulous time.
Fred. Olsen boast a high rate of return passengers and some are so familiar to the crew they even bring them Christmas presents and cards. And, it is thoroughly well deserved because the crew members are amazing, absolutely nothing is a bother for them and they genuinely take great pride and pleasure in seeing happy passengers enjoying their well-earned holiday.
And, then there’s the food. The cuisine on board a Fred. Olsen ships is amazing. As a vegetarian I was worried it would be limited, but that was certainly not the case. They cater for all tastes and if you want something that’s not on the menu, just ask and they will do their very best to provide it.
A similar cruise with Fred. Olsen will be a seven-night ‘Lochs of Scotland’ cruise on board Black Watch, departing from Liverpool on 11th June 2018, with ports of call including Fort William, Black Watch then calls at Stornoway, Invergordon and Kirkwall.
Prices currently start from £999 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room.
For further information on Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com.