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Discovering Scotland’s Treasures: Western Isles

Partly inspired by the small luxury motor yachts of yore, but as tough as the two converted Scottish fishing trawlers that are her Majestic Line sister vessels, the Glen Etive is a pretty, 12-passenger ship that cruises the seaways of the Western Isles on round-trips from Oban. These are some of the most beautiful and beguiling waters in the world, a theatre of dazzling scenery, and rich in marine life and birds: sea eagles, eider duck and oystereatchers. Each of the 10 days brought the chance of a trip ashore, first stop was to the bars of Tobermory on Mull. A town as sweet as its name, the reflections of its primary-coloured, harbour-front houses wavered in the water as a music festival had the town jumping; we jumped too, to fiddles and accordions playing a swirling jig.scotland-castle

On the mainland we visited the 13th-century castle of Eilean Donan and the remote community of Knoydart, reachable only by boat from Mallaig (or an arduous 17-mile hike from the nearest road).

The Old Forge is the only pub I have seen that has a shower as well as the usual conveniences. The dramatic combination of sun-hail-wind was a perfect frame for this strange, evocative place. But the Glen Etive has been designed with a special objective: the wild island of St Kilda out in the Atlantic. Everything in these waters depends upon the weather and even though the ship has stabilisers to minimise the rolling and reeling through the swells, we didn’t make it. The weather gods have their own schedules and so, for now, it remains a grail.

Accommodation on board is not spacious – small double cabins with en suite bathrooms -but it is comfortable and you spend little time there anyway. Guests are free to join the captain on the bridge when the ship is underway, to watch the islands and the snowy heads of the great mountains glide by. Passengers tend to be repeat bookings, often retired, and on my voyage all accomplished -writers, academics, a judge – so conversation was rich and varied in the dining room and saloon-cum-library on the main deck. The four-person crew were entirely adept at making the cruise feel like a shared adventure.

Island of St Kilda
Island of St Kilda

The star turn was chef Michael Weirwhose little galley turned out feast after feast made from fresh catches and local produce (he obviously enjoyed obtaining provisions as much as cooking them, one day trading a bottle of Bells for local langous tines which are normally flown to Ffance). The lamb was amazing. Those lemon carrots! Even the breakfast porridge came perfectly served with an optional glass of Jura whisky. No one added it, but there it was, every morning, just in case. You really need no intoxicants on this ship. If you have a pair of binoculars, a good book to read, or perhaps even one to write, then the feeling that travels with you on Glen Etive is that you want for nothing at all.

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