Places to Visit in Scotland
- A Truly Noble Cruise Around Scottish Islands



Introduction
The itinerary for the Britain in Bloom cruise, circumnavigating Scotland, reads like an epic seafaring adventure. Perhaps not in the footsteps of Shackleton to the South Pole, but an exciting journey nonetheless. The raw, rugged coastline and wild, unspoilt islands of the west coast are best explored by sea. This island hopping cruise from Edinburgh visits Orkney, the Summer Isles, Skye, Staffa, Iona, Islay and Gigha on board the MS Andrea (pictured above), a small Arctic Expedition ship, which, like a private yacht, can navigate narrow inlets and shallow hidden bays.

Travel writer Vivien Devlin went along to sample what Scotland's northern and western isles have to offer.

Orkney


Our first port of call is Kirkwall, Orkney, the archipelago of distinctive Norse-Scottish culture and archaeological treasures. On a coach tour we visit Skara Brae (pictured here), the prehistoric village dating back to 2,700 BC, the Pier Arts Centre of world class contemporary art in Stromness, and the ancient stone circle, the Ring of Brodgar. The Orcadian wilderness is stunning - such pure beauty in the painterly seashores and changing light of the endless sky. These cruises particularly attract birdwatchers, naturalists and photographers who scan the horizon with their binoculars and cameras ready to spot geese, skuas, dippers, terns, kittiwakes, perhaps a sea eagle, seals, dolphins and minke whales. There are inspiring briefings each evening from Stefan Kindberg, Expedition leader, about the next dayís shore excursions and illustrated lectures on the Hebrides, Scotlandís own Galapagos islands.

Inverewe


We take a Zodiac dinghy ride to Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles, shimmering in the soft morning mist. Abundant in wild orchids, this tiny island is owned by Bill Wilder who, with ten residents, run the post office, cafe and prawn fish farm. The seas are warmed by the Gulf Stream, creating the ideal tropical environment for Inverewe gardens at Loch Ewe (pictured here). Itís indeed a scorching day as we stroll around to see Chinese rhododendrons and blazing blooms from Chile to South Africa.

Life on board is so relaxing with comfortable lounges and a bar - enjoy live music before and after dinner. The popular sunspot aft deck is where by day guests sit, relax and read - later watching the salmon pink sunset sink behind a distant Western Isle. The sea air and energetic walks summon up a hearty appetite for fine feasts from breakfast to dinner and with lively conversation amongst the international guests, the house party ambience is informal, friendly and fun.

Gigha, Skye and Dunvegan
On the paradise island of Gigha 9see illustration) we step ashore onto a Caribbean-style white sandy beach; here the tranquil Achamore garden boasts rare exotic plants, Brazilian gunnera and banana trees. Gigha is the ancestral home of Clan MacNeill. The population of Gigha peaked at over 700 in the eighteenth century, but by the beginning of the 21st century resident numbers had fallen to only 98. However a "community buy-out" in 2002 has transformed the island, which now has a growing population and a variety of new commercial activities to complement farming and tourism.

Moored off Skye one morning, itís a magical sight to arrive at Dunvegan Castle by boat, the McLeod clan Hebridean fortress perched on a rock beside the seashore. Later, anchored off Loch Skavaig, we follow a mountain trail to reach the secret, serene Loch Coruisk, almost lost in the heart of the Cuillin Hills. In 1831, J.M.W Turner painted this scenic spot with dramatic, stormy vision.

A memorable highlight is a visit to Staffa, the extraordinary sugar-loaf wedge of rock with basalt pillars rising from the sea; we walk along the grassy cliffs to observe the puffin colony before venturing by boat inside Fingal's Cave. The rhythmic roll of waves inside this majestic cathedral of nature inspired Mendelssohn to compose the Hebridean Overture. En route back to the ship, a thrilling encounter is in store when Stefan shouts to point out a school of sharks swimming close by, their fins zigzagging rather scarily through the calm water.

Conclusion


This exhilarating voyage of discovery has given a glimpse of the intimate link between islanders, the sea, land and wildlife, a Celtic heritage of tradition, Gaelic culture and breathtaking natural landscape. Hop around the Hebrides on an awe-inspiring Noble Caledonia cruise for the perfect escape which will refresh the spirits and soothe the soul.

Information
For more information on Noble Caledonia wildlife and history themed cruises around the British Isles and Ireland, as well as expedition themed itineraries to global destinations see their Index of Places to Visit


Where else would you like to go in Scotland?








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