Weather-wise the cruise was typical Outer Hebrides with a total contrast from very wet and windy to soaking up the hot sun on the top deck or taking a plunge in Loch Nevis! The guests decided against going to St Kilda due to the stormy weather early in the week, enticed by the many other enchanting islands on offer, including the Shiants, Taransay and South Rona.
Passage: Oban to Loch na Droma Buidhe
On passage up the Sound of Mull our wildlife spotting got off to a good start with two separate sightings of harbour porpoises of which the latter one was no less than five individuals racing down past us. This time of year we often have sightings of larger than average pods of porpoises for reasons that science has yet to discover. We also had plenty of diving gannets and many Manx shearwaters as well as guillemots, mostly juveniles accompanied by their chicks. We anchored in Loch na Droma Buidhe and guests enjoyed their first dinner cooked by Chef Katie.
Passage: Loch na Droma Buidhe to Coll
In the morning we hopped over to Bloody Bay on Mull and spotted one of the white-tailed eagles perched on the cliff. We then poked our bow west with the intentions to make it to Canna, but the weather had other plans in store for us. As we steamed past Ardnamurchan Point Skipper Rob decided that Coll would be a better option. We first headed over towards the Cairns of Coll hoping to spot some basking sharks. The sea conditions made spotting a challenge, but we did see a large breaching animal in the distance. Both basking sharks and whales are known to breach but the animal didn’t resurface or surfaced out of sight. After the trip I found out that a breaching Minke whale had been spotted the day before off Iona. Was this what we had seen? We will never know for certain, but such is the way with wildlife sometimes! We steamed in to Arinagour on Coll and went ashore to walk to the west side of the island. On our walk we had an exciting sighting of a male and female hen harrier hunting over the moors. The hen harrier is a fantastic bird that thankfully is doing well on many of the islands while being very rate on the mainland. In the evening we dined on asparagus with hollandaise; mascarpone and pesto stuffed chicken; and cranachan for desert.
Passage: Coll to Canna
Some guests who were up early had the luck to spot a basking shark swimming casually past the entrance to the bay. The weather had settled a bit so we hopped over to Canna. The birds were out in force with hundreds of Manx shearwaters, gannets, guillemots, kittiwakes, herring gulls, greater and lesser black-backs the occasional bonxie and even many wonderful sightings of storm petrels fluttering about above the waves. We also had two sightings of porpoises. The grey seals greeted us as we steamed in to Canna and after lunch we walked to the 9th century Celtic cross and standing stone. For dinner we had beetroot and salmon salad; oven-baked gnocchi; and ice cream and coffee sundae.
Passage: Canna to Eriskay
We spotted three porpoises as we steamed out of Canna and also a large flock of juvenile kittiwakes that escorted us out into the Minch. After a bumpy crossing we steamed in to Eriskay. As is tradition, we went ashore to have a dram at the Politician and then strolled back along the Prince´s Beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot in the Hebrides. Dinner that evening was another delicious meal with Katie’s homemade sticky toffee pudding to finish.
Passage: Eriskay to Lochboisdale
With a fairly windy forecast we anchored in sheltered Lochboisdale in South Uist. We walked along the marina which is a good spot for otters, which were hiding, but were rewarded with a small flock of twite, which are fairly rare. We called in at the Lochboisdale Hotel to catch up with the Olympics (GO TEAM FINLAND!). We had an early dinner onboard (mackerel caught onboard by one of the guests; lamb tagine; and lime curd icecream cake) after which we went to an enjoyable and informative talk at the Kildonan museum about Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escapades in the Outer Hebrides.
Passage: Lochboisdale to Taransay
We steamed west to the lovely island of Taransay with a glimpse of sunshine heralding better weather ahead. We went for a long walk up to the cairn and along the stunning beaches on Taransay, and nearly accidentally stepping on a very well camouflaged snipe chick. Soon enough we also flushed the parents from the heather. Back onboard Katie had cooked us a lovely dinner of pâté; chorizo and haddock pot; and brownie for desert.
Passage: Taransay to the Shiants
With the good weather arriving, we had an absolutely fantastic crossing to the Shiants. The almost flat calm seas made spotting wildlife a lot easier and we had over 10 sightings of roughly 30 individual porpoises. We also spotted a Minke whale, but it was clearly busy because after a quick surface it took off and was not re-spotted. As we approached the Shiants, the number of auks increased, with even some puffins still about to everyone’s delight. We steamed around the Shiants admiring the large basalt column and the numbers of fulmars seen. Some grey seals were basking lazily in the sun and on every rock there seemed to be a shag drying its wings. Every once in a while the sky would darken as a bonxie cast its big shadow over the ship. We went ashore and walked along the lazy beds and around the ruins of the abandoned black houses. We passed a bonxie chick that looked big enough to fledge but was sitting tight in the grass. Dinner that evening was French onion soup; baked salmon; and chocolate mousse for desert, the perfect way to end the day!
Passage: The Shiants to South Rona
On Monday we hopped down to another intriguing island – South Rona (with fantastic views of the north of Skye including the Old Man of Storr on the way). The island lived up to its name (Rona is Gaelic for seal) as it seemed that every rock had a common seal hauled out on it. We went ashore for a walk in the fantastic sunshine to explore the church cave and the abandoned village. On our way down to the cave a majestic white-tailed eagle flew past us. While we walked on the island, Skipper Rob made a huge effort, diving to get us scallops for dinner. Katie then cooked a fantastic dinner with pan fried scallops with pea purée for starter; pork tenderloin with cherries; caramel croissant pudding for dessert.
Passage: South Rona to Inverie
On Tuesday we steamed down along the Sound of Raasay with more fantastic views of the Cuillins on Skye along the way. We passed under Skye Bridge and down through the Sound of Sleat were we had another brief encounter with a Minke whale. We steamed in to Loch Nevis and to Inverie on the Knoydart peninsula. It was a warm and sunny day, perfect for a nice walk along the woodlands and for a pint in the sun by the Old Forge, Britain’s most isolated mainland pub. That evening after dinner (celeriac remoulade and black pudding; smoked salmon risotto; strawberry cheesecake) we went for another otter walk – this time with much better luck! As we walked along silently a big dog otter hopped out onto the road in front of us and ran along before dipping down to the beach were we saw it diving along the seaweed. We were all so ecstatic to have been so close to such a stunning animal!
Passage: Inverie to Tobermory (via Eigg)
On our last full day we decided to stop over for lunch at Eigg on our way down to Tobermory, with time to go for a walk to the massacre cave and cathedral cave. Back on board, we came across a very large pod (60+ animals) of common dolphins all feeding in a big frenzy that included hundreds of birds (gannets, Manx shearwaters, kittiwakes, greater and lesser black-backed ,herring gull, fulmars and even a couple of bonxies). The dolphins were doing all possible type of leaps and in amongst them were even a tiny new born calf! Great success for our last day! Dinner that evening alongside the pontoons in colourful Tobermory was cheese puffs for starter; pistachio crust rack of lamb for mains; and lemon posset for dessert.
Passage: Tobermory to Oban
We had enough time on our way back to Oban to stop over at the white-tailed eagle nest on Morvern. We spotted the fledged eagle chick sitting by itself but with no sight of the parents. We gave it the leftover mackerel but the wee one was probably too small to know how to fish by itself yet. But just as we were about to leave the parent came swooping down and picked the fish from the water and brought it over to the chick. What a fantastic display that of course no one managed to catch on camera! Sooner than anyone would have liked we were back in Oban and kissing all our fantastic guests goodbye. Thank you all for your enthusiasm despite the occasionally rubbish weather! Hope to see you back onboard the Elizabeth G!