We were treated to a surfeit of cetaceans on this cruise! Minke whales, bottlenose and common dolphins and an extremely rare sighting of a pod of at least 40 porpoises. There were also front seat views of an otter and white-tailed eagles amongst other wildlife delights. And of course, the scenery, the sunsets and the sumptuous dinners….
As we set out from Oban guests were keen to take in the scenery on deck. By the time we reached Lismore Lighthouse we had two sightings of porpoises, also plenty of shags, gannets, the usual suspects of gulls (herring gull, lesser and greater black-backed gull, kittiwake, common gull and black-headed gull) and the occasional Manx shearwater. We steamed up the Sound of Mull and into Loch na Droma Buidhe to enjoy our first fantastic dinner of many to come cooked by onboard Chef Martin. We were treated to beetroot and mozzarella salad and salmon balotine with ginger crab followed by spiced apple crumble. The setting sun behind Ben Hiant illuminated the skies, providing a picture perfect evening.
We started off the day with a hop over to Bloody Bay on Mull. The resident white-tailed eagles were at first nowhere to be seen, but then we spotted the chick sitting by the shore on a branch. Just as we were busy snapping pictures of the eagle, Chris and Martin spotted some commotion ahead of us – a pod of 15 bottlenose dolphins! The dolphins soon came shooting over and we had fantastic views of these large dolphins doing some amazing choreographed swimming all around us. The dolphins were so close that we even heard them clicking (dolphin vocalisation is a type of echolocation). As we set off, four dolphins immediately started bow riding and followed us almost all the way to Ardnamurchan Point. We set course for Canna and it wasn’t long until we spotted more activity! This time it was the bottlenose dolphin’s smaller cousin, the common dolphin. A very large pod (50-60 individuals) were chasing fish and doing fantastic leaps out of the water. Some of the dolphins joined us at the bow of our vessel, but most of them were obviously more interested in catching their breakfast.
As we left the dolphins we were informed by the Skipper that due to a change in the strength of the wind we would make for Kentra on the north side of Ardnamurchan. This turned out to be a lucky choice as only a short moment later we spotted a Minke whale feeding in the mix of a wee pod of porpoise. Four species of cetaceans in less than two hours! We dropped anchor and went ashore for a walk along the beach, but had our walk cut short due to the filming of a TV series (the survival series Eden). Back onboard we jokingly discussed whether or not we should send someone over with some cake to the poor survivalists. While the people on land were going hungry we gorged ourselves on another lovely meal prepared by Chef Martin which was finished off with amazing strawberry cheesecake.
On Monday we hopped over to Rum (spotting porpoises on the way). As we steamed into the bay we spotted two red-throated divers. The guests went on a guided tour of Kinloch castle to hear all about the eccentric Lord Bullogh. Outside the castle were two of the most adorable Highland pony foals and their mothers. These hardy ponies were especially bred to be able to cope with harsh Highland conditions and are still used today, including the stag stalking on Rum. After a warming cup of tea in the village hall, we walked to the otter hide. No otters, but we watched a heron catching fish and a group of lazy common seals doing banana impressions on the rocks. Onboard, Martin had once again cooked up a storm: spinach orzo and halloumi salad; seabass sautéed potatoes and Rum wild mushrooms (picked by Martin and Vivi on the island); and sticky toffee pudding for desert.
We left Rum for Skye spotting more porpoises on our way in to Loch Scavaig. There we were greeted by the usual crowd of common seals hauled out on the rocks. We went ashore and many of the guests walked the whole length of Loch Coruisk, one of the most scenic mountain lochs in Scotland. As we steamed south towards Canna in the afternoon we came across a pod of 15 common dolphins that eagerly rode in our slip stream. We steamed in to Canna (more seals, this time greys) and went ashore to walk to the 9th century Celtic cross and the punishment stone. A buzzard chick was calling from high up on the basalt rocks and we saw one of the parents fly in to join it. After all that walking we had all definitely deserved that evening’s meal where we marveled at the bioluminescence that sparkled all around the boat as a stunning setting to dinner.
We left Canna to visit another of the Small Isles – Eigg. As we anchored up, one of the guests spotted an otter on a rock not far from the boat. We had a good view of the other being washed over by the waves and then swimming around in the bay. On shore, we walked in beautiful sunshine under the magnificent views of the Sgurr, with buzzards and ravens soaring above us. We explored the massacre cave and cathedral cave and then walked back to enjoy a refreshing drink in the lovely island café. Back onboard, as we set off for Knoydart, we spotted a white-tailed eagle soaring above the cliffs. Arriving at Inverie we sat down to a fabulous meal of red pepper and couscous salad and fish pie. Two couples on board were celebrating their wedding anniversaries so Martin made two beautiful pavlovas to celebrate. After dinner we went for a walk where we know otters are frequently seen but they weren’t out and about.
Thursday was another beautiful day and all guests were enjoying the scenery and the sunshine on the top deck. We spotted two Minke whales as we cruised past Eigg and counted at least 40 porpoises which is definitely an unusually high number; large pods of porpoises seem to be a reoccurring event towards the end of the summer. Just as everyone sat down for lunch a basking shark interrupted!! We stopped the boat and the shark swam so close that we clearly saw its big white open mouth as it swam around slowly feeding on plankton. Steaming into the Sound of Mull and past Bloody Bay we spotted the eagle chick again, this time with one of the parents in the tree keeping a close eye on its offspring. Whales, dolphins, porpoises, a shark and white-tailed eagle all in one day – it doesn’t get much better than that! We tied up at the pontoons in Tobermory so that guests could explore the town. The final dinner on board was a feast; hot smoked salmon with Nordic potato salad; pea chorizo risotto with roasted chicken and chocolate cheesecake for dessert.
As we steamed back down the Sound of Mull, we made a traditional small detour to see if the eagles at Morvern were at home, but they were nowhere to be seen; at this time of the season the chick may have flown further afield so we hope all is well. Soon we were arriving into Oban and saying our farewells to our fantastic guests. We hope you all come back soon for more Hebridean adventures!
A comment from John and Sheila Perry, guests onboard:
“Just a quick note to let you know how delighted we were with the whole package. The crews were unbelievable, so helpful and so knowledgeable and how Martin produces food of such quality is amazing.
Many thanks for the bottle of wine for our 40th anniversary. We shall certainly be singing your praises to all and sundry.”