I was as surprised as anyone when I heard that there was a new vessel cruising the Hebrides that had an outdoor hot tub aboard. That surprise turned to delight when I took a six-night cruise on Proud Seahorse. I not only enjoyed relaxing in that hot tub, but also discovered a great way to explore the isles. The food on board this spacious mini-cruise ship was superb and the whole vessel had a serious splash of style.
I have been lucky enough to cruise through the Hebrides over a dozen times, and I have never been disappointed. How could I be in a vast island studded oasis awash with vaulting mountains, startling white beaches and epic sunsets? It’s also an area alive with all manner of wildlife, from red squirrels to red deer on land, through to porpoises, dolphins and even whales in the water. Then there is the fact that both golden eagles and sea eagles soar through the skies.
Cruise the Hebrides in Comfort
Proud Seahorse is the ideal vessel for a comfortable cruise around the Hebrides. I boarded in Oban and – as she takes a maximum of ten passengers – soon bonded with my fellow passengers. We chatted excitedly as we pushed out of Oban Bay towards the Sound of Mull, gateway to the Hebrides.
We could not have been in better hands. Our captain, James Fairbairns, was a veteran from years of cruising with the Mull Sea Life Surveys. He was also an authority on the local marine mammals. We were also joined by excellent young chef Ross Harris, plus very helpful boson Maddy Anderson. Nigel Spencer, meanwhile, was our onboard wildlife expert and walking guide for trips ashore.
An overnight in Tobermory allowed us to take a relaxed walk along the coast and through the thick forests of Aros Park. Then it was time to push on to our targets on this six-night cruise – Skye and the Small Isles. We eased around Ardnamurchan Point (the most westerly part of the UK mainland) and managed to make the Isle of Eigg.
Eigg and the Incredible An Sgurr
All four of the Small Isles boast their own charms, but Eigg may just be my favourite. It’s a dynamic wee place where the locals have recently celebrated twenty years of community ownership. Eigg was on form offering up a glorious sunset. To top it off a large pod of common dolphins skipped by during breakfast the following morning.
We took two walks on Eigg, punctuated with a bowl of steaming mussels at the Galmisdale Bay Cafe. The first was to the baleful Massacre Cave. Here the Macleods of Skye notoriously murdered almost the entire population of Eigg in 1577. They blocked the entrance to the cave where around 400 men, women and children were hiding and lit a fire.
Our second walk broke away from human tragedy to enjoy the natural wonder of An Sgurr. This 393m high volcanic plug is one of the most eye-catching mountains in Scotland and looks impossible to tackle from the Eigg quayside. It isn’t. As long as you have the right outdoor gear, plus a map and compass. After an invigorating hike around its back we scrambled up the rocks to the summit and enjoyed breathtaking views out over the other Small Isles of Rum, Muck and Canna.
The Magnificent Skye Cuillin
From the summit of An Sgurr Skye loomed large and the biggest of the Inner Hebrides was our next stop. We anchored in Loch Scavaig, which let us ramble up to Loch Coruisk for a four-hour walk around this deeply dramatic natural amphitheatre. As we eked our way around the crystal clear waters the mighty peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains soared like rock sentinels above.
Superb Cooking On Board
Back on board our by now nightly hot tub session was made even more special by the epic Cuillin views that we enjoyed as we cruised past the wee island of Soay towards the natural harbour of Canna. We went ashore the next day, but not before more of Ross’ superb cooking. He grew up in Taynuilt and learned his chef skills there too – at the Taynuilt Etive: Restaurant with Rooms. As a result he knows where to source the best fresh local produce. Every meal was a delight – my favourite dish was the perfectly pan fried fillet of salmon laced with cream and spiced up with chorizo.
Wildlife Spotting on Canna and Sanday
The rest of the passengers made it ashore on Canna after a hearty breakfast. I’d chatted to the captain who kindly tendered me ashore on the neighbouring island of Sanday. This enabled me to hike along the cliffs checking out the puffin colonies on Sanday’s rock stacks. I joined the rest of the passengers to explore Canna’s coast before taking another wee solo hike up to Compass Hill. This brought great views and the company of a nosy golden eagle!
The Brutal Beauty of Mountainous Rum
Our last island stop was Rum, where we managed to get ashore again. By far the largest and most mountainous of the Small Isles, Rum is a brutal beauty. Rather than tackle her daunting mountains (they offer no ‘easy walk’) on this trip I opted to stay with the group. Nigel guided us around to the wee settlement and to the grandiose country house of Kinloch. In the Village Hall’s café we met some engaging locals – a feature of every island we landed on.
Sanctuary in the Sound of Mull
We were blessed with fine weather aboard Proud Seahorse. We enjoyed low winds, blue skies and lots of sunshine. For four days in a row we relished glorious views of Skye’s omnipresent Cuillin ridge. Fittingly as we closed back in on the Sound of Mull the wind picked up and we sought sanctuary in Tobermory. Here I took advantage of Proud Seahorse being moored alongside and nipped into my favourite pub on Mull, The Mishnish. Over a wee dram I gazed out towards Proud Seahorse. Already I missed the great company, the stellar cooking, the epic scenery and wildlife of those very special isles and – yes, of course, that hot tub with a view!
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