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Cruising photo by Fred Olsen


Five Ways to Cruise Beautiful Britain

By Bob Barton

May 2006

Queen Elizabeth II has chosen to celebrate her 80th year not with a holiday in a far-flung corner of the globe nor in an exotic European palace, but on a relatively small cruise-ship sailing around the Scottish isles. Britain’s monarch will charter the Hebridean Princess in August 2006 and, accompanied by Prince Philip and other members of the Royal Family, will set off for a private week sailing around the peaceful Western Isles with their spectacular scenery, including deserted beaches of soft white sand.

Cruising is not just for monarchs though and there are several ways in which to experience this type of holiday. To mark the royal journey we have chosen five ways to cruise beautiful Britain…

1. A Hebridean sojourn. With its “country house ambiance and stately home service” the Hebridean Princess is known for her fine furnishings and extraordinary level of service and cuisine. Guests – no more than 49 in number -- enjoy the comforts of a luxurious lounge, peaceful library and formal wood-panelled dining room before going on deck or the cosy Look Out Lounge to be reminded of the spectacular coastline. The vessel goes to remote locations where only private launches normally moor so that guests can explore beautiful gardens and castles and take invigorating guided walks in the fresh, clean air.

A programme of mainly week-long cruises runs from May to November and, while most set sail from Oban for Scotland’s ethereal coastline, the last cruise of the season will follow England’s South Coast from Portland, Dorset and up the River Thames to London. Called “Jewels of English Heritage” (Nov. 5-11, 2006) it visits some royal palaces including Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s favourite, Brighton’s oriental-style Royal Pavilion and medieval Leeds Castle. Website:

2. A round-Britain cruise.For those looking for a longer voyage in both time and distance, there are a number of cruise lines that feature the British Isles on their annual programme. These larger ocean-going vessels usually include facilities such as swimming pools, fitness centres, health and beauty salons, deck sports, indoor games, casinos, film theatres and other entertainments such as lectures, shows, discos and dancing. The cuisine is superb – the main problem encountered is trying to resist an excess of gastronomic delights. There is usually a choice of dining options: from the elegant and formal to a more relaxed style.

Fred. Olsen has smaller ships than most other cruise lines, enabling them to moor in the heart of ports rather than a tender ride away. Black Watch is the line’s flagship and underwent a refit last summer to give her more cabins with balconies, a popular choice with guests. She sets sail for a nine-night cruise from Dover (August 21-30) taking in Orkney, the Isle of Skye, Barrow-in-Furness (for the English Lake District), Ireland, Falmouth in Cornwall and St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Sister ship Boudicca takes Celtic history as the theme of her seven-night cruise (departing Dover, Sept. 10) for calls in Wales, Cornwall, the Channel Islands and France.

Mature travellers will be able to immerse themselves in British culture during two 13-night circumnavigations of Britain this summer with Saga Holidays. Saga Rose will be sailing round the British Isles for the first time (Aug. 23 – Sept. 5): among the highlights are visits to the Edinburgh Festival and Military Tattoo; the country’s only coastal National Park, in Pembrokeshire; Liverpool (city of The Beatles) and Tresco, Isles of Scilly, known for its sub-tropical gardens. Sister ship Saga Ruby will visit the Golf Open Championship at St. Andrews – the home of the sport in Scotland – as well as Edinburgh and Guernsey on the “Magic of the British Isles” (departing Aug. 1). The two vessels share qualities such as wide open decks and spacious interiors, with Saga Rose’s rooms and cabins quite traditional in style, while her sister has a more contemporary look having recently undergone a major refit.

Among the other vessels that offer an opportunity to see highlights of the whole of the British Isles is Princess Cruises’ Golden Princess. She departs Southampton (Aug. 10) for a 10-day cruise making eight ports of call. “British Isles Celebration” is the theme of Crystal Cruises’ voyage with Crystal Serenity embarking Dover (Aug. 30) for 11 nights, including calls in Scotland, Ireland and the Channel Islands.

3. On a Turkish-style gulet. For those who find cruise liners too conventional and are prepared to trade a few luxuries for something more bohemian, the Glen Massan may appeal. This is an 85-ft traditional wooden fishing vessel, converted in the style of a Turkish gulet to carry 12 passengers in six en-suite cabins on “laid-back luxury cruising” trips around the Argyll coast, Scotland and sea-lochs, normally inaccessible to larger vessels.

On the three to six-night voyages, run by The Majestic Line, guests enjoy fresh local produce prepared on board by a cook/hostess, while a engineer, bosun and the captain make up the rest of the small crew. There is a large deck saloon for relaxing and watching the scenery float by and after dinner it doubles as a cinema or ceilidh area (Celtic music and dancing). There is a bar stocked with Scottish malt whiskies. Trips are all in sheltered waters, ranging from two nights around the local lochs to six-nights including Loch Long, Inveraray, Loch Fyne and the Isle of Arran.

Glen Massanis enjoying her second season this summer and has been so successful that her owners are preparing to launch a similar sister vessel, the Glen Tarsan, in May 2007.

4. On the inland waterways. Cruising Britain’s 3,000 mile network of navigable inland waterways is another option. The most popular way of doing this is by renting a self-drive narrow-boat and these are fully equipped as comfortable, floating holiday homes. This is not as daunting as it may sound: the controls are straightforward, the cruising speed is just three miles-per-hour and full instruction is given at the departure point. Drifters, a consortium of holiday boat companies, offers only quality tourist board inspected vessels and its website shows their availability on-line. The latest boating base is Black Prince’s smart marina at Napton in the Heart of England which offers three directions in which to sail, including Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick Castle and big-city Birmingham or south towards Oxford.

With distinctive hump-back bridges, lock-side cottages and wooden lift-bridges, it is easy to imagine yourself back in 1790 when this canal opened, yet the boats are recently built and fitted with all mod-cons including comfortable berths, a bathroom with shower and plenty of hot water and a kitchen and lounge area with television. Meals and drinks are served at friendly waterside pubs. Do not expect to cover large distances this way: the adventure is in the journey and there is some physical work involved in operating locks and boat handling.

5. A land cruise by train. Cruising around Britain doesn’t have to take place on water at all. The land cruises run by the Orient-Express company use two of the most luxurious trains in Europe, harking back to the romantic age of rail travel when it was the way to go for royalty and movie stars alike. A seven-day Grand Tour of Great Britain (departing Sept. 1) takes place on board the Northern Belle, visiting York, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, Chester, North Wales and Bath, with table d’hôte meals served on board beside your picture window and a gala dinner on the former Royal Yacht, Britannia. Overnights are at two of the country’s finest hotels, The Caledonian Hilton, Edinburgh and the Chester Grosvenor and tour guides are provided throughout.

Scotland’s ultimate luxury train, the Royal Scotsman, accommodates just 36 guests and the Edwardian-style train has the atmosphere of a private country house party. The scenery unfolds from the lounge car and the open verandah of the observation car, while excellent cuisine is served in one of two dining cars. Guests sleep on board (it is stationary at night) in en-suite state cabins fitted out in rich woods and inlaid marquetry. A range of itineraries – starting from Edinburgh – run from May to October and range from the one-night Wee Dram to the seven-night Grand North Western covering the most scenic Scottish routes and including castles, boat trips, fishing and ceilidhs on exclusive excursions.;

For more information about where to go and what to see in Britain, see the official website


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