Voyage around Scotland proves magical

           Savoring the sunshine view from the high hill
in St. Kilda. Exploring the Blackhouse Village on the Isle of Lewis. Getting
right down into the neolithic Broch of Gurness on Mainland, Orkney. On our
Scotland Slowly voyage with Adventure Canada last June, the magical
moments kept coming. 
As it happens, I wrote the logbook. AC has just published it and I find myself revisiting the whole experience.

On Day One, we sailed out of Oban not long after 7 p.m.,
with the waters calm and the sun setting among the islands. The arrival and
boarding had brought the usual challenges.But more than half (116) of the passengers had
sailed previously with Adventure Canada and that made the process of boarding easier than
it might have been. Once on board, we made our way to the Nautilus
Lounge, where we proceeded efficiently through the zodiac briefing. Then came the
mandatory lifeboat drill and staff introductions. Expedition leader Matthew
James (M.J.) Swan elaborated on the next day’s doings – a visit to Islay – and
then we headed for our first white-linen-tablecloth dinner.

 Next morning, having sailed overnight from
Oban, we boarded zodiacs off the coast of Islay, always with the
sailors’ grip. We roared into Bowmore near the distillery that has made the
town famous, home to one of the celebrated peaty whiskies from these parts. On
landing, we climbed into buses for a ten-minute ride to the first historical site of
the voyage: Loch Finlaggan. The Great Hall here, which for almost three
centuries served as home to the Lords of the Isles, is now little more than two
triangular end walls made of stone. But it was from here in 1164 that Somerled,
the great sea lord of the western isles, organized his momentous invasion of
the Scottish mainland.

The story emerged at the small visitors’ centre
and in a series of plaques at the site. It begins in 1153, when in a major sea
battle off the coast of Islay – just a few miles north of Finlaggan – Somerled
defeated Godred IV and forced him to retreat to Norway. A decade later, in
1164, Somerled led an ambitious invasion of mainland Scotland. This was a
crucial moment, the first great clash between two Celtic-World cultures –
Norse-Gaelic and Anglo-Norman.

But soon after landing near Glasgow with tens
of thousands of warriors, Somerled was slain – probably by the lucky throw of a
spear. His massive army, whose troops included a large contingent from Dublin,
withdrew in disarray. Finlaggan became home to the Lords of the Isles –
descendants of Somerled, led by the MacDonalds — who ruled the western Scottish
Isles until 1494, when mainlanders under King James IV put paid to their

From Finlaggan, we voyagers traveled by bus and
van to Islay House Square. Now a five-star hotel, Islay House was formerly home
to a Campbell laird. Out front, what was once a thriving courtyard is now a scattering
of shops – and visitors took full advantage. Back on the ship, we enjoyed a
whisky tasting before adjourning to the dining room for the captain’s dinner.

Day three found us visiting Iona Abbey, where that scholarly warrior Saint Columba arrived from Ireland, built a monastery, and established Christianity
in Scotland. The monastery became arguably the most glorious edifice in the
country – though the people of Orkney champion St. Magnus Cathedral. Iona became the burial
site for many Scottish princes and kings.

A storm had rolled in during the morning as if
to challenge our visit. Gusting winds and light rain had impeded our morning
zodiac cruise to the island of Staffa. Some passengers had hoped to get inside
Fingal’s Cave, famously the locale that inspired a celebrated composition (The Hebrides) by Felix Mendelssohn, as
well as subsequent visits by well-known figures and even an on-location
orchestral performance. The wind prevented entry, as it so often does, but the
cruise proved invigorating and the island itself, created through three
distinct volcanic eruptions, is geologically unique and spectacular. 
Incredible to think, as geologist David Edwards
later relayed, that in 1772, a farming family was eking out a living on the
rocky island. A few winters appear to have brought them to their senses, and
they were gone by 1800.

Rumour has it that in June 2019, Adventure Canada will again circumnavigate Scotland.

(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan . . . except the one in which she appears)

Leave a Comment