The cruise industry has expanded dramatically over the last few decades, with new ships being delivered every few months. There are ships big and small to meet all tastes and many cruise clients study the cruise itinerary very carefully, not just the primary destinations, but the range of shore experiences open to them before making a decision.
As I say in ‘From the Lookout’, cruise ship numbers into the Forth have grown considerably over the last few years. Recently, I spent a few days in Scotland, under the auspices of Cruise Forth visiting a few of the attractions / experiences which give passengers such a varied and exciting range of activities to choose from. Of course, even before berthing or anchoring, cruise passengers can enjoy the passage up the Firth of Forth and the magnifi cent view of the majestic Forth Rail and Road Bridges and the new Queensferry Crossing – another dramatic bridge scheduled for completion in 2017.
Led by Peter Wilson of Cruise Forth, we set off – an American, an Italian and a Scotsman (me) to sample some of the gems of Scottish tourism.
Our first night was spent near Peebles in the Scottish borders at Cringletie House, a Scottish Baronial Mansion in a beautiful setting. This boutique, 14 bedroom country house has much to offer and is an excellent base for people touring the area and is within easy reach of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Before a fine dinner in the company of the General Manager, Jeremy Osborne, we were treated to a fascinating display of sheep dog trials. The next morning, after a fine breakfast, Border Kilt Craft gave us a talk and display on the history and traditions of the Scottish Highland image, known all over the world and exemplified in tartan and the kilt.
We then moved on to Sir Walter Scott’s magnifi cent home, Abbotsford. This beautiful house is situated in stunning grounds on the banks of the River Tweed. Probably Scotland’s most famous storyteller, Scott loved Abbotsford and after a tour round the house and gardens, I can understand why. Interestingly, in the Hope Scott Wing of Abbotsford, there are luxury rooms for rent. This was a memorable visit in beautiful weather, but it was time to move on. From Tweedbank (just one mile from Abbotsford), we boarded the new Borders Railway to travel to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station (named after Sir Walter Scott’s famous historical novel) – a journey time of just under one hour. This line is already being described as one of Scotland’s Great Scenic Railways.
Edinburgh is a city I thought I knew quite well, but after a fascinating tour with Mercat Tours, a darker side of old Edinburgh was revealed. For visitors to Edinburgh, Mercat lay on a selection of walking tours which will open the eyes to Edinburgh’s historic, rich and sometimes gory and cruel past. Today, however, the capital’s beauty and strength shine through.
We also enjoyed a visit to Leith (the port for Edinburgh), but many seafarers of my era would no longer recognise it. It has been greatly gentrified, with many fine pubs and restaurants. Here we visited Kinloch Anderson – experts in Highland Dress since 1868. This splendid shop just oozes quality – holders of Royal Warrants of Appointment as tailors and kilt-makers to HM The Queen, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales, Kinloch Anderson carry a superb collection of Highland Dress.
Later, we moved to have dinner at the Castle Terrace Restaurant – the food, service, presentation and atmosphere was superb. This was dining at its finest, with a very innovative and wonderful menu – making full use of Scotland’s larder. Lying just below Edinburgh Castle, this award winning restaurant has built up a fine reputation and from my own experience, more than deserves it. A memorable experience! Replete, we headed back to our hotel for a late night whiskey and a good night’s sleep.
Another packed day bought new sights with a visit to Falkirk and in The Helix Park, the amazing Kelpies (mythical water horses). These wonderful sculptures, by the artist Andy Scott, stand circa 30 metres high next to the Forth and Clyde canal. Only a mile or so away is the incredible Falkirk Wheel, the world’s fi rst and only rotating boat lift, connecting the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal.
Next port of call was Linlithgow Palace and into the care of Mary’s Meanders, a company that organises all sorts of group visits / tours etc. We explored the magnifi cent ruins of the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and several other monarchs – a majestic royal residence of the Stewarts. A ruin now maybe, but still awe inspiring. Many Americans, followers of the TV series ‘Outlander’ come to Scotland to discover the real locations from the TV series.
On then to Falkland Palace, another favourite of the Stewart Kings and Queens of nobility where Mary Queen of Scots played Royal Tennis – the court is still there. Restored by the Marquess of Bute in the 1890s, it is one of the finest Renaissance buildings in Scotland. We went on to call at Dunfermline Abbey where several Scottish monarchs were buried. Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Dunfermline and is one of my heroes, of course went off to America and for a long time his family’s old house in now a little museum to Carnegie and I visit it regularly when in Fife.
Also on our itinerary was the wonderful Fife village of Culross where we visited Culross Palace, a late 16th century / early 17th century merchant’s house – built by Sir George Bruce, a successful merchant who had a flourishing trade with other Forth ports, the Low Countries and Sweden.