This isn’t the first trip with this charming and characterful Majestic Line. My first voyage was a couple of years ago and was an introduction to the Scottish Isles; this second trip was to remind me of why I loved the initial experience so much!
The Majestic Line offers holidays and short breaks on two converted fishing boats. Now a new boat has been added to the small but attractive fleet. They cruise around the waters off the west of Scotland and offer a number of itineraries to appeal to both nature and history lovers. Our boat for this week’s trip, the Glen Massan, was not, thankfully, the size of one of those white floating-city liners but it was perfectly proportioned and cosy. The size of these boats allows inshore access to anchorages not available to bigger more conventional vessels.
The Majestic Line was started when Andy Thoms and Ken Grant decided to save two wooden-hulled fishing trawlers from the scrapyard. So in 2004 they bought and converted their first vessel (my floating hotel) the Glen Massan. In May 2007 a sister vessel, The Glen Tarsan, was launched to sail out of Oban. Now the Glen Etive, built in the style of a “gentleman’s yacht”, has been launched to make up the trio.
The Vital Spark
The name ‘The Majestic Line’ is inspired by the 1960s TV series “Para Handy”, based on the books by Neil Munro, and to bring back memories you will find these in the ship’s library. An episode tells of the Vital Spark ship’s engineer, McPhail, who walked out of his job saying he had signed on a ship of ‘The Majestic Line’ claiming it had a gold funnel. Yes, these boats do actually have gold-painted funnels and the boats stock a local beer called ‘Vital Spark’.
The Majestic Line offers 14 exclusive cruise itineraries to the most beautiful and secluded parts of Argyll and the Hebrides. Guests can choose from 3- to 10-night cruises, and now private cruise charter is also available for those who want a bespoke experience with friends and family. There are less than a dozen guests on each boat and the cabins are appointed with en-suite facilities, comfy and warm beds and tartan throws. This is Scotland after all.
Each vessel has four on-board crew to cater to your every need: Skipper, Chef, Engineer and Bosun. There will be a different crew for each boat and each itinerary but in my experience they will be a well-trained, knowledgeable bunch who enjoy telling stories of the area and pointing out wildlife along the way. The captain or skipper (on this cruise it was Neil) might rush down from the wheelhouse to point out a group of porpoises or a swooping eagle. The chef, that was Gordon, might leave his range and take you up to the prow (the front bit) and listen with you – it was the sound of a bellowing highland stag that we heard, and so clearly on this still night.
The engineer was Ray and I remember him from my previous voyage. He was joined by Claire, his wife, who was our able Bosun. They looked after us in 5-star fashion ensuring that tea flowed, nibbles abounded and great good humour wafted. With such a small group the calibre of crew is so important. These guys have evidently been chosen for their love of the job and of people – and it shows.
Rich and enthralling
Gordon treated us to the best of local produce, and all prepared in a galley the size of a modest wardrobe. The seafood was fresh and delicate. The lamb casserole was melting and moreish, the venison was the best I have ever tasted. Desserts ranged from traditional fruit cake to sophisticated and alcoholic sorbet. Not a single dish disappointed from breakfast to dinner, with snacks in-between. Every evening we were introduced to rare regional cheeses, and all dishes were accompanied by wine, although the well-stocked bar tempted not only with that Vital Spark but also with Bilgewater. That’s the company gin! It tastes a lot better than it sounds and makes the perfect pre-dinner tipple. We purchased a bottle to bring home, just to check that it travels well – it does!
So we had our boat and crew but where were we going? The cruise was called Castles and Clans. We, for a week, were immersed in Scottish Clan heritage and the history of the Castles and Clans of Argyll and it was a rich and enthralling excursion. The cruise starts at Oban with its wealth of retail opportunities, outstanding fish and chips and a noteworthy whisky distillery.
The MacDonalds and the Campbells
Once aboard Glen Massan we visited the stunning Castle Duart for a conducted tour of a castle which is still also a home. Castle Stalker is remarkable and iconic and set on its own little island. It was featured, along with its owner, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We had a tour with the man himself. The Majestic Line is able to arrange visits to places that would normally be unavailable to tourists. This castle is only open for 17 days each year!
Tobermory offered the Mull Museum along with shopping, and you can ask the chef to take you to the local Tobermory Fish Company for some delicious souvenirs. This is a beautiful little town and distinctive with its brightly coloured buildings. The boat moors in the harbour and that’s a great vantage point with views over Tobermory and a romantic waterfall with its own story to tell.
We stopped at Glencoe, infamous for the massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells. We cruised Loch Leven with its views of Ben Nevis. There were lighthouses along the way as well as mussel farms, hills sporting red and gold colours of fast-approaching autumn, and tranquillity.
These cruises attract all ages for bespoke private tours but the publicised itineraries appeal to those who are mature travellers of 50+. One needs to be fully mobile as there is a small tender for excursions. Dietary requirements are catered for so food is unlikely to be an issue and my advice would be to come hungry.
The Majestic Line fleet isn’t the biggest. Their boats are not leviathans of ocean travel. But they have something unique: outstanding and tailored care, flexibility, accessible quality and charm. I have had a few cruises in my time but The Majestic Line remains one of my favourite companies. Yes, it’s all a matter of taste. If you want international cable TV and wifi 24/7 then this might not be for you. If you are a lover of a piano lounge complete with a dinner-suited quartet then look elsewhere. But if you want to relax, enjoy an unhurried pace, restaurant-quality food and scenery offering something new twenty-four hours a day then The Majestic Line is for you …and me. And you’ll be talking about this over dinner for years to come.
‘Castles and Clans’ dates for 2017 – 14 October for 6 nights with 9 guests.
The Majestic Line
Holy Loch Marina
Phone +44 (0)1369 707 951
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018