Sailing the British Isles on the Hurtigruten Expedition, by Travel Writers

By Sharon Whitley Larsen

“Where is our ship?” I asked my husband, Carl, in a panic as we headed for the tender little pier on the Scottish Isle of Iona. I couldn’t see it anchored where we had left it a few hours earlier via a Zodiac RIB in the nearby sea. The cold wind blew on me after walking around the island and visiting the restored 6th century abbey. Cold and tired, I was ready for a hot soup and a glass of wine (maybe even a whiskey!) once back on board our ship, the Hurtigruten MS Maud, on which we sailed for 12 nights. And who was missing now.

Several months earlier, when Carl had browsed the Hurtigruten website, he had read aloud the British Isles itinerary, which was an inaugural cruise sailing the west coast of Britain with stops at small islands. that most of us hadn’t even heard of. I jumped on it.

On embarkation day in Dover, England, we patiently waited in line for our COVID-19 tests. A couple in their 80s ahead of us tested positive and were not allowed to board. Normally the ship has a capacity of 500 passengers; this embarkation numbered 222 (mainly British and only 17 Americans) during this maiden voyage. (During the cruise, four passengers and two crew members tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantined for five days in isolated cabins.)

As we gradually learned, this wasn’t your typical cruise: most of these small, isolated islands and their quaint towns had no Costco, McDonald’s, Starbucks, malls, or theaters, and they relied heavily on ferries. for the delivered goods. Even medical care can be scarce. (“If you’re going to be sick, make sure it’s a Wednesday,” my driver-guide told me on the small Scottish isle of Eigg on a previous trip: “That’s the day the doctor arrives by ferry.”

There were no children on board and most of the passengers were elderly. A man, traveling alone and using a cane, was 89 years old. Our cabin was rather spartan (twin corner beds) but had an adequate toilet with shower and plenty of storage. (A massive ship renovation is planned for 2023.) We had a porthole and could watch other passengers strolling on deck outside.

There was no evening entertainment – despite a grand piano in a plush bar where we hoped someone would play and sing. Plus, no spa — just a sauna and two outdoor hot tubs on the upper deck. There was a small gift shop that offered lovely items, and onboard lectures from experts covered topics such as birding, climate issues, and marine life.

The crew members, mostly from the Philippines, were very friendly and excited to get back to work after two years at home. And the food was excellent, with plenty of wine at lunch and dinner.

We were given bright orange Helly Hansen parkas for free, and passengers had to wear life jackets every time we went out on the Zodiac RIB tender, which was quite a difficult experience. We also had to wear masks inside except when we were in the dining room.

Our first stop after a day at sea was in the fishing village of Fishguard, Wales (population 5,400). We were the first cruise ship to stop there in two years, and a small, smiling and hospitable group (including the mayor) turned out to greet us with complimentary “Croeso i Gymru – Welcome to the Country” tote bags. of Wales”.

Other stops on the cruise included Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland (popular with bird watchers, 6 miles long, 1 mile wide, population 140), the aforementioned Iona (3 miles long by 1, 5 miles wide, population 177), the Scottish island of St Kilda (3.3 square miles, population 0, largest seabird colony in Europe), Stornoway (population around 5,000), the whiskey isle of Islay (“eye-la” – featured on “60 Minutes” in 2015, population around 3,000), Isle of Man (which we loved) and Isles of Scilly (“silly”) .

Return to spiritual Iona: We had offered a Zodiac RIB, wondering if an 89 year old man using a walking stick could get on and off the floating “boat”, so could we (with the help of the young expedition team ). Our ship was anchored just off the coast.

By the time we got back to the pier three hours later, I could see a few other passengers in bright orange parkas walking around in the distance. A member of the crew must have seen my panicked look and shouted at us: “The ship has moved! Due to high winds, the ship had pulled anchor and sailed to the other side of the island.

“You can walk to the beach to board the tender, or we called a taxi if you want to wait,” he said.

After about 45 minutes a taxi (probably the only one on the island) showed up and we jumped in with the 89 year old trouper and two other passengers. The driver dropped us off a few miles away in a gated pasture with grazing Highland cattle. We could see our ship in the distance. All I could think of, since we were wearing the parkas, was being chased by the horned cattle.

Once we stomped through the green pasture, a steep path led down to the sandy beach below. The ship’s crew helped passengers into the exposed Zodiac RIB via a running board while waiting for the waves to recede. One woman took off her boots and walked barefoot through the cold water while others had their shoes or pants soaked. I was so happy and relieved to be back on the ship.

Of 25 cruises we have taken around the world, this was the most unusual – truly a once in a lifetime experience. Would we do it again? Probably not. But we are happy to have had the experience.

WHEN YOU GO

www.hurtigruten.com

Passengers from the Hurtigruten MS Maud wait in a Zodiac RIB to set off on an excursion. Photo courtesy of Carl H. Larsen.

    Stranded Hurtigruten passengers walk through a cow pasture on the Scottish Isle of Iona to reach their ship.  Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

Stranded Hurtigruten passengers walk through a cow pasture on the Scottish Isle of Iona to reach their ship. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

    After a windy day on the Scottish Isle of Iona, Hurtigruten passengers approach the Zodiac RIB which will take them back to their ship.  Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

After a windy day on the Scottish Isle of Iona, Hurtigruten passengers approach the Zodiac RIB which will take them back to their ship. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

Sharon Whitley Larsen is a freelance writer. To read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Stranded Hurtigruten passengers walk through a cow pasture on the Scottish Isle of Iona to reach their ship. Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen.

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