Hickey, Johanna – Scotland Slowly and The North Atlantic Saga

August 31, 2018 | Lois Farley

It was with a great deal of sadness and nostalgia that I hung up my trusty life preserver and kicked off my sturdy rubber boots for the last time. We had reached Reykjavik and my two Adventure Canada expeditions on The Ocean Endeavour had come to an end. And what expeditions they were !!! 

The first expedition started in Oban and encompassed the Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland with the final stop at Aberdeen. The second touched Shetland, the Faroes and finally Iceland. Although I had visited Scotland and Iceland, several times before, no previous land-based trip could compare with the magic of approaching these mystical islands by sea. Steep, bird saturated and rugged cliffs rose up from the ocean while around the next headland, stark rocks gave way to lush, green and stone walled fields where sheep quietly grazed or on Shetland where shaggy ponies gazed quizzically at these turquoise clad strangers who were invading their homeland. As our skillful captain negotiated our ship through some very treacherous waters, each change in direction brought new vistas of beauty.  I have travelled to many countries of the world and I can honestly say, that nothing has compared to the wonder of the Scottish Isles when seen from the water, whether through mist or sunshine.

Scotland is known for it’s soft and gentle climate compliments of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift and it did not disappoint. Visits to Foula and Fair Isle were enveloped in fog and rain. However, clad in colourful Adventure Canada jackets, we braved the elements and followed in the steps of the pilgrims who had trod the hallowed ground so many centuries ago. Somehow the weather enhanced the mystical feeling which descended on us as we approached the Abbey for it was to here that allegedly St. Patrick brought Christianity.

However, Scotland is also known for its fickle climate. Just when we had become accustomed to rain and fog, summer suddenly descended. Brilliant sunshine greeted our excursion to St. Kinda where as sadly documented in the island’s museum, in the 1930’s the inhabitants no longer happy with the harsh climate and the limited diet of sea-birds requested evacuation by the government of the day. The temperature soared as we  exchanged waterproofs for T-shirts and set out to explore the ancient streets of Stromness from where so many young Scotsmen had ventured forth during the past three centuries to seek their fortune as employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In Kirkwall, St. Magnus Cathedral, a beautiful sandstone church dating back to the twelfth centre  glistened in the sunshine and stood proudly close to the harbour from where so many sailed to the new world. We too reluctantly headed back to our ship to sail to the Shetland but not before we indulged in the famous Orkney Ice Cream.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Faroes which was greatly enhanced by the presence of two very distinguished and highly educated local residents who imparted their knowledge of the history, geography and socio-economic background of the Islands. Local walks were arranged up to vantage points so we could explore the rugged scenery and enjoy the peace and tranquility which is so rarely present in to-day’s modern world. Special stops were made so that we could appreciate and photograph the numerous birds, particularly the colourful puffins and so that we could admire the beautiful views.

As always, all tours and excursions were accompanied by lectures by renowned authorities on the local bird and marine life. Very comprehensive talks were also given on the history of Scotland, the Faroes and Iceland and slide shows were presented on the Botany, Geology and Economy of the regions. Because the Scottish Isles are a  birders’ and a photographers’ paradise, special lectures were given on birdlife and on how to improve one’s photography. As the Ocean Endeavour is small ship we were able to explore very little islands such as Foula, the most northerly populated island in Great Britain with its populations of fifty residents and Fair Isle with its population of about the same. These  wonderful people opened their communities to us by providing tea, coffee and homemade goodies at the village hall and by chatting with us about their beloved island. In keeping with Adventure Canada’s policy of including the  local inhabitants, several residents were invited back to the ship for dinner so that we could again meet them and share life experiences with them.

This was especially the case in the Faroes where a beautiful choir from Torshavn (the capital) clad in traditional dress entertained us after dinner with  local music and dancing to which we were invited to join. We were also treated to an excellent film about the dietary challenges that the residents of the Faroes are facing as they attempt to reconcile ancient traditions with recent health and life style concerns.

Our time in Iceland was all too short, but happily it did include a visit to the rarely visited Westman Islands where we were able to witness first hand the devastation to the Island of Heimaey in 1973 by the  Eldfell volcano eruption. Also a misty evening sail past the island of Surtsey which in a moment of pure science fiction miraculously rose up from the ocean one day in 1963 will be for me a lasting memory.

As always the Ocean Endeavour provided excellent and plentiful food and comfortable accommodation. Good evening entertainment was available in the form of musical evenings, a variety show, heated debates on whether or not Scotland has a national cuisine  and on one memorable occasion “A Salute to the Haggis” with the staff all appropriately clad in kilts.

The journey ended all too soon as on the last evening we all sang “Old Lang Syne.”

I’m sure that “old acquaintance” will not be forgotten as 119 of the 179 passengers were repeats and I certainly will be one of them.