A heady blend of wildlife and luxury with Hebrides Cruises

It’s not every day that I’m mistaken for a Russian Oligarch, but it happened on more than one occasion in less than a week. For full disclosure, this has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Lucy Mary.

You see, Lucy Mary is the latest addition to Hebrides Cruises’ fleet of vessels which sail out of Oban to explore the Scottish isles. A luxurious 23-foot long motor yacht, sourced in Beirut, she certainly cuts a dash in the turquoise waters of the Hebrides, with room for eight guests in en suite cabins and a large lounge, dining and bar area fit for, well, a Russian Oligarch.

I have the privilege of being onboard for six nights to explore Skye and the Small Isles. Binoculars in hand we depart Oban in glorious sunshine heading up the Sound of Mull to Loch na Droma Buidhe to start our adventure. Captain James Fairnbairns is at the helm, and we have the luxury of a wildlife guide onboard in the lovely Bella. Abbie is on hand for all things hospitality, and Perry is our man in the galley cooking up a storm.

The quality of the food is one of the things that makes this cruise such a treat. Dinner is a group affair and the guests are joined by the Skipper as we enjoy fresh, local meals like seabass with samphire, and beurre blanc, fillet steak, and duck with pak choi and braised red cabbage around the table. There’s always three courses, followed by a wholly unnecessary, but incredibly welcome, cheese board. Each evening the feast is followed by a gathering on the comfy sofas to allow the Skipper to talk us through the weather forecast and plans for the next day’s adventures. And for Bella to give us a run down on the day’s wildlife.

On the first night we plan to raise the anchor after breakfast the following morning and set a course for the Isle of Muck. I retire to my comfy cabin in the hull and sleep like a baby. I awake to an incredible sunrise and can’t resist jumping off the back of the ship for a swim as the golden sun creeps up above the hills and illuminates the rippling water. What a way to start the day! Breakfast is a selection of fruit and cereals as well as a daily changing hot option, the sausage and bacon were most welcome after a chilly dip.

We head to Muck via Coll and experience our first bow-riding dolphins. This marvel was to be a daily occurrence on our cruise and the joy of sharing these moments of fun with such beautiful, intelligent, wild creatures is hard to put into words. Let’s just say that I miss them every day. We spot porpoises and distant minke fins, which was also to become a daily pleasure. More swimming proves irresistible from Muck’s white sand beach following a walk in unusually blazing sunshine that is hot enough to melt the tarmac on the road across the island.

Back on board we head for Canna, the westernmost Small Isle. En route there isn’t a breath of wind and visibility is perfect. A group of birds bobbing gently in the distance sends Bella into a flurry of excitement and the closer we get the more the sea seems to come to life. Gannets dive into the water like missiles at seemingly impossible speeds and there are fins everywhere. Common dolphins breach and circle and every now and then the huge arc of a minke whale rolls out of the blue. There are at least three whales, probably more and I’m whooping like a child on Christmas morning as Lucy Mary appears to be surrounded by this incredible feeding frenzy. Our skipper James and the rest of the crew join us on deck and I’m delighted to share James’s excitement, despite the fact that he’s spent many years surrounded by scenes just like this one. All that’s missing is David Attenborough’s whispering commentary!

I can’t stop thinking about this incredible natural spectacle and feel very privileged to have witnessed it. It is great to have the opportunity to chat about it relentlessly with the other guests and the crew, who are happy to share in our excitement.

The next morning brings a wander on Canna, where we meet the local NTS ranger who suggests we go for a walk past the rather splendid Canna House, which is currently closed for renovation, to see the ‘torture stone’. Here repentance took the form of standing with your thumb in a big rock with a hole in the side and thinking about what you have done. It’s pretty blowy and exposed up on the hillside, so I can imagine in winter this might deter anyone from considering the path of sin, but today we’re enjoying the views over the cliffs before wandering over the bridge to the neighbouring island of Sanday.

Our next port of call is Rum, the largest of the small isles, where I spend a peaceful, but less than fruitful few hours in the island’s otter hide. Some of the other guests wander along to peer in the windows of the fascinating Kinloch Castle, and others brave the drizzle to walk up to a pretty waterfall.

Then it’s time to head over the sea to Skye, where the jagged peaks of the Cuillin ridge are shrouded in cloud as we enter Loch Scavaig to anchor Lucy Mary and ride the tender ashore. This stop is all the more special because we are only a ten minute walk from Loch Coruisk. This is a place that is only accessible by boat, or by a day’s hike, so it takes commitment to get here.

I take my swimming kit ashore and wonder if I’ll be brave enough to take a dip. The sunny beaches seem a distant memory as the sheer scale of the mountains that seem to rise up out of the little loch is hidden in the deep grey cloud. But somehow, Skye is all the more beautiful and atmospheric in its blanket of weather and I can’t help imagining how little this place has changed despite centuries of development and interference all around it. A group of red deer hinds graze the sparse grass that grows between the slabs of rock, they seem unperturbed by our presence as we approach the water’s edge.

I’m buoyed on by my fellow guests and will eternally be grateful to them for their encouragement. And to the three lovely gents who we met on our way to the loch, who mistook us for Russian billionaires and told me that this was one of the most special places in all of the UK to go for a dip. I swim out into the middle of the loch and tread water as I take in the 360 degree views of the mountains around me. What an experience to swim in such an incredible, wild spot.

Back aboard Lucy Mary and I’m buzzing again as we move around the coast a little to find a sheltered spot to drop anchor for the night. Here we get some great views of white-tailed sea eagles as they soar on the thermals overhead and are harassed by gulls as they perch on the rocks around Skye’s rugged southern shore.

Eigg is next on the agenda, and here we walk to massacre and cathedral caves which we can wander into as the tide is out. Massacre cave is so named following a disagreement between the islanders and some residents of Skye. The population of Eigg was decimated when they were discovered hiding in the cave by the aggrieved men from Skye who set a fire in the mouth of the cave and left the islanders to die. Eigg is a community-owned island so a visit to the well-stocked community store to buy some local beer rounded off our visit nicely.

Here we are anchored by the two other ships in Hebrides Cruises’ fleet, Elizabeth G and Emma Jane. We wave to the other guests as we head for the shelter of Loch Arisaig for the evening. I awake to another glorious sunrise and a swim before we head for the bright lights of Tobermory and a yomp along to the lighthouse before sampling some of Mull’s renowned hospitality in the Mishnish bar and a wee wander around the shops. There is great excitement when we meet the famous Tobermory Cat!

Our final evening on board is spent closer to Oban and James shows us an amazing film of our trip that he has edited together using footage and images that he captured on his phone and with his drone. It is a fabulous reminder of our time on board. And as if we really needed another cherry on the cake, after dark there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so I stayed up late to gaze at the Milky Way and watch shooting stars zip across my field of vision. And I wouldn’t blame you if you thought I was making this up, but holding my phone up to the sky there was the unmistakable purple and green glow of the aurora borealis.

The cruise I was lucky enough to be invited along on was Skye and the Small Isles: Hebridean Horizons, a six night trip including breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner with wine, which costs from £2,750 per person. To find out more about private charters, this cruise or the many others Hebrides Cruises offer go to

Click HERE to read more travel news and features from Scottish Field