Cruising The British Isles With Voyages To Antiquity – Part Two

We sailed from Scilly and made our way towards Dublin. The weather changed quite dramatically and what should have been one day in port turned into two, with the loss of Oban and Portree. Everyone seemed quite happy at having the overnight option in Dublin as it would allow more time to explore. I wandered through the city, dodging numerous trams as I went and in the evening, after devouring a pizza on board, I went back ashore to enjoy the local nightlife. I left the ship at the perfect time: just as I started to cross the bridge to the opposite side of the river, the Red Arrows came into formation directly above Aegean Odyssey. It was quite an incredible sight. Very few others on board managed to see them – the majority were having dinner – I was definitely one of a lucky few.

During one of our unexpected days at sea there was a lecture on offer from Andy Bunten and it was the one I had been waiting for. I’d met Andy, one of Voyages to Antiquity’s guest lecturers, at the beginning of the cruise and I got on very well with him and his wife. His talk on this day was titled ‘Hold Your Breath – Britain’s Whales’ and Andy had my attention from the moment he spoke. He’s a fantastic guest speaker and his talks are educational, passionate and fun. I learned more about cetaceans during his talk than I have in my entire life. He spoke about feeding habits, how the tail muscles work to drive the mammal through the water, the evolution of the species and he also offered some fascinating facts:

  • There are 30 species of whales to be found in UK waters
  • Sperm whales can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes
  • The tongue of a Blue whale weighs the same as an elephant
  • Orca is the largest species of dolphin – they are NOT whales
  • One way of gauging a whale’s age is by examining its ear wax
  • Orca have a black half-circle below their eyes to prevent glare
  • Gulpers: whales that take a bite of water and then squeeze it out through a filter mechanism, thus saving the precious plankton that they feed on
  • Skimmers: these whales swim along with their mouths open, constantly filtering as they go

During the cruise, a list was being kept by Andy and other passengers on sightings, this included marine life and birds. These are just some of the things that collectively were spotted: puffin, gannet, buzzard, kittiwake, common tern, razorbill, kestrel, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise and a hummingbird hawk moth. Andy would regularly be out on the open deck, come rain or shine, seeing what he could spot.

Scrabster was our next port of call, in the Scottish Highlands. We were docked next to a small lighthouse and from the ship’s aft decks you could see dozens of sheep grazing on the almost vertical hills. During the morning, I could hear the lambs calling out for their mothers, it was very sweet. I’d noticed a path that led into the fields and was tempted to walk along it, but changed my mind. I didn’t want to scare the babies.

We’d actually arrived in Scrabster a day earlier than planned and once the ship was cleared, I set off to explore the harbour. It’s tiny, but full of life and the RNLI boat was on its way back into port just as I got there, the crew of which were happy to pose for a photograph. I spent a few hours during the evening in a bar called Popeye’s and it was great fun. Dozens of other passengers also descended upon this little pub and we laughed, played pool and rotated songs on the Jukebox until the sun set.

In the morning, I boarded the 9:30AM shuttle into Thurso. There wasn’t a great deal to do there, but I enjoyed the walk. In some places, it felt like I had gone back in time. Shop fronts hadn’t been updated for many years, since at least the 70s and 80s, so it had a real charm about it. I also spotted a building that I fell in love with right next to the shuttle stop. It’s home to a branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland, but I really do wonder what it was originally, maybe a grand manor house? Who knows, but it reminded me somewhat of the house from the most recent version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Not entirely sure why, but I fell in love with it. Maybe it was the many windows and the thought of what nooks and crannies lay inside that captured my imagination.

Aegean Odyssey sailed just after lunchtime for her next port, Rosyth. I was up early and on the included tour to Stirling Castle. I love a bit of history when I travel and nothing beats a day of exploring an old castle. The drive to Stirling was pleasant and when the castle came into view, I was in awe. It was stunning. Our guide was fantastic, and she was soon walking us through the main entrance and into the castle grounds. She spoke for a few minutes, giving us a brief rundown of where everything was and what we should allow time to see, before setting us off with 2 hours of free time to explore.

The 12th century castle features the Queen Anne Garden, Palace, Great Hall, Chapel Royal, Tapestry Exhibition and more. My favourite area was the Palace, which was commissioned by James V in the 1530s. It was exquisite. I was charmed by the huge stone fireplaces and beautiful artwork that adorned the wall above each. Stirling Castle was one of the most favoured homes of Scottish kings and queens, but its strategic importance meant that it also became one of the most besieged castles in the land. It was the focus of two of the most important battles in Scotland’s history – Stirling Bridge in 1297 and Bannockburn in 1314. Bannockburn was led by King of Scots, Robert the Bruce and his statue stands proudly just outside the main entrance to the castle grounds.

Mary Stuart, more commonly known as Mary, Queen of Scots was crowned at Stirling in 1542, she wasn’t even a year old when she acceded to the throne.

We were given just the right amount of time to explore at Stirling. Any more would have been too long and any less, not enough. We boarded our coach on time for the drive back to Rosyth, passing the most incredible sculptures that I have ever seen. The Kelpies are 30-metre-high horse head sculptures and they are out of this world. Sadly, I was on the wrong side of the bus, so I couldn’t take a photo, but Google them and have a look at some pictures online, you’ll not be disappointed.

My time aboard would come to an end the following day, when Aegean Odyssey made her maiden call to Port of Tyne, the gateway for Newcastle, Durham, Alnwick and more. I was sad to leave. I had a great time on board and I met some very interesting people. I left the ship after lunch and snapped my final picture of the cruise. It’s always sad when you have to say goodbye!

Award-Winning Aegean Odyssey

Voyages to Antiquity may be a small cruise line compared to others, but they offer a comprehensive cruising experience and from the food to the shore excursions, everything is meticulously planned.

I enjoyed the variation of food during my time on board, I never struggled to find something to satisfy my hunger. There were various meat, poultry and fish options, always several vegetable and salad options and a selection of cakes and other sweet treats that were simply divine. Highlights for me included the Asian buffet as it offered my taste buds something new, an Indonesian curry called ‘Opor Ayam’. The curry was so tasty that I went back for more. I ordered a mahi-mahi fillet one evening (pictured below), that was served with a lemongrass and coconut sauce and it too was moreish. I prefer shellfish, but wanted to give it a try and I’m glad I did. The pizza on board is very good and it is always available during lunch and dinner at The Terrace Cafe. Another always available option is spaghetti Bolognese and that is also worth trying the next time you are on board.

The ship’s main restaurant is the Marco Polo, but I only dined in there a handful of times. When the weather is good, I much prefer to be outside, taking in the scenery. There is a slight variation between menus in the two venues, but usually the al-la-carte dishes are the same in both – so you don’t miss out.

Aegean Odyssey’s crew are superb, not a single person was unapproachable or miserable. They literally couldn’t do enough for you and it was clear that past-passengers had built up friendships with many of them. As Voyages to Antiquity only operates one vessel, it’s not hard to return and see many familiar faces. I recognised at least two dozen people when I boarded and they all remembered me.

Shore excursions were varied and very well organised. Most excursions are included and you often have a choice of 2 or 3 in most ports, so you really can tailor-make the experience to suit you. Groups are called by colour and that colour is assigned to you at embarkation, so there’s no need to remember tickets. Your daily Journal details meeting times and places, all you need to do is match your colour and show up – simple and effective.

My favourite areas onboard are the Lido Deck, Charleston Lounge and The Terrace Cafe. I especially enjoyed the Lido Deck if the sun was shining. There’s a section on the starboard side of the deck where you can grab tea, coffee and water. In the morning, there is also a healthy breakfast option served here and sometimes, a mid-morning bouillon. Technically, you could stay here all day without moving far to get anything.

The Charleston Lounge is the place for live music and late night snacks and I spent a lot of time there reading, writing, chatting and enjoying the entertainment that was offered. I soaked up every moment of listening to Dawn’s beautiful voice when she sang as part of the Excelsior Duo and I couldn’t stop listening to The Odyssey Trio. I’m not a fan of classical music by any means, but their passion and enthusiasm was contagious and I couldn’t seem to peel myself away.

I was on board for 11-nights, but it wasn’t long enough, I could have quite happily stayed. I met several people that were doing back-to-back cruises and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious. I’d love to cruise on Aegean Odyssey again in the future. We first met in 2016 and it took me 2 years to get back on board. Hopefully I don’t have to wait quite so long until we meet again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.