Hebridean Island Cruises

The Raasay Distillery… and my new sweatshirt!

Saturday morning, we arrived in the misty port on the Isle of Raasay. We took a tour of yet another distillery… another brand new one designed to bring business to one of Scotland’s beautiful, remote islands. The Isle of Raasay Distillery doesn’t have a whisky ready yet, but is selling gin and Raasay While We Wait, a single malt made of two expressions from one distillery. One is peated, and the other is unpeated.

We reached the distillery by foot, as it was just up the hill from the rugged pier where the ship docked. The weather was chilly and kind of wet. When we entered the very attractive foyer of the welcome center, my eyes immediately landed on a big blue sweatshirt. Remembering that I had made more room for warm weather clothes than cold, I decided to buy it after our tour.

We did get a proper tour, by the way. A young man named Alistair showed our group the distillery’s one warehouse. Two more will soon be built, and all of the liquor will eventually be moved to make room for a bottling facility. Like the Isle of Harris Distillers, the Isle of Raasay Distillery hopes to create local jobs for young people to keep the island’s economy alive. The Isle of Raasay Distillery, which is also a boutique hotel with reportedly gorgeous rooms, is mostly run by family. But they did seem open to getting some new blood into the tight-knit community. I have to admit, they made the Isle of Raasay sound like a lovely place to live. If I were about twenty years younger, I’d give some thought into moving there and finding a job.

We also saw the very modern Italian machinery that fuels the distillery’s efforts, and we got to taste a couple of the whiskys and the gin. I found While We Wait to be very strong. In fact, I made the lone Danish guy on our cruise laugh because of my surprised expression. He later told me that I shouldn’t play poker. Good thing I’m not a gambler.

I did like the gin a lot, and later that afternoon, I had Louis make me a gin and tonic with Isle of Raasay gin. Those who finished the tour in time were invited to visit Raasay House, a hotel where I’m sure refreshments and a tour were available. Bill and I skipped the house and went back to the ship. It was ridiculously chilly. I know it’s Scotland and Scotland is way up in the north, but I’m a southerner and being chilly in August is still kind of weird. Supposedly, on a clear day, Isle of Raasay Distillery has the best view on the island. I can believe it.

At about 1:00pm, we left Raasay and cruised under the Skye Bridge, through Kyle Rhea, and the Sound of Sleat. Once again, I found myself wanting to read a book and nap. Bill went to listen to Jim Allan’s talk “Wind, Water and Wood”.

Next up, the Isle of Skye

Hebridean Island Cruises

Rocpool Reserve, a nice place to get in the luxe mood…

I really wish we’d gone straight to Inverness. It turned out to be a cute little town with lots of shops and restaurants. I also scored us a nice basic room at Rocpool Reserve, a twelve room property in a residential area of the city. Rocpool Reserve is also home to Chez Roux, a restaurant that uses Scottish ingredients with a French twist. I only booked one night at this hotel, but I could have happily stayed a couple more. In stark contrast to the Kimpton property in Edinburgh, our room at this hotel had air conditioning that worked and a really comfortable mattress.

A nice gentleman checked us in, took our bags, and invited us to go to the bar, where food is served all day. I was glad to hear that, because after our long train journey, I was hungry! Turns out Rocpool Reserve is popular with Americans. We noticed the same American couple who had been on the train with us and complained about the backwards seating were also booked at our hotel. There were also two American couples from Florida who had just done a trekking tour. Inverness seems to be a popular jumping off spot for tours.

I had smoked salmon with a buckwheat pancake and a glass of Sancerre to start. Bill had a really delicious ham and cheese sandwich that was impregnated with a sinful amount of butter. Once again, I ordered the wrong thing! The salmon was good, but Bill’s sandwich really ticked off the comfort food rating. After lunch, I decided to take a much needed nap. Actually, naps were a predominant feature on this trip. I took tons of naps! The weather helped put me in the mood.

I booked our table at Chez Roux for 7:00pm, but we were told to go to the bar, where we would be served canapes and have aperitifs before dinner. I’m not sure why they do it this way, but I kind of liked it. The two American couples from Florida were there at the same time we were, so it kind of made for good socializing.

Here are some photos from Rocpool Reserve and Chez Roux restaurant, where we enjoyed a beautiful dinner.

After a restful night, we had breakfast, which is included in the room rate. As we were eating our Eggs Benedict and pastries, I noticed a girl sitting at a nearby table wearing a t-shirt advertising The Inn at Tabb’s Creek, a bed and breakfast in Mathews, Virginia. I grew up in neighboring Gloucester. Neither Mathews nor Gloucester are well known outside of the Tidewater area of Virginia, so I was very surprised to see someone who had been there in Scotland.

We hung out at the hotel until about 11:00am, then checked out and got a cab to the Royal Highland Hotel in Inverness. This hotel is where we would be meeting our coach to the ship, and we were allowed to drop our bags there and have refreshments if we wanted them. I was delighted to find Bryan Hogge, one of two guides on our cruise. Bryan was our guide on our last Hebridean cruise to Northern Ireland, so I knew we’d be in great hands. During the winter, he teaches people how to ski. In the summer, he does tours for Hebridean. I also saw Mariusz, the Polish steward who waited on Bill and me on our September 2017 cruise. He didn’t quite remember me at first, but then I laughed. My laugh always jars people’s memories. As we talked, he told me his beautiful wife Wioletta was also going to be working. I was glad to hear that, since we bonded on the last cruise.

After we dropped our bags, we walked around Inverness, where we were charmed by two buskers. One was a cute blonde girl who appeared to be doing some kind of Japanese anime thing. She was wearing a pink tutu and dancing and singing in the town square. I thought it took a lot of guts to do what she was doing, so Bill left her a tip. She beamed at us as we continued on our way and ran across a pint sized bagpiper. He was adorable and really raking it in, despite not being the most competent piper I’ve ever heard. Actually, for his age, he was very good. Give him a few years and he’ll be a star… and probably a stud, too.

As I was getting a clip of him playing “Scotland the Brave”, some old biddy came over and chastised me for where I was standing, since I was getting people passing in front of the camera. I told her it was okay and she said it wasn’t okay for her. I probably shot “fuck off” lasers at her with my eyes… I’m really good for a dirty look, and she quickly beat it after that. She still ruined my clip, though, so I had to start over.

After we finished watching the cutie pie on the bagpipes, we went into a shop and picked up a proper shirt for Bill to wear with his new kilt. We also got him a bow tie, which requires actually tying. That was a new skill he didn’t quite master this trip. We forgot to get cuff links, so that was something he bought during the cruise.

We didn’t really want to hang around in the hotel lobby, since it was full of both cruise passengers and actual hotel guests. Instead of taking the ship’s offer of refreshments, we went to the restaurant next door, Filling Station, and had lunch. Filling Station is a chain restaurant, but they have good roasted chicken there. Bill went with some kind of salad with sheep’s milk cheese in it. He’s always got to show me up by eating healthy.

Finally, at about 4:45pm or so, we were invited to board the coach. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at about 5:00pm, but ScotRail was delayed. Big surprise! But finally, at about 5:15 or so, we were on our way to Invergordon, a town that isn’t known for its beauty. Since it hosts a lot of cruises, they’ve been trying to make it more inviting for tourists. The guide pointed out some of the murals local artists have painted. We saw a huge German AIDA ship in port and were grateful to be boarding tiny Hebridean Princess, where we were to be coddled and cosseted to an amazing standard. On the other hand, my husband coddles and cossets me the same way on the daily. My lifestyle is a study in ridiculousness.

Next post… boarding the Princess after almost two years. Gee, it’s good to be home! Indeed, a couple of the staff members immediately remembered me and reacted with pleasure and hugs hello, which is always a pleasant surprise!