Cruising Scotland in style aboard a converted fishing boat

There’s one ­­sure-fire way to irritate a cruise aficionado – or a captain – and that’s to call their “ship” a “boat”.

Yet the vessel I travelled on for one of my most enjoyable cruises was most definitely a boat.

Just 85f t long, and with a crew of four, Glen Tarsan is a converted Irish trawler. Four of its six cabins are down at the waterline in the former fish-hold; when the weather gets up, peering through the porthole is rather like looking into a washing machine on its rinse cycle.

Thankfully, there’s no trace of fish now; there’s not a great deal of room to move, and the shower’s a bit temperamental, but at least you get a proper flush toilet.

The boat has one public room – with not quite enough comfortable chairs for all 11 passengers – and everyone eats at the communal table, which might have to be pushed aside and lashed to the wall if the sea gets rough.

A table on an open deck at the stern is available for sunny days, and above is another deck – from where one gloriously clear night on Loch Linnhe I stood open-mouthed in amazement as more stars than I have ever seen in my life shone down on me.

That’s the thing about Glen Tarsan – it takes you completely away from the distractions of daily life in the city; it has no bright lights of its own, but it can transport you almost to heaven – on the west coast of Scotland.

It is one of two vessels operated by The Majestic Line – the name and gold funnel both inspired by an episode from the 70s TV comedy series about the Clyde puffer Vital Spark, which was captained by the irascible Para Handy.

Glen Tarsan and Glen Massan operate three-day and six-day voyages, usually sailing from Dunoon into the Firth of Clyde, or from Oban to Mull and the surrounding islands and lochs.

I took a cruise from Oban and had hoped to visit Iona to tour the monastery and Staffa to explore Fingal’s Cave but the weather had other ideas.

High winds would have made venturing out into the open ocean uncomfortable at the very least, and possibly dangerous.

We remained in more sheltered waters, and were joined by a lively otter as we anchored for the night near a mussel farm in Loch Spelvie.

Plain sailing: The Glen Tarsan
Plain sailing: The Glen Tarsan

 

The following day saw us touring Duart Castle before heading north to Tobermory and slipping ashore after dinner for a couple of pints in the Mishnish Hotel.

Over the next few days we sailed up Loch Sunart and Lochaline, Loch Linnhe and Loch Eil, taking time ashore to visit ethereal Eilean Munde, the tiny island where many of the MacDonald victims of the Glencoe Massacre are buried, and to shop for souvenirs in Fort William.

That final night, when the Milky Way was shining so brightly, had begun with a sighting of a group of seals basking in the rocks off Shula Island.

We folllowed that by heading ashore for a pre-dinner stroll to see the impressive ramparts of Castle Stalker – one of the best-preserved medieval tower houses in Scotland, despite the efforts of Monty Python to destroy it during filming of the Holy Grail.

On board the boat, Engineer Bob McLean – who doubled as our tender pilot – proudly showed us all round his spotless engine room, while chef Doug Wilson sweated in the tiny galley preparing the most delicious meals from fresh local ingredients.

Despite our best efforts with rod and line, we failed to supply him with any of our own freshly-caught fish.

Bosun Vicky Lindus did her best to keep us in order and supplied with drinks from the cubbyhole bar stocked with a selection of whiskies, the scary-sounding Bilgewater Gin, and award-winning beers from the Fyne Ales brewery at Cairndow. The cost of drinks was added to our bills at the end of the week, although wine with lunch and dinner was on the house.

Skipper Iain Duncan was never lonely in the wheelhouse – passengers could join him at any time of day to pore over charts, watch him plot a course and keep an eagle eye out for wildlife on the not-very-distant shore.

Not only did we get to see some stunning scenery, we also got to know plenty about our fellow passengers after spending six days with them from breakfast-time until after-dinner drinks.

A great bunch, and at least one couple returned to take over the boat with their family for an anniversary celebration.

Unlike Michael Winner, who chartered it just for himself and fiancee Geraldine last year.

They might not have had company, but even he couldn’t find fault with the food.

Getting there

The Majestic Line runs 15 cruise itineraries from Holy Loch, Dunoon and Oban between April and October.

Prices start at £965 for three nts and £1,830 for six nts on full board, including house wine with meals.  www.themajesticline.co.uk, 0131 623 5012.

Tourism: www.visitscotland.com

UK & World News: Father speaks of ‘remarkable’ daughter Claire Squires as appeal fund passes £1m

Apr 28 2012

THE father of tragic marathon girl Claire Squires has spoken movingly about his “remarkable” daughter.

Talking about the country’s response to her death, heartbroken dad Paul, 62, said: “My daughter has captured the hearts of a nation.

“She was a wonderful, loving, giving person and it comforts us that people have responded this way.”

Claire Squires

Claire, 30, aimed to raise £500 for the Samaritans by running in last Sunday’s London Marathon.

But last night, the hairdresser’s appeal passed the £1million mark.

Paul said: “Claire was remarkable and this reaction is remarkable too.”

Claire, of Great Bowden, Leicestershire, collapsed and died close to the finish line.

She will be buried on Wednesday alongside her brother Grant, 25, who died of a drug overdose in 2001.

Paul and mum Cilla, 63, sisters Maxine, 38, Nicola, 32, and Penny, 28, are expected to be joined by hundreds of mourners.

Friend Nicola Short appeared on TV’s This Morning yesterday. She said: “Claire was fun-loving. When we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year, she virtually skipped up it.”

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UK & World News: Bungling Portuguese cop backs call for Madeleine McCann case to be reopened

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Scottish News: Kevin ‘Gerbil’ Carroll murder trial: Victim put £100k contract on head of man accused of killing him

Apr 28 2012

asda car park robroyston where kevin 'gerbil' carroll shot dead

KEVIN “Gerbil” Carroll put out a £100,000 contract on one of the men blamed for killing him, a murder trial was told yesterday.

Detective Constable James Sloan said the man told him Carroll had put out a hit on him three months before the gangster was shot dead.

DC Sloan was giving evidence at the trial of Ross Monaghan, who is accused of murdering Carroll, 29, by gunning him down in a supermaket car park.

The jury were told that DC Sloan spoke to the man – a former associate of Carroll’s, who cannot be named for legal reasons – after the shooting at Asda in Robroyston, Glasgow, on January 13, 2010.

He refused to give a formal statement but did give information to the inquiry. Defence QC Derek Ogg asked DC Sloan: “Did this man say, ‘I’ll do 10 years for that wee p***k, it’ll be worth it’.”

He replied, “I don’t recall that.”

Mr Ogg added: “Did this man say he was no longer an associate because he understood that Gerbil had offered £100,000 for a hit on him?” The detective replied: “That’s correct.”

The man also gave police information about a number of people interested in doing serious harm to Mr Carroll, DC Sloan said. Monaghan, 30, has lodged a special defence blaming eight men including William Paterson, who is believed to be in Spain, for the shooting.

Gillian Rankin, from Addiewell Prison, also told the court that two days after Carroll was shot, Monaghan and Paterson visited Paul Lyons in the West Lothian jail.

Monaghan denies all the charges against him. The trial before judge Lord Brailsford continues.

Scottish News: Pair who sent letterbomb to Celtic manager Neil Lennon could be out of jail in a year

Apr 28 2012

neil lennon bomb plot device

TWO vile bigots who waged a letterbomb campaign against Celtic boss Neil Lennon and other Parkhead figures could be outof jail and back at home within 12 months.

Trevor Muirhead and Neil McKenzie were given five-year jail terms yesterday but, under prison rules, won’t serve their full sentences.

Muirhead, 44, from Kilwinning, and McKenzie, 42, from Saltcoats, both Ayrshire, sent letterbomb packages to Lennon, Labour MSP Trish Godman and the late Paul McBride QC – Scotland’s highest-profile lawyer and a lifelong Celtic fan.

Yet they could serve just one more year behind bars on top of the year they have already spent in jail on remand, before being sent home on electronic tags.

Sentencing the pair, Lord Turnbull said Muirhead and McKenzie had not been engaged in acts of terrorism because the devices they sent would never have exploded.

Lord Turnbull said: “It is obvious I’m not dealing with what would be thought of as acts of terrorism at all.

“I can’t fathom what was in your minds to act as you did.

“It is incomprehensible that two family men, in their 40s, would engage in such reckless and serious criminal conduct.

“Even the sending of a package as a bomb hoax would always be a serious offence and result in a custodial sentence – because of the widespread disruption and anxiety caused.”

Both were given five years after being convicted of conspiracy to assault.

Earlier charges of conspiracy to murder were dropped on the grounds the devices would never have gone off.

McKenzie was also sentenced to 18 months, to run concurrently, on a separate charge of posting a hoax bomb to Lennon at Celtic Park.

Assuming time off for good behaviour, both will be eligible for parole after serving half their sentences, which were backdated to their arrest last May.

The final six months of the reduced term could be on a tag, meaning they could be out of jail next May.

The lenient sentences provoked a storm of outrage last night from anti-sectarian campaigners and politicians,

David Scott, of charity Nil By Mouth, said they should serve the full five years, with no early release.

He added: “These individuals have to accept responsibility for their cowardly actions and serve the full sentences.

“These were serious crimes by anyone’s reckoning and this trial reminded us of the lengths people are willing to go to when fuelled by hatred.”

Scots historian Professor Tom Devine, of Edinburgh University, was surprised at the leniency shown.

He said: “The sentences were obviously influenced by the fact the devices turned out to be non-lethal.

“Against the background of the Government’s anti-sectarian strategy, one would have expected the sentence would have reflected the fact there were sectarian overtones in this case.”

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell last night paid tribute to the courage shown by his Lennon and his family. He said: “We are pleased with the way in which this case has been treated and would like to thank Strathclyde Police for their support and assistance.

“Regrettably Neil, over many years, has been the subject of various attacks. We hope this sentence will send a signal to others that this kind of behaviour cannot be tolerated.

“Neil and his family have shown great courage in dealing with this episode and continue to have our full support.”

Celtic coach Alan Thompson said that Lennon was “delighted” the case was over. He added: “Hopefully that will be the end of the nonsense and nothing like that will happen again.”

However, another close associate of Lennon said Muirhead and McKenzie got off lightly.

He said: “If the judge had said 10years and the men served the lot, it wouldn’t be a day too many.”

As he was led down to start his sentence, McKenzie, wearing a bluesuit, blew a kiss to his family. Muirhead muttered to himself and shook his head.

Politics News: Alex Salmond is Rupert Murdoch’s ‘undercover lobbyist’, says Ed Miliband

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