Guest Reviews

It’s all very well if we tell you how much you’ll enjoy one of our holidays…what really matters is what our guests think. All the comments on our website are genuine and are kept on file at the offices of The Northern Light Cruising Co. Here’s an email received from Jill, a guest who travellled all the way from America to experience one of our cruises. It is quite lengthy but if you read it all you’ll see why we were pleased to be so favourably compared to our competitors.

I just got back from a very different sort of visit to Scotland – a walking holiday in the Cape Wrath area run by one of the better known companies specializing in this type of thing. This is the first time I have had another kind of all-inclusive, small-group holiday to compare with what you and Mark offer. [Read whole review here]

Another guest – Graham – sent a letter following his summer 2007 holiday to the owner/editor of Scottish Islands Explorer magazine where he had spotted our ad.

Why not check what some of our other valued guests have to say? The following links are to independent sites produced by passengers who have taken a Northern Light Charters cruise. Given our percentage of repeat bookings and recommendations is around 75% some of them have taken many more than one!

  • Mick Parmenter spent 10 days aboard in 2012, as well as taking some wonderful photos he also produced a video which you can see on the following link:

  • Roger and Ann Hiley travelled aboard Chalice around the Hebrides to St Kilda in 2003. They have written up an account of their holiday as well as including lots of lovely photos. They have also written up a similar page for their trip with us to Faroes and Iceland in 2005 aboard Hjalmar Bjorge.
  • Richard Crossen has published some wonderful photos of his holiday to St Kilda in 2004.
  • Richard returned and has uploaded more photos from his cruise round the Inner Hebrides 2007.
  • Nigel Lynch, with help from other guests onboard, has also published a photographic record of their trip to St Kilda in June 2007. Nigel later returned and photographed his Inner Hebridean Cruise in July 2009.
  • Sheila Saltmarsh, from America, spent a week on Hjalmar Bjorge in June 2007. She emailed the relevant part of her UK diary which is here for you to read as a pdf file (1.1 Mb).
  • Margaret Simpson spent 10 days aboard Zuza in August 2009 and was short-listed in The Guardian’s travel writing competition for the entry she wrote when she returned home, The Magic in the Names (pdf 171kb).
  • In September 2009 we welcomed Ben from Tourdust – the cultural and adventure travel specialists – aboard Hjalmar Bjorge for a 4-night cruise. Read his independent review of his holiday here.

Any single travellers considering one of our cruises might like to read an article by Joan Gross who holidayed with us in 2001. Lots of our guests are “singles” so don’t worry about feeling left out – you won’t be.  Joan describes how much she enjoyed the cruise and made new friends – one of whom turned out to live only an hour away from her home! As long as you are prepared to share a cabin with another (same sex) guest you’ll fit right in onboard. Read Joan’s article here.

The following news item was a trip report and review penned by guests Sian Thomas and Carolyn Taylor;

Thu 8 Sep | And now for something completely different…  as somebody famous once said. No news from the official keyboard of Northern Light Charters from this last cruise, Monday 29 August to Wednesday 7 September, an Outer Hebridean Explorer. Without further ado we hand over to the pen of guest Sian Thomas, with contributions from guest Carolyn Taylor.

Thursday 8th September 2011, 8am; our trip on the Hjalmar Bjorge to St Kilda and the Outer Hebrides has ended. I wake up and momentarily wonder why my bed is stationary. A little disgruntled, I realise I’m not in a bunk but in my own bed, the usual (but not always) gentle rocking which has accompanied my sleep for the past ten days is no more. I sniff the air. Nothing. No bacon smells waft past my nostrils, no sausages are frying. Dragging myself out of bed I wander to the kitchen. Forced to make my own coffee I look ruefully at the empty table. I miss the crew.

In an uncharacteristic display of impulsive and slightly mad behaviour the man we have come to think of as “our” Captain, Mark (Aye, aye) has asked a group of guests to write a blog. Following a convivial evening and some discussion about “Favourite bits to mention” the task of producing said blog falls to one member of the group. Me.

So where to start? Well, I suppose to begin at the beginning always seems a good place, although “Just point at the person who is in the water and repeat “Man Overboard” until I turn the boat around and pick them up” is not exactly what you are hoping to hear when you first step on board and head out towards one of the more remote parts of the British Isles. Luckily we managed to avoid needing to use the point and shout technique, though Mark’s seasickness talk was certainly a necessary introduction to our fifteen hour chug to St Kilda on day one. The issue was the good old British weather (which never lets you down with its constant changeability). “The North Wind doth blow…” says the nursery rhyme. Well, so does the West, the South-West, the East and the North-East and sometimes they seem to be doing it all at the same time causing – for a few poor souls – nausea of terrible hideousness.

But just when it gets too much, a small pod of common dolphins will be attracted by the movement of the boat in the water. Twice we had groups bow-riding the Hjalmar Bjorge, playing in the waves, breaching the water, spinning below the surface and getting close enough for us to see their “smiling” mouths, their mammalian eyes, their scratched and scarred skin. Suddenly, you forget the sickness and are fascinated by their pirouetting agility. We learned that the scratches are caused by other dolphins, either during arguments or courtship. Incidentally, the crew not only have a profound respect for the environment, but are incredibly knowledgeable and happy to share information with guests. Thanks to their eagle eyes (and with the help of the lovely Eva) we spotted eagles (sea and golden), otters, fulmars, gannets, seals, dolphins (bottlenose and common), to name but a few.

The islands of St Kilda are beautiful, remote and appear barren and inhospitable even in benign weather. That Hirta, the largest island, managed to support a small community of people who survived by climbing cliffs to capture birds is awe inspiring. Evacuated in 1930, the community’s modest dwellings were left to decay; today some have been renovated and are open to the public. We had the chance to spend a day there, a stroke of luck because getting there is a challenge and isn’t always guaranteed. The next day we circled the islands and saw the nesting sites from close quarters before we headed back on a calmer – and shorter – route to the Outer Hebrides.

With the seasickness dealt with we had a chance to settle into boat life. Being gathered in a relatively small space with people you’ve never met before could prove problematic. However, the Hjalmar Bjorge employs a secret weapon to counteract this. Who was it who said “I defy you to agitate a man on a full stomach”? That person had presumably met someone like Marky Mark, aka Cookie.

It’s hard to believe that a big bloke in a small galley can create such delicious and innovative dishes. The food was amazing: lobster, mussels, soups, lasagne, duck in plum and orange sauce, banoffee pie, nut free dishes, fruit cake, scallops (dived for by Cap’n Mark, now there’s service), homemade bread, veggie options, chicken in honey and lemon, and bread and butter pudding were some of the outrageously scrumptious things which were offered. The mind boggling thing was that Cookie Mark managed to do all this whilst acting as first mate, throwing ropes, jumping onto jetties, spotting dolphins and tending the seasick. Any man who can do all this whilst producing pancakes with bacon and syrup should either be despatched forthwith to sort out hospital food for the NHS or, perhaps just allowed to lie down in a darkened room for a while. And, yes folks, those flapjacks are officially the best in the world!

Fishing was Cookie’s pastime. An early morning mackerel became a lunchtime dish, despite the fact it had startled Joan by flapping past her window at 7am. Deep Sea Fisherman Bill (all the way from South Africa with wife Ann) got into fishing mode. Unfortunately, over-eagerness and a left handed grip on a right handed rod caused Bill to break Cookie’s rod, but not before he had managed to catch a very small specimen. Approaching Cookie, Bill apologetically held the broken rod in one hand and the fish in the other:

Bill: Cookie, what do you call this fish?

Cookie: Pollocks.

Bill: I’m sorry about the rod. (Pause) What do you call this fish?

Leverburgh, a port on Harris, was the stop after St Kilda. Low slung houses were distributed about an inlet. Its unimaginative (though philanthropic) creation causing Carolyn to suggest they employ an architect and a bulldozer and start again. Leverburgh was characterised by a nearby medieval church, some greylag geese and plenty of sheep. The ferry came and went as did we.

The trip progressed south down the west side of the Uists towards Loch Boisdale. On the way Loch Euphort produced some fabulous otter sightings. That evening guests and crew were regaled by boating legends, Tony and Ben. They had spent about ten post-retirement years sailing around the world, “off and on, you know”. With some badgering we managed to coax sailing stories out of them, the one about eluding pirates particularly sticks in the mind, “We kept the boat under sail, started the motor and made small turns of 5 degrees to port until they got fed up” typically understated their adventure. Above: Hjalmar Bjorge on the pontoons at Eriskay by Mark Henrys

Then we were on to Eriskay, Canna and Mull in successive days. All gave opportunities for fantastic walks and scenery. Ship’s dog Seven had never walked so much in her life! We also experienced two magnificent sunsets – you could tell how impressive they were by the fact that we stopped eating to look and take photos. Below (left) Fatty gets a foot massage from Cap’n Mark, photo by Sian Thomas (right) sunset over Rum from Canna, photo by Mark Henrys

The trip was drawing to an end so we headed to Tobermory, on Mull. A shared bay on the pontoon was available into which Mark steered the Hjalmar Bjorge much to the blatantly impressed stares of a number of on-lookers. The arrival at mooring caused Phil (with just a hint of envy) to say, “Exemplary seamanship and boat handling, as always.” We considered that only a man who would take his grandmother on a speedy motorbike ride as a gift for her 70th birthday would have the skill and confidence to carry out such an assured manoeuvre.

By now Heather had gained her sea legs and was hanging off the bow to take photos, going up to the top deck and supplementing rations with chocolate biscuits (the ship’s unspoken motto was clearly “never knowingly underfed”). Alan became the BBC – Breakfast Bar Champion – when he managed to polish off seconds on the last morning, leaving wife Aline to wonder if she’d have to roll him home.

Hats were also a feature of the holiday. Sometimes for practical reasons; warm clothing was a must for standing on the top deck. Sian found a rather fetching green hard hat on board which she modelled one evening. This started a spate of “dressing for dinner” with hats being offered on a daily basis by guests and crew, she managed to trial quite a few.

We weren’t very lucky terms of seeing lots of different cetaceans but there were some amazing highlights:

  • Visiting the different islands
  • The sunset in Eriskay, closely followed by the one on Canna
  • The heather in the hills on Canna and Rum
  • Fabulous scenery and photo opportunities (far too many to list)
  • Dolphins on the bow wave
  • Seabirds galore – no puffins as they had left their breeding grounds but gannets, razorbills, guillemots and fulmars aplenty
  • The fact that the midges didn’t pose a problem except on the jetty at Canna one evening (we could see Phil flapping half a mile away)

But the trip was much more than a list of events, it was a fun, fascinating foray to places which aren’t easy to reach with an experienced team. Actually, here crew member Gordon deserves a special mention for his wry and quirky take on life, the universe and everything. Rarely can one man reduce fourteen people to such bellyaching giggles with such regularity.

And so the trip is over, I sit here – smiling inanely – as I finish my elongated blog (though I feel I’d never be forgiven if I cut it short and didn’t do justice to the fantastic time we had).

Also, I’m trying to analyse the strange feeling which is washing over me. Hmm. Then realisation dawns – I’m hungry! Haven’t felt like this in a while… now I begin to wonder… would Cookie give me his recipe for crème brûlée if I asked him nicely…???

Big thanks to Sian and Carolyn for such an entertaining journey across the Hebrides. Perhaps the “guest blog” idea will catch on… less work for Mark!!!

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What our customers say

Highlight had to be the dolphins riding the bow of the boat. How I didn't push Judith overboard as I rushed in my excitement to the front to photograph them I don't know.

Susan C, Carlisle