Scotland’s cruise business is booming. Liners on the Forth are a regular sight ‘neath the three bridges. Dundee – with the planned opening of the V&A next year – is welcoming more and more ships on the Tay as a taster of things to come. Further north, Lerwick – the main port of the Shetland Isles – has just opened a £16.5m new pier and predict as many as 90,000 cruise ship passengers will set foot on the island in 2018.
On Harris, the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund has just announced investment for the Harris Marina Hub that will complete a chain of pontoon facilities – including Stornoway, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay – to enhance the islands’ reputation as a premium cruising destination. In Aberdeen, Scottish Enterprise is to contribute millions towards the development at Nigg Bay – boosting facilities that will enable the docking of cruise ships large enough to carry up to 3,000 passengers. Crucially, these passengers don’t stay on board. They want to explore. We look over the stern to see where it all began … and over the bow to glimpse Scotland’s cruise tourism future …
On the 15th August 2017, India celebrates seventy years of Independence. It was in the 1930s – when folk sailed between Britain and India – that a word came into common use to denote those passengers who reserved the finest cabins: ‘POSH’ was written on their tickets – for ‘Port Out, Starboard Home’ – ensuring they had the more comfortable cabins, out of the sun’s heat. Whether or not this is an urban myth for the origins of the word, the word stuck – and ‘POSH’ has been forever associated with luxury and a certain style!
Cruises predate the ‘POSH’ era by more than a century: the birth of the first leisure cruises can be traced to 1822 and the formation of the Peninsular Steam Navigation Company. In 1840, it became the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company – and four years later, P&O advertised their very first leisure cruises sailing from Southampton to Gibralta, Malta and Athens.
The spread of railways saw rail companies link with ferry and cruise line operators – and the home cruise industry was born.
For decades, cheap airfares saw overseas holidays burgeon and the appeal of cruising waned. But increased hassle associated with air travel, huge numbers now traveling through airport hubs – especially at peak times – and an increasingly ageing population is resulting in a resurgence in the popularity of cruise holidays.
Today, cruising is a huge and growing business – especially in Scotland. The Royal Princess, Azamara Quest, Norwegian Star and MSC Splendida – the ship names have echoes of a glorious history, but they are as far removed from the earliest liners as you could imagine.
The Port of Invergordon – just over 20 miles north of Inverness – is probably Europe’s best natural harbour and, as a result, cruise ships aplenty dock at the main Admiralty Pier … and their passengers pour ashore. Tour operators are now in peak season mode – and coach after coach is ferrying passengers from their port and starboard cabins to explore the history, heritage and culture of Invernesshire and Morayshire. Beyond this, the passengers’ spend on visitor attractions, local food & drink outlets … as well as in retail outlets, is all helping to boost and bolster rural economies and communities.
One attraction, around an hour’s coach ride from Invergordon, is Cawdor Castle. It dates from the late 14th century, having been built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor. It oozes intrigue and history.
On a recent visit, we enjoyed the tour of the castle. Still home to the Cawdor family to this day, Cawdor has evolved over 600 years. Each room has snippets of the castle’s unique history to read and enjoy – as each step leads you to the ancient medieval tower built around the legendary holly tree. Bedrooms, the dining room, outstanding tapestries hanging on walls throughout – and the castle’s old kitchen. There are all manner of oddities and quirky collections as touch points to past times. As we walked through the castle – we could hear the occasional overseas accent, testament to the castle’s tourism draw …
The gardens are beautiful – lovingly tended by just four gardeners who do an incredible job …
… and spheres of different sizes, made from a variety of materials, are used throughout to focus the visitors’ eye as you explore …
More overseas accents and tour guides appeared and by the time we returned to the castle entrance, no fewer than nine coaches were lined up outside. We heard American, and Canadian visitors as well as French, Italian, Dutch, German, Spanish and Chinese.
The castle’s shop and Courtyard Cafe will both benefit from the influx – as will the companies that make the produce on sale in both. We enjoyed delicious soups and scones as well as bacon rolls – all served by a cheerful team.
The Castle is committed to using as much local and Scottish produce as possible – including vegetables and salad from their own gardens. A map at their cafe highlights various producers and suppliers around the country – food and beverage companies who will undoubtedly welcome the increased exposure to overseas customers.
Cruising is here to stay. It will only increase over the coming years with the investment being made by local, regional and national governments in the infrastructure to support it. What is great to see are the rural businesses embracing it … and benefiting from it. That can only be good for all concerned.
In this Blog, we’ve touched on one attraction in one area. The ripple effect of cruise tourism should not be underestimated. Once those passengers touch down on terra firma, businesses far beyond the city ports can reap the rewards by being open, welcoming and supportive of what is the oldest form of mass tourism.
Looking to stay in the area?
Follow this link to discover self catering close to Cawdor Castle.