Seals, castles and murder most foul on a salty Scottish sea tour

HINDSIGHT is a wonderful thing. Lachlan Maclean decided to murder his wife and came up with a cunning plan. He rowed her out to a rock in the bay, knowing that she would drown as the high tide submerged all in its wake.

Suitably sombre, he told Lady Catherine Campbell’s family that she had succumbed to illness. Trouble was, they wanted her body borne back to Inveraray Castle for burial, and that was going to be a tad tricky given she’d been lost at sea.

With his entourage, he duly arrived with a suitably weighted coffin and was bemused when Lady Catherine’s brother Archie shed not a single tear. Then he was stunned to find his late wife sitting at the funeral feast table, alive and well.

Which was more than might be said about Lachlan not long later. He was found dead in bed in Edinburgh, his throat slit by Sir John Campbell, another of Catherine’s brothers. That was back in 1527, by the way, before you start searching news headlines.

Fast forward to 2022, and it’s a gloriously gory story told with some relish by Cameron, our friendly guide on a two-hour Oban Sea Tours sail, as we pass Lady’s Rock to the south-west of Lismore in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. 

Now in their second season cruising out of the characterful port town from which the small outfit takes its name, guides Cameron and Isla, skipper Ally and sea dog Archie (no, not a pirate, but rather an adorable cocker spaniel) set sail three times a day.

Setting off from Oban’s North Pier, the aptly named MV Islander sails out around the island of Kerrera and onward to the coast of the Isle of Mull, pausing to peruse seal colonies and any other wildlife the crew might spot along the way.

Dolphins, minke whales and eagles (you can see their nest from the boat) have been seen this year, but they’re shy on our cruise and besides, these sailings aren’t sold as wildlife experiences, although they are part of the package should Mother Nature decide to put on a show.

It’s more the mixture of scenery, stories and the sail itself that make this a must if you’re visiting this part of the world. There’s nothing to beat the churn of the sea, the wind in your face and the salt tang of the spray, especially on a sunny day such as ours.

It’s a cleverly crafted itinerary, taking in no fewer than three castles in two hours: Gylen on Kerrera, Duart on Mull and Dunollie on the Argyll coastline just by the north entrance to Oban Bay, each with its own story to be told.

Lismore Lighthouse, designed by Robert Stevenson, is another notable landmark, and there are others en route, including an early example which looks more like a Disney fairytale castle that has been magically misplaced.

The Islander, by the way, offers plenty of deck space from which to savour the sights as well as covered seating in case of inclement weather. There’s a toilet for your convenience, and the guide’s cruise commentary is relayed clearly by speakers around the vessel.

Here’s a tip. Wait til you’ve set sail then head to the prow via a door in the covered section. There’s limited space up front but it’s up, close and personal with the waves, although it’s run close by the upper viewing gantry which is also excellent for photo opps.

The crew are friendly, helpful and entertaining. Advised that a youngster on our trip sometimes struggles with longer trips and crowds, Cameron went out of his way to help, ensuring that he felt at ease throughout, and helping find stress-free space.

Skipper Ally also let him and his brother take a turn at the wheel, albeit under supervision and, I suspect, a circumspect flick of an autopilot switch somewhere. It was a gesture that made the boys’ day and family memories to cherish.

There are a number of boat trips available from Oban and this is not the cheapest at £35 per adult and £15 per child, £75 for a family ticket for two adults and one child, or £80 for a family ticket covering two adults and two children.

But it’s worth the outlay and I guarantee you’ll come back considering a repeat booking. For sailing times and full itinerary see

Categories:UK BreaksTags: , , , ,

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