By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
With two more royal weddings on the horizon and Robert Burns Day just past I thought a wee combination of both might appeal to fellow travellers this week.
Edinburgh, Scotland’s colourful capital city, never leaves travellers short of history, drama or architecture, and this spring, a new attraction will be on the horizon.
A 23-room floating ‘boatique’ hotel complete with balconies, an Art Deco-inspired interior and plenty of Roaring Twenties personality will open for business next to the Royal Yacht Britannia, a popular attraction down at Leith Docks.
The Fingal, a 239-ft. lighthouse steam tender which sailed out of Oban for 30 years, will be transformed into the new boat hotel.
Although I never saw the Fingal in Oban, I remember hearing about it. Fingal, the hero in James Macpherson’s Gaelic legends poem of the same name, means ‘white, or fair, stranger’ in Gaelic. Intertwining this mystic history with that of the tough little tender plying Oban’s rugged coastline endowed it with a hint of magic to my mind.
Eventually the MV Fingal was sold, became the MV Windsor Castle and plied the waters out of Stromness, Orkney.
The ship’s new, upgraded incarnation is reputed to be lavish and luxurious – an incredible journey for a working lighthouse tender. Perhaps it was sprinkled with magic after all.
Good neighbours are always important – even in shipping – and the ‘boatique’ will boast one of the best, the Royal Yacht Britannia.
HMY Britannia, launched from Clydebank in 1953, was originally owned by Britain’s Royal Family.
Famous as the site of glittering state banquets, official receptions, royal honeymoons (such as that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana) and relaxing family vacations, HMY Britannia was a haven for the Queen, who sailed onboard with her family.
A symbol of the British Commonwealth in foreign ports, Britannia was unquestionably a floating ambassador in her own right.
After conveying Chris Patten, the last governor of Hong Kong, and the Prince of Wales back from Hong Kong after the Handover to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997, Britannia remained in Britain until being decommissioned on Dec. 22, 1997. She had logged more than one million miles over her lifetime.
As sad as the decommissioning was for the Queen (and all those who coveted invitations to onboard events), the ship has since become one of Edinburgh’s top tourist attractions.
I confess to feeling slightly embarrassed at sticking my nose into the Queen’s dainty, but unassuming, single bed cabin liberally decorated with family pictures when I toured Britannia.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s more austere accommodation definitely smacks of a no-nonsense naval officer.
One could imagine comfortably parking in the bright chintz sitting room with a good book waiting for tea and the ship’s famous baking. Scones seemed to be the most popular, but it was rich Scottish Dundee Cake and tea at £5.30 for me.
The state dining room onboard is dignified and impressive. Although large, the warm wood and accoutrements makes it feel more like a very upscale wardroom. I’ll have a gin and tonic, please. In my dreams!
On a sunny day, the onboard Royal Deck Tea Room is a good place to taste what the royal kitchen produces, before heading down to inspect the engine room and smile at the very practical laundry facilities and functional crew quarters. Resist stopping at the fudge shop before disembarking, if you can.
The new ‘boatique’ opening around Easter this year is in very good company. When you’re in the neighbourhood, be sure to add these dockside sites on your historic Edinburgh itinerary.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a dedicated traveller and the retired publisher of the Cloverdale Reporter