1. The Hebrides are a softly scenic chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland.
Remote, windswept, beaten by rain and sea, the Hebrides and their scanty population seem to thrive with the adversity and isolation. The inner Hebrides hug the coast of Scotland, while the Outer Hebrides are isolated by the sea. Consisting of nearly 150 isles and skerries (rock islands), only about 50 are inhabited.
2. My recent cruise took me in and out of mainland Scotland by Oban, making stops at scenic locations in both the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles
3. Part of the Charm of the journey was sailing on the venerable Hebridean Princess, twice honored by having Queen Elizabeth vacation on her.
The Princess was originally commissioned as a ferry and Royal Mail ship making runs in the Hebrides and was named the Columbia. In 1989, she began a new life as a luxury cruise ship with capacity for 48 passengers and 40 crew. The Queen's voyages on the Princess were in 2006 and 2010.
4. The Scottish town of Oban was our point of departure, as it is for many ships and ferries that head out to the Inner and Outer Hebrides.
Oban has a pretty waterfront with colorful buildings and gives the impression of a warm, attractive town that clings to its character amidst the seasonal influx and outflux of tourists.
5. Our first stop was in the Inner Hebrides at Kinloch Castle on the Isle of Rum, a sprawling Victorian affair.
Designed by architects accustomed to planning factories, the castle looks like a sprawled work place with turrets, towers and crenelations stuck on to add a degree of grandeur. Built by heir to the Bullough textile fortunes, George Bullough, the house became half hunting lodge and have ladies retreat, maintaining its character through the decades.
6. Castlebay at Barra, the southernmost inhabited isle of the Outer Hebrides, nestled into a quiet harbour, guarded by sea-based Kisimul Castle
What can be more romantic than sailing into a harbor with a picturesque castle surrounded by a moat of sea and a town laid out on the hillside?
7. The sandy beach at Eriskay lures every visitor down to enjoy the azure blue of its waters and the white sand formed by years of shells pounded by surf.
The sandy beaches are a surprise and a delight in the Hebrides. The rocky rugged coastlines were expected, but not these heavenly expanses of sand.
8. Isle of Harris -- while Harris has its lovely spots, it is best known for Harris Tweeds.
These complex patterns are still woven in local homes on manual treadle looms, using carefully dyed local wools.
9. Lewis is known for its ancient stone artifacts. Shown here are the haunting Callenish standing stones, known in Gaelic as Calanais.
Thought to date to between 2600 and 2900 BC, over time the stones were covered in a buildup of peat. As the layers of peat were cut away, the stones began to appear. Even now, four feet or more of the stones lie buried under the soil, allowing them to remain upright.
10. Docking quayside at the port of Stornaway, we spent a couple of hours exploring the town and the grounds of its Lews Castle.
11. As part of the upper Highlands, Shieldag off Loch Torridon is at the North End of the Inner Hebrides and technically part of mainland Scotland.
This small village is a delight to visit and stroll around, going in a loop behind the village and emerging to stroll along the Loch to a welcoming cappucino at Nancy's Cafe.
12. Plockton is a small fishing village with a pretty trail walk up into the hills about the town.
Located on Loch Carron not far from the Isle of Skye, Plockton has a sweet harbor and interesting views of the loch, such as this on the walk back into town.
13. Traveling to our next destination on a morning of great clouds and light, we passed under the bridge to the Isle of Skye.
One of my fellow passengers remarked that she thought the bridge to Skye was one the architects got "just right". To me in seemed rather nondescript, until I saw it in photos like this one where its curved arch reflects the landscape perfectly.
14. Enchantment seems to ride on this photo taken in the hamlet of Inverie on a day that was so lovely a heart could break over it.
15. Tobermoray was the perfect photographic end to our week-long Hebridean odyssey with its colorful buildings and exquisite reflections.
Located on Isle of Mull and curved around the Sound of Mull, Tobermoray was a delight to visit and later those sunny/stormy skies produced not one but two rainbows that settled themselves around our ship, the Hebridean Princess.