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Och aye, we're floatin' in the gloamin'

Geraldine and Michael board the trawler Glen Tarsan and enjoy marvellous biscuits and the best venison ever from the Duke of Argyll's estate

Published 24 April 2011
News Review
927th article

Michael in front of the Glen Tarsan with Andy Thoms, left, and Angus (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

"The mist of May is in the gloamin' and all the clouds are holdin' still," wrote the lyricist Alan Jay Lerner for the musical Brigadoon, set in Scotland. For my trip on a converted trawler up the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, the mist of April wasn't confined to the gloamin', it was everywhere. Clouds weren't still, they raced across the sky, depositing almost endless rain.

When I told people I was cruising the west coast from April 2 to 8 they said in amazement, "Why?". I replied, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." It started with my favourite magazine, Country Life, where I saw a photo of a trawler in calm waters, with blue skies and the Scottish coast behind. The ad was for the Majestic Line, which runs trawlers that carry 11 passengers.

I spoke to Marie Thoms, daughter of the co-founder Andy Thoms, explaining, "I don't want anyone on the boat except me and my fiancee."

Marie said, "You'll miss the group experience."

"I don't do groups," I replied. So Geraldine and I went to Oban one sunny day and boarded the trawler Glen Tarsan. Cabins small, the big bed so close to the wall you needed to be a contortionist to get by. The communal lounge measured approximately 15ft 6in by 5ft 4in. Imagining 11 people fighting for space there left me in shock-horror.

First day: intermittent sun, very cold.

I was surprised when I got up at 7am to find no crew. They appeared at 7.45am.

"Where have you been?" I asked. "I thought jolly matelots rose at crack of dawn and spliced the mainbrace. Isn't it embarrassing that a landlubber's up before you?" This made no impression.

Food on the boat was good. The chef, Stephen Boswell, produced marvellous biscuits, vegetables, best venison ever from the Duke of Argyll's estate. The brochure and Marie had indicated freshly caught lobster, crab, mussels, scallops. They were all bought in local shops. I did no fishing. Instead, fantastic soups from cock-a-leekie to cullen skink. Great kippers. Risotto with mushrooms, pear and fruit crumble with almond and home-made custard. No complaints about the food, except the dirty plates sat for ages before being cleared.

There was a crew of four but Stephen had told them to stay out of his kitchen. The weather was so bad we couldn't do the full trip but the lochs and views we saw were spectacular. Mist with clouds often covering mountain tops, mostly calm water - I never felt seasick. Every night we parked (okay, moored or anchored) in still coves.

I'm sure you're familiar with the west coast of Scotland so you'll know the locations when I tell you where we cruised. Lochs Creran, Linnhe, Leven, Aline, Sunart, Na Droma Buidhe, and past Lismore, the Sound of Mull and Ben Nevis. I could go on.

We saw some miserable-looking seals. Not as happy as the ones who balance balls on their noses. Geraldine encountered stags when she went ashore.

Later we disembarked on Mull, walked in a deserted world of peace and trees, the sea a few yards away, when suddenly we came upon a big house called Torosay Castle with two posh people and labradoodle dogs - one white, the other black. The lot (possibly minus the dogs) is on the market for £2.8m. Only disadvantage is that winter in Scotland lasts forever. I wore a thermal vest, a shirt, leather zip-up jacket, thermal pullover, waterproof jacket and waterproof trousers. Looked a real idiot.

Twice we went ashore and stayed in hotels. We had six nights (less two in hotels) on the boat and five days. There were times when a mutiny to take the vessel and head full-speed for civilisation seemed highly desirable. Glad we didn't. The views, the atmosphere, the whole experience was magically memorable.

Returning to Oban, Andy Thoms met us with Angus the bagpiper wearing an informal black shirt that surely came from Oxfam on a bad day.

I said to Marie jovially, "No wonder the boat doesn't normally operate until a week later. I think it was a plot to kill me with cold and rain." She just smiled.

I don't know why the Scots never took me seriously. Everyone else does. Don't they?

PS Take the price of the boat, add private jet to and from Glasgow and other "extras" and it cost me more than my nine days flying to and staying in Los Angeles. If you're one of 11 people, it's £1,695 for a six-night trip. I recommend it. Try June, July or August. Safer.

  • Hymie is having dinner at the Ivy with his wife, Rebecca. A young girl comes to the table, makes a big fuss of Hymie. When she goes, Becky asks, "Who was that?"

    "That," says Hymie, "was my mistress." Becky is furious. "Our marriage is over," she says. "I want a divorce. Tomorrow I go to the solicitor."

    "Becky," says Hymie. "If you get a divorce you'll have no more shopping at Prada, no driving round in the Rolls, no south of France . . ." He tails off as their friend, Abe, enters and waves at them. He's with a young girl.

    "Who's that with Abe?" asks Becky.

    "That's his mistress," replies Hymie. Becky thinks for a moment, then says, "Ours is better."

    Michael's missives

    The headline of your column last week read: "A dash of vanilla and I'm a young man again". I assume the photo was taken before the vanilla was consumed.
    Stuart Clark, Essex

    First you settle the lovely Geraldine down with corned beef, egg and chips at the Fountain Coffee Room, then you're caught red-handed with your arm round the waitress. Shame on you!
    Howard Bentley, Preston

    Has the Ivy lost its charm? Barely a smile from our Italian waiter and not so much as a Happy Mother's Day. Our 45-minute wait between starter and main course ended without apology. We left without a goodbye - except from us.
    David Marr, Suffolk

    I was surprised to see in my local Toby Carvery your photo smiling down at me. Had I at last made it to a mutual location? I remained impressed even though you were hung just outside the lavatories.
    David Wallis, Chelmsford

    You speak of sea bass: an incorrect term adopted by many chefs and fishmongers. The sea bass (Centropristis striata) is not taken commercially for the table. The species on our table is Morone labrax or European bass. This has never been to sea and could be named "bass derived from Italian fish farms". But then chefs like to fill their menus with all manner of inaccurate tosh.
    Alan Pearson (old fisherman), Co Mayo, Ireland

    Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk