Step back in time with this captivating six-night cruise allowing you to not only enjoy breath-taking scenery, but also take in some of the architectural, geological and historical gems the River Clyde and its sea lochs have to offer. The areas long and often turbulent past brings together a rich tapestry of medieval castles and grand mansions, some of which are still family homes today.
From our berth in Greenock, Spirit of Fortitude sails along the Firth of Clyde past the ancient Viking battle scene of Largs before visiting secret religious and historical caves. We visit ancient ruins of castles, world famous film locations and modern day stately homes, all whilst enjoying the very best of hospitality, comfort and luxury. Find Shakespearean treasures, Bronze Age artefacts and tales of bloody history at every turn, all whilst surrounded by the very best scenery that Scotland has to offer.
Passing places, anchorages and ports
From its humble beginnings as a fishing village in the 15th Century, Greenock and its access to the River Clyde made it an important location for servicing the busy city of Glasgow until the 1800s and then became the shipbuilding capital of the world. Set on steep slopes, it has magnificent views across the firth of Clyde to the mountains beyond.
Full of beautiful coastlines, rolling hills, woodlands and mountainous terrain, this most southerly Scottish Isle is just 19 miles long by 10 miles wide but offers some stunning seascape vistas at every turn. Easily described as a miniature Scotland due to the variety of terrain, as you traverse the island you will feel that you are miles away from the hustle of everyday life. It is home to a modern but popular distillery and the Isle produces its own soaps and lotions with a visitor centre where you can see how it is done. Full of local artisans, we source much of our menu from here. The island is also home to the Kings Caves – a series of waterfront caves carved out of the sandstone and thought to be where Robert the Bruce had his famous encounter with the spider.
With parts of the building dating back to the 15th century, it is a phenomenal building with more than 20 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, nine kitchens and 14 acres of gardens. Originally it belonged to the Earls of Eglinton, who were responsible for leading the Montgomery clan in support of Mary Queen of Scots in battle. Not far from the castle is a 100-foot-high artificial mound, which is said to have been the site of ancient Sun and serpent worship.
Around the 7th century, legend tells that St Mirin returned to Cumbrae from Ireland and following the example of St Patrick, rid the island of snakes. To this day the island remains snake free! The Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, is Britain’s smallest Cathedral and dates from 1851 and is thought to be built on the spot where St Mirin used to preach to his followers.
The island was inhabited long before this though and that presence is demonstrated in the Standing Stones on the island, but even older are the rocks that form the base of the island itself and these date back some 350 to 400 million years. The Lion Rock – a natural formation some 50 metres long that looks like a prowling lion and is featured in the Hollow Earth series of books by John Barrowman.
Lying just off the east coast of Little Cumbrae is Eilean a’ Chaisteil or Castle Island so named for the square keep or castle that graces it. Built originally to prevent deer poaching it was destroyed in 1650 by Cromwell’s army.
Surrounded by secret gardens, hidden caves and green forests topped with stunning turrets and battlements, Culzean Castle has been standing dramatically at the top of an imposing cliff looking down on the Clyde for more than 700 years. Home to the Kennedy clan, a suite of rooms was presented to President Eisenhower in recognition of his role during WWII.
Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest it is home to the Sanda Bird Observatory which was the first bird observatory to be set up on the west coast of Scotland. As well as the tens of thousands of birds who visit each year, the island is home to the ruins of a chapel built by Saint Ninian, an array of Celtic crosses and for its reputed holy well. Stories tell that Ninian is buried on the island and that his grave is marked by an alder tree and that whoever stepped on it would perish.
Robert the Bruce is also thought to have visited when making his way to Ireland whilst being pursued by the English Navy and to the south are “Wallace’s Rocks” which may be linked in legend to William Wallace.
A lush green island in the midst of deep blue and tranquil waters, Davaar hides one of the most spectacular religious sights you could ever hope to find. In one of its seven sea caves hides a life-size cave painting of the crucifixion. It was painted by a local artist in 1887 after a vision told him it must be done. The villagers thought that it was a sign from God, and not the artist but the artist swore it was in a dream telling him to do it. The artist Archibald MacKinnon was ostracised and exiled from the town.
Perhaps the most attractive of all the Arran villages, Lochranza proudly possesses not one but two castles – albeit with a twist! Nestled on the banks of the Ranza, the castle sits on its shingle spur out into the loch. Thought to be the basis for the Tintin adventure “The Black Island”, the castle dates back as far as the 13th Century. Originally a now rare Hall House – it was later converted and added to become the tower house that remains today. Parts of the old hall house are still visible and you can wonder through to identify which are which. Lochranza is home to a large population of red deer. The mountainous surroundings provide some of the most brutal and jagged scenery in the area which makes it an ideal location for Golden Eagles.
The original building was built in the 13th Century by the MacSweens who also built Castle Sween and Lochranza when Argyll was ruled by Norway. Later in the 14th century, the castle changed hands and was then owned by the MacDonald’s who rebuilt the castle to look more like those build by the English with arrow slits and curtain walled enclosures – no wonder as they were supporting the English in their war against the Scots. A new church was built and parts of this can still be seen in the ruins.
Stonefield Castle Hotel
A fine example of baronial architecture, Stonefield Castle was built in 1837 and is set in around 60 acres of woodland forests that gracefully sweep down to the edge of the stunning Loch Fyne.
Built in the 18th century, by the Campbell’s of Knockbuie, the castle has had many changes over the years as it was owned by a number of owners and architects. Throughout the house, the letter “H” is reflected by the owner William Hamilton and Later it was bought by John Pender – the founder of Cable and Wireless. Today it is a stunning stately style privately owned home.
Just beyond the most stunning little bridge, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have slipped through space and time to the Loire Valley to the time of King Louis XIV. This fairy tale castle and estate with turrets and conical roofed towers has hosted Mary Queen of Scots and in the corner of the main saloon is a grand piano where the songwriters Lerner and Loewe composed some of the songs for their musical My Fair Lady. This was Scotland’s first planned town designed by the Duke of Argyll himself and is quaint to say the least. Nearly all of the buildings on the main street are in a distinctive black and white fascia and the little town boasts plenty of attractions from the Castle to the historical jail. The popular drama Downton Abbey was filmed at Inveraray Castle for one of their Christmas shows.
The house sits against a magical backdrop of forest and mountains whilst overlooking the shores of Loch Fyne and the woodland garden is home to the “Mightiest Conifer in Europe”! An abundance of fine nature is everywhere and the architecture of this fine mansion house is just as breath-taking. Ardkinglas house was the setting for the 2007 movie “Water Horse” depicting the friendship of a young boy with a legendary “Water Horse” as it grows, set during the 2nd World War.
There are two castles called Lachlan – both of Clan McClachlan, who historically centred on the lands of Strathlachlan on Loch Fyne. Tradition states that the original Lachlan was descended from Irish royalty including the legendary Niall Noigíallach, High King of Ireland, who lived from the mid-4th century to early 5th century.
The Old Castle Lachlan is a beautiful ruin sitting on the shores of Loch Fyne and is a scheduled ancient monument and an “A” listed building.
The ‘Queen of the Inch’ lived on Inchmarnock, just off the coast of the Isle of Bute, in the Bronze Age – around 2000BC. She was buried in a cist with her jet necklace and flint knife. In the 1960’s her skull was used for a facial reconstruction which can be seen with the necklace in Bute Museum. The necklace is beautiful and you can still visit the caves around the area today.
Mount Stuart House
On the Isle of Bute this castle is the product of some incredible Victorian engineering. Thought to be the first home in the world to have a heated indoor pool and the first house in Scotland that was built with electrical lighting, central heating and a lift – many of these innovations are still in use today. The Marble Hall reaches heights of 80 feet and the Chapel is made from it too. This house is said to contain more marble that any other building in Britain.
Perhaps these inventions are only just surpassed by the beauty of the gardens, the Wee or Secret garden is a favourite of all visitors and the house sits on 300 acres of gardens, woodlands and wilderness so there is plenty to see and be inspired by. Opulence is the word I would use! I never get tiered coming here and you always see something new.
The original Toward Castle was owned by Clan Lamont from the 15th century until 1809. Extended in the 17th century it was abandoned after an attack in 1646 by Clan Campbell.
Just alongside lies Castle Toward, which was built in 1820 by the former Lord Provost of Glasgow – Kirkman Finlay. Built in the Gothic Revival style, the building was restored and expanded in the 1920s. There are beautiful walkways, sweeping front lawns down to the Clyde and stunning Chinese ponds on the estate. In the second world war, the castle was requisitioned as an operations and training centre and Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten visited what was known as HMS Brontosaurus to see how the training for amphibious landings were going. Closed in 1946, the castle and lands were purchased by the Corporation of Glasgow and then used as a residential school. It was also where the TV series Raven was filmed.