Shore Excursions on
Our Cruise on Royal Princess
around theBritish Isles
July 2003

Waterford is a tender port. The tenders were very efficient and worked well. We were greeted at the port by the first of many pipers we were to meet. We were booked on a special tour sponsored by Leisure Travel Group which my DWs agency belongs to. We were bused to the Cozy Thatch, a traditional village pub over 500 years old. Our first experience was a lesson in making bread pudding the Irish way, and we popped them in the old wood stove to cook. Then we walked down the hill and boarded a narrow guage railway for a scenic ride. Returning to the Cozy Thatch, we were invited into the Wake Room where every village who has died since the 1500s has been laid out. Local actors portrayed a typical Irish wake for us, including the grieving widow with her rosary, the daughters arguing about the farm, the son drinking whiskey and playing rowdy songs, the grandaughter dancing a jig to her Grandda's memory, and the neighbors passing their snuff boxes around and praying (and don't forget the corpse). It was a fascinating and touching performance. Then we returned to the inn for Irish stew, Guiness stout, and finally our own bread pudding. This was followed by an Irish music and dance show which was very good.
After this, naturally we had to visit the Waterford Crystal Factory. The master craftsmen train for 10 years for their job, and do it mostly by eye and experience with only the most sketchy measurements and guidance. No wonder it is expensive! We saw many wonderful crystal items, and of course had plenty of time to shop.
In Dublin's Fair City we were met at the port by an Irish band which Renée loved. Renée had been talking for months about seeing the Book of Kells. Every review I read indicated that the lines were hours long, so I braced myself for that, not to dissapoint my DW. We got off the ship right away and took the Princess shuttle into town. It set us down right across the street from Trinity College so we went right away to the library. The Trinity College Library, like many public places, is named both in English and Gaelic. To our surprise there were only about 8 people in line! We got our tickets and went into the excellent museum. We had plenty of time and space to examine all the exhibits, everything from the history of the book to inks used to the different handwriting of the several scribes. Most of that great book is the work of three different scribes and two illustrators. Then we moved into the room where the Book of Kells itself is on display under glass in a small case. There were only enough people there to basically fill one row around the book, maybe less than a dozen. We had plenty of time to examine the book in detail and inspect the beautiful art work..
We couldn't take a picture of the Book itself, but this display featured copies of the Book of Kells and the quill pens along with computer keyboards and CDs. The exit is through the well known Long Gallery which is filled with many beautiful old books, a lot of them opened on display. As we were leaving we noticed that the line had gotten quite long already, and our friends from the ship whose tour reached the Library in the afternoon reported that the lines were tremendous and it was almost impossible to get a good look at the book due to the large number of people in the gallery! So to those of you who, like my DW, make the Book of Kells a MUST SEE, our advice is to get there very early! Then we walked the streets of Dublin quite a while, looking for the James Joyce Centre. Since apparently this is exactly what Leopold Bloom and Steven Daedalus do in Ulysses, it made Renée very happy. Crossing the River Liffey brought the book alive to her.
But eventually we had to hire a cabbie to help us find the centre. Renée had a perfectly wonderful time exploring the building which is mentioned in the book, looking at the exhibits and listening to the recording of Joyce himself reading his book. The pace of ports on this trip just keeps coming! By the time we got to Holyhead, Wales we were about toured out so after tendering in we elected to just go into town and walk about a bit. It was their market day so there were plenty of shops and stands for souvenirs. We also found an internet cafe at 2 pounds for 20 minutes, quite a bit cheaper than the ship's rate. .
In Greenock, Scotland we took the ship's Scenery, Wool and Whisky tour. The scenery was definitely spectacular, being the edge of the Highlands. We saw the moors covered with heather as we drove. Glengoyne Distillery gave us a great tour, and a "nose" competition with passengers trying to identify nine different Scotches. It ended with a wee dram of their 17 year old Scotch. Even as a non-Scotch drinker I was impressed.
But, sadly, the Scottish Wool Centre failed to live up to its billing. It is one of the very few times I have ever found a shore excursion that did not include all the listed elements. Instead of shepherds displaying their sheep and all the steps from shearing to weaving, we had a rather desultory exhibit of various types of border collies, and a herding demonstration ... with ducks! The only two sheep on the whole place were sleeping in a shed out back. A large number of the passengers complained. (After our return home we received a letter from Princess crediting us with 1/3 of the cost of this excursion!) Cruising the Inner Hebrides was an experience to rival the Inside Passage in Alaska. The scenery going by was beautiful and it was a nice relaxing day at sea.
Then we came to the Orkney Islands. Renée had been looking forward to the Book of Kells, but the Neolithic site was my MUST SEE! After tendering in, we started out with the ship's South Panorama and Crafts tour which took us through some beautiful scenery to a wonderful tapestry shop, where a local artist weaves with the local wool some beautiful and stunning hangings. Then we went to a jewelry manufacturer, where silver smithing and enameling were demonstrated. Of course both stops included ample shopping opportunities. Returning to the pier, we had insufficient time to tender out to the ship, have lunch and return, so we ate in a small local pub and had quite a nice meal. Then we got on the bus for the Ring of Brogar, which is 1000 years older than Stonehenge. This vast circle of standing stones is set on a hill overlooking the ocean and is one of those places that seems to radiate an eerie feeling of power. Then it was on to Skara Brae, a 5000 year old neolithic village of eight houses and one workshop which was unearthed in the last century.
It is extremely well preserved, showing the hearths, stone beds, stone dressers/altars and storage nooks, arranged in the same pattern in each house. A great many artifacts have been found, and a very good museum explains it very well. This was a high point of the trip for anyone interested in archeology. As none of the ship's tours did exactly what we wanted in Invergordon, we booked a driver and guide on our own. A charming kilted Scotsman named Alistair McEwen met us on the dock, and gave us a wonderful tour. We highly recommend Alistair as a guide. He can be contacted at gail@avoch12.fsnet.co.uk. We stopped at the Made In Scotland Craft Center for some shopping. Then we drove up Glen Affrich which is the next glen over from Loch Ness. We saw spectacular Highland scenery and the beautiful river. Then we traveled over small roads through the farming country, and had our way blocked for a short time by the shaggy Highland cattle.
He and his wife drove us to Strathpeffer where we found the Eagle Stone down a tiny byway. This is one of the oldest Pictish carved stones known and predates Christianity in Scotland. We stopped for lunch in Crandorach by Loch Ness and sampled the famous Scottish "stovies," a mixture of potatoes and onions with, as our guide told us, pretty much anything left over from the night before. Then of course we had to look for the Monster!
But sadly Nessie was nowhere in sight. It is disappointing to come all that way to see her and then have her turn shy and not appear for us! Then we went on to Culloden Moor where Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated by the Duke of Cumberland, ending hopes for a Stewart restoration to the throne. Legend says this boulder is the Cumberland Stone, where the Duke of Cumberland stood to direct the battle.
After that we traveled by a tiny two car ferry over the Firth of Clyde to Nigg Old Church which features a large and beautifully carved Pictish cross. Traveling around the peninsula called the Black Isle we returned to the ship. We had been to Edinburgh previously and seen most of the things featured on the ship's excursions, so we elected to book a driver for a half day tour on our own. Jim Scott of Caledonian Aspects met us at the ship and drove us through the charming countryside to Rosslyn Chapel. This 15th century chapel was built by the Sinclair family who were the hereditary Grand Masters of Scottish Freemasonry and is considered by many to have Knight Templar and Masonic symbolism. Some even conjecture that the Holy Grail is buried in its vaults. As I am a Past Master of my Lodge, Jim arranged a personally guided tour focusing on Masonic symbols for me and it was entirely fascinating.
Then we saw the Bear Gates at Traquair House. This House is the last residence of the Stuarts in Scotland, and is the place Bonnie Prince Charlie visited before riding out to Culloden. Legend says the Bear Gates will never open again until a Stuart monarch rides through them. We had time to stop for tea and scones with clotted cream in the little market town of Peebles.
From Le Havre, the ship offered tours to Paris, Rouen,and the D-Day beaches as well as the village of Honfleur. Shipmates who took those tours all said they were great, but everyone who went to Paris said they needed days and days more time to see it. We had chosen to book a private guide to take us to Mont St Michel. We were met by Anne Marie Leblic, who is a great guide. It is about a three hour drive to Mont St Michel through the beautiful rolling farming country of Normandy, and Anne-Marie gave us a lot of local history as we drove. About ten miles away,Mont St-Michel begins to rise above the scenery as a great lonely mountain, surmounted by a 12th century abbey. It gradually grows as you cover the distance to its base, and by the time you cross the causeway over the tidal flats it becomes pretty daunting to look up and think of the climb to be made! We struck out on the trek.
The church is a supreme example of Romanesque architecture with finishing touches of Gothic and is a amazing sight to see. They say there are 365 steps up inside the abbey and I believe it is true. But we made it to the top! On this trip, we were accompanied by Mike and Sue Minor and their daughters Kristen 13 and Kara 11. We had a great time with them. Descending the mountain, we came to the world famous La Mere Poulard restaurant where Anne-Marie had booked us a table. We watched the cooks whipping eggs to a froth in the unlined copper bowls
Then the omelettes are cooked in long handled pans over the open wood fires. We certainly enjoyed the wonderful cuisine. Besides the famous omelette Renée had the salt marsh lamb and I had the camembert fritters. What a meal!

One last sunset at sea and a wonderful cruise was ending. We arrived back at Southhampton about 5 in the morning and by 6 they were disembarking passengers with early flights. Disembarkation by colors proceeded smoothly and by 7:30 we were on the bus to Heathrow, about an hour and a half drive.

All in all it was a perfectly wonderful trip, in spite of our little "adventure" in missing the ship. The ship is lovely and well cared for and the staff all over was polite, efficient and attentive (even at the Purser's office, which does not always happen). The entertainment and activities were fun and the ports were very interesting. It was a beautiful cruise and definitely one of the best in our experience. I would thoroughly recommend it!

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