The First Night on Oriana
We were on the good ship Oriana by around 1:00pm, having had a slight delay while the security scanner decided I was carrying a lump of metal somewhere about my body. I continually told them that I have a metal hip, but undeterred by my protests I had to remove my shoes and pass through the scanner again. It still uttered ‘beeps’ of disgust so the security man resorted to his hand held scanner…
…and found nothing…
…not even my hip.
Totally baffled, the security man let me through.
Oriana was as beautiful as I remembered. She is over 20 years old now and has ploughed furrows all around the world’s seas. Yes she is a little rusty around the edges, and her hull is a little dented in places, but inside Oriana still makes me think back to those wonderful exciting moments in 2000 when we first discovered cruising on this ship.
Our cabin was an outside one but larger than average with a sitting area. We would have loved to have had a balcony cabin but Oriana has limited choice here. To be honest, it is the end of summer, and the weather might make the use of a balcony a little restricted anyway.
We have been allocated ‘Freedom Dining’ meaning we just turn up at the Peninsula restaurant and eat when we want. But we don’t like this option and prefer the set time First Sitting for dinner. We intend to explore all the dining options around the ship, and while at the welcome on board loyalty buffet we were offered a cheap deal for the Sindhu restaurant on this first evening.
Sindhu was better than I expected. My stomach doesn’t appreciate excessive spices so Indian food is not my favoured choice. To my surprise but the dishes were of the lowest level of spice, allowing my taste buds to explore the more subtle flavours of India. I still came away with indigestion but I had enjoyed the taste experiences, along with the wonderful level of service.
From the restaurant we made our way to the Theatre Royal for a show from the ‘Headliners’. It was called ‘Stage Door’ and we hadn’t seen this one before. Loosely based on a group taking a guided tour of a musical theatre it gave a song and dance sample from several major shows. It was exceptional, and the dance troupe gave their all to make this one of the best I have seen. A fast pace section on Rogers and Hammerstein shows was incredible. This is one to look out for.
Still ready to enjoy the ship more, we went to the Lord’s Tavern for a late night quiz. We joined a confused couple on their first cruise and chatted as we struggled with the general knowledge questions. We didn’t win, and weren’t even close, but it was a pleasant few minutes to talk to the pair who are really not sure about this style of holiday. Cruising is something that people love, or hate. I wonder what this couple will think about it in a week’s time.
It was time for bed. We hadn’t slept for more than a few fleeting minutes in the hotel last night, so we were hopeful that exhaustion would take over, and give us a goodnight.
The Island of Sark
Saturday 3rd September and we woke after a good night’s sleep just after 7:00am.Oriana had arrived off the island of Guernsey and was dropping her anchors and launching her tenders for the day. The sky was a little cloudy but it was dry, and the deputy Captain announced that it would get sunny and warm later.
We prepared ourselves for the day gently with a cup of tea while we lay in bed. Then it was off to the Conservatory Buffet for breakfast. Compared to many, our bowl of cereal and a slice of toast was a very light meal, but many people were creating mountain ranges on their plates with seemingly every item available. At home breakfast is just tea and toast so we try not to over-indulge with the choice available…but is difficult sometimes. I will almost certainly have a full cooked breakfast on one morning during the cruise.
With breakfast over we got ourselves ready for the day out. We stopped at Guernsey a few years ago, and spent a wet day simply exploring St Peter Port. Today we had different plans with a tour booked to explore the little island of Sark.
The first stage of the tour was a tender ride to shore on Guernsey. We have heard several tales of rough crossings here but our luck was holding and today it was quite smooth. As we got off at the St Peter Port harbour pontoon, the guides immediately ushered us a few metres away to where the ferry for Sark was waiting. The trip to the Sark was perhaps three quarters of an hour and gave us some wonderful views of various islands close to Guernsey. Sadly we didn’t have a map to let us know what we were passing but our guide for the day did eventually give us one of Sark to help us later.
By now the sun had come out and the heat was rising. Deb and I were lucky enough to get a seat on the outside deck of the ferry and could feel the cooling spray at times, and there was taste of salt if we licked our lips.
As we approached Sark it was obvious that the island has very steep cliffs and the harbour itself has incredibly high walls with a long flight of steps from the sea to dockside. The climb up the steps must have been quite a struggle for some. Once on ground level we were instructed to walk through a tunnel in the cliffs to where we would find our transport to take us up to the island’s town.
This transport was a little unusual. It was a tractor towing what is referred to as the ‘toast rack’ which is a boxed in trailer providing seating for a dozen or so people. The ride up the cliff road was at an acute angle and those (like me) facing down the hill struggled to maintain our dignity and stay on the simple wooden benches. Only the knees of the gentleman opposite stopped me sliding off. I mentioned the term road, but I have to point out that there is no tarmac on the island, and the roads are created with a layer of compressed rocks making a flat surface. The only forms of mechanical transport allowed on the island are tractors, horses, bicycles, and motorised invalid buggies…. but only if you have a note from the island’s doctor.
This is truly a very unusual and delightful island.
As our tractor had got us to the top of the cliff, we discovered the town. Actually it is just a street with a couple of lanes leading off from it. There are no more than about a dozen shops or cafes on the sides of the street, but this is the island’s centre where virtually everything happens. We were greeted by drivers of horse drawn carriages tempting us to have a ride but Deb and I were in a small group that were going on a walking tour with our guide. It was now nearly two hours since we left the ship so most of us took a moment to find a cup of coffee before our walk commenced.
Our walk was a very relaxed stroll along the lanes near to the town. The guide made it very clear that life on Sark is never rushed, and she often has to tell her customers to “Slow Down”. We were given a potted history of life on Sark, including a special mention of the German occupation during the Second World War. Our stroll then arrived at the island’s museum where there is a collection of German memorabilia plus general items of older bits and pieces from around the island. Being an isolated island nothing is thrown away until it is totally useless, so there is a vast array of old items available to be displayed. The museum gave another example of the simplicity of life on the island, as there is nobody looking after the building, and visitors are expected to put their money in an honesty box.
From the museum we continued our walk with the guide now talking about the feudal land ownership on the island. Although my description of what I heard from the guide may not be strictly correct, here is a brief idea of how Sark became inhabited many centuries ago.
The island is owned by the British monarch and was once a refuge for pirates. To try and overcome the danger and expense caused by the pirates, the monarch split up the island into 40 plots and leased each to a family. They became the first official inhabitants of the island. These families were expected to protect the island from the pirates and were the only people allowed to build and own a house. This is still the case today. One person was nominated as the island’s protector and given the title of ‘Seigneur’. That person still exists and pays the Crown a nominal annual rent which costs the modern day equivalent of about £2.
Of course things have changed, but the 40 plots still exist and although some have been sold to new people, many have simply passed down through the family lines. Over the centuries these owners have built more houses on their land and leased them on to people. Although these houses were initially created for workers on the island, they are now occupied by a much wider range of people including some who find the simple way of life so much better than on the mainland, and so they retire to Sark.
Our walk had now taken us to the old school which has been replaced by a huge island centre where the modern school exists that serves as the nursery to GCSE level education. The centre also has various meeting rooms, a café and pub, and a large sports field.
Walking on we passed the doctor’s house. The island is not covered by the NHS and payment is made for any consultations and treatment. Anything serious has to be treated on Guernsey involving medical evacuations by St John Ambulance boats. We all had a good laugh when our guide pointed out that the doctor has his own tractor to get around the island. The number plate reads ‘Doctor’ but there are no blue flashing lights or sirens.
The stroll now reached the ‘Seigneurie’ where the head of the island lives. There is a large garden open to the public (at a price), but more importantly for us there was the ‘Hathaway’ Café and bar where we had some lunch.
It really had been a long time since we’d eaten by now.
With just a couple of hours left on the island, Deb and I went our own way and strolled at a slightly faster pace to see some more of this beautiful place. Before you decide to come and spend some time here, you must realise that this is not a holiday resort with fairgrounds and nightclubs. It is an oasis of tranquillity from modern 100 mile an hour life. As an example of its simplicity, one of the biggest industries on the island is bicycle hire. There are a couple of hotels for the visitor to sample a different way of life, and children will probably enjoy the family cycle rides for a while, but Sark is more about a retreat for the people who want to sample a relaxing few days away from cars, noise, and rushing from place to place.
At 4:00 pm we left the island on our ferry and I think the majority of the 59 Oriana passengers had enjoyed the day. Our ferry returned past the various islands and gave us a surprise by taking us directly to the ship.
After a chance to take a shower to clean off the dust from the island we had our dinner in the main dining room before going to watch a cabaret act by a comedian. It was Bernie Flint who won the original ‘Opportunity Knocks’ television talent show for several weeks in the 1960s. He is now getting on a bit, and several of joke punchlines were quite easy to predict. He also played a guitar and sang quite well, but he really annoyed Deb with his version of a song by Simon and Garfunkel’s called ‘The Boxer’ and she never forgave him enough to enjoy the rest of his act.
After the show we had a quiet drink in Andersons followed by another quiz in the Lord’s Tavern… yes we lost again.
The daytime had been hot and sunny, but it had changed significantly since leaving Guernsey and the sea was getting angry and the strong wind was rocking the ship around. We went to bed after the quiz and I was well under the influence of my sea-sickness pills before the lights were turned off. The night was not going to be very pleasant, with a predicted force 7 (or worse) storm and what was described as a ‘Moderate’ sea state.
….to passengers with susceptible stomachs, that means ROUGH!
Tomorrow was a sea day as Oriana sailed overnight around Land’s End and up the Irish Sea towards Scotland.
The captain says the wind speed will drop, and the sea will relax again during the night, but this is not going to be a comfortable night.
Sunday at Sea
Oh what a horrible night.
The sea was giving Oriana a severe telling off, and she rocked and rolled around the Irish Sea. It was uncomfortable and very noisy with creaky bulkheads and clanking bits of metalwork. I was being rolled from side to side and although I slept quite well, there were several long intervals of being awake and listening to the noise. As the night became morning, the wind dropped and the sea relaxed a little, but the ship was still moving quite erratically when we woke for breakfast. The outside decks were virtually deserted and most of those braving the fresh air were wrapped up in thick layers.
This was a sea day as we sailed up to the north of Scotland. During the day we passed Ireland to Portside and caught glimpses of it plus the north western area of mainland Britain to Starboard. The sun rarely made any significant appearance and a cold wind blew across the decks all day. At least the sea began to calm down, and at one point in the afternoon it was flat and smooth.
Our day was going to be an indoor sort of day. We started by sitting in the Crow’s Nest for nearly an hour before going for a cup of coffee in Tiffany’s. After that we took part in a quiz in the Lord’s Tavern, and then took a look around the shops. The morning was rounded off by a wine tasting talk in Anderson’s with a chance to sample four different tipples. This was a civilised way to drink a mixture of wine under the pretence that we were learning a bit about it.
After a quick lunch of cheese and biscuits to soak up the alcohol, we went back to the cabin and had a rest. Having regained her strength, Deb went to a Zumba class while I continued my rest by soaking in the bath.
Tonight it was formal dress with the welcome on board Captain’s cocktail party. So late in the afternoon we sorted out our finest clothes and dressed to impress. Deb and I ate in the main dining room again and shared a table with several single travellers. It was another chance to chat with people and share our experiences of cruising the oceans.
Having had four small glasses of wine at the tasting session, we now topped up the alcohol levels with a couple of glasses more that the cocktail party. We even had a photo taken with the Captain, but only because there was no queue at the door where he was greeting people. Most people formed a long queue to enter via the opposite door. I don’t expect we will buy the photo, but at least it made the Captain feel wanted.
It was then time to go dancing in Harlequin’s. We took to the floor for several dances and also met up with the couple we did the quiz with on the first evening. They are still getting their heads around the finer points of cruising, including the dancing sessions. As usual the ballroom was far to e dressed in formal clothing and by the time we left I was dripping in sweat.
Our evening was rounded off with a cup of hot chocolate in the Conservatory before making our way to the cabin for bed. Although generally this had been a lazy day, there were a few bursts of energy as well. Tomorrow we would be in visiting Scrabster which is just a few miles away from John ‘o Groats.