Wednesday, 6 July 2016

I have been to … Northern Ireland, the Outer Hebrides, Iceland, the Orkney Islands, and the Shetland Islands

Sunday 19th June, 2016: Southampton
We had set our alarm clock to go off at 7.00am … but thanks to our cat – who decided that she wanted to be fed – we were awake just beforehand. By just after 9.00am we had washed and dressed, eaten breakfast, and loaded all the luggage in the car, and were ready to leave.

We joined the M25 at its junction with the A2 near Dartford, and it took us just under and hour to reach the junction with the M3. The long-term roadworks that are in place between that junction and the turn off for Fleet slowed the traffic down to 50mph, but by 10.30am we had reached Basingstoke, and twenty minutes later we were parking at Winchester services. We stopped there for a cup of coffee and a toasted sandwich before rejoining the M3 and continuing our journey towards Southampton.

As a consequence of a traffic accident involving several motor cars, there was a minor delay just before the turn off for Southampton Docks. Despite this, we were still able to reach the Mayflower Cruise Terminal just before midday. After unloading our luggage and handing our car over to the valet parking service, we went inside the Cruise Terminal to book in. Once that was done we sat in the departure lounge until it was our turn to go aboard MV Azura.

We were told that we could go aboard just after 12.30pm, and after passing through the security checks, we made on our way to the Meridian Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships). Once we were there we were able to get something to eat and drink whilst we waited for our cabin to be prepared. The task was completed just before 2.00pm, and we were able to go up to Deck 9 (D Deck) where our cabin was located. Our luggage was waiting for us when we got there, and we were able to unpack almost everything by 3.15pm, at which point we decided to go up to the area near the Coral Pool (Deck 15 Forward) for a breath of fresh air and a quick drink.

During this break I saw one of the numerous car and vehicle transporters that dock at Southampton sail past Azura. The Grande Europa was using a tug – the Switzer Bargate – to to help her manoeuvre her way through the docks.

We had finished our drink by 3.45pm, which gave us just enough time to go back to our cabin, pick up our life-jackets, and go to the Playhouse Theatre (Deck 7 Forward) for the usual safety briefing. The briefing ended at 4.35pm, and after returning to our cabin to drop off our life-jackets, Sue and I went back up to Deck 15 Forward to have another drink and to watch the world go by as Azura made her way down river towards the open sea.

Once we had returned to our cabin, we finished off the last bit of unpacking, and by 6.00pm we were both having a much-needed rest before we had to get ready for that evening's meal in the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft).

We had a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) before making our way down to the restaurant to eat. We were shown to our table by a waiter who had served us on a previous cruise,and we were soon joined by six of the eight people with whom we will be sharing a dinner table for the cruise. After dinner Sue and I went for a short fresh air break on the Promenade Deck (Deck 7) but the air temperature was such that we decided to stay there for less than five minutes, after which we went back to our cabin to get ready for bed.

Monday 20th June, 2016: At sea
After a very good night's sleep, we awoke at 8.00am to find that the weather was rather unpleasant. It was raining, the air temperature was 58.6°F/14.8°C, the wind speed was over 42 knots, and the waves were averaging 3.6m in height. Azura had already steamed nearly 200 miles since leaving Southampton, and the on-screen map showed her to be of the south coast of Cornwall on her way to Land's End.

After eating breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, we had a walk around the indoor areas on the Promenade Deck before making our way up to the Planet Bar (Deck 18 Aft).

Sue and I remained there reading, resting, and watching the sea until 1.30pm, when we went down to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack lunch. By the time we had eaten lunch, the weather had improved so much that there were hardly any clouds in the sky and the sun was shining. We therefore went out on deck and sat for a time near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) before going back to our cabin.

By 4.00pm we were both feeling a bit restive, and went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for some tea. We then sat out by the Terrace Bar in the sun for a while before returning to our cabin to begin getting ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise.

We were ready well beforehand, and went to the Glass House Bar for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.30pm we made our way down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner. All ten people were at dinner, and after a very pleasant meal Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for a short walk and some fresh air before turning in for the night.

I checked the ship's position just before getting into bed, and Azura was already off the coast of Northern Ireland.

Tuesday 21st June, 2016: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Despite getting up at 7.00am (we had booked a tour that was scheduled to leave at 8.45am), Azura was already docked when we got up.

From our cabin balcony we could see across the docks.

We could see a memorial to RMS Titanic, …

… one of the famous 'David and Goliath' cranes at Harland & Wolf's, …

… HMS Caroline (the only surviving ship that took part in the Battle of Jutland), …

… and the building that houses the 'Titanic Experience'.

After eating breakfast in our cabin, we went ashore just after 8.15am and were aboard the tour coach by 8.30am. Our first stop was at the 'Titanic Experience'.

Our group was one of the first to enter the building, and once we had been briefed about the way in which the exhibits were organised, we set off to explore.

The first part of our tour took us through exhibits that told the story of Belfast and its shipbuilding industry.

This included an audio-visual 'experience' about work in Harland & Wolf's Shipyard ...

… as well as numerous annotated photographs ...

… and a large-scale map of the shipyard showing the location of the slipway where Titanic was constructed.

The next section of the exhibition included reconstructions of First, …

… Second, …

… and Third Class cabins.

There was also an exhibit that contained examples of the crockery used aboard Titanic

The final section dealt with the actual events that overtook the Titanic, and included an animation that showed how she she sank …

… and a reconstruction of one of the ship's lifeboats.

Once we had finished our tour, Sue and I paid a short visit to the souvenir shop, followed by a quick drink in the café. As we had some time before our coach was to depart on the next part of our tour, we walked over to have a look at the SS Nomadic, which had been built to act as the White Star Line's passenger tender in Cherbourg.

After many years of service, Nomadic had ended up as a floating restaurant on the River Seine in Paris. She was due to be scrapped, but when she was offered to the City of Belfast to be preserved, they jumped at the chance, and she now forms part of the attractions in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

Once we had boarded our coach again at 11.15am, it set off on a panoramic tour of the city. Our drive around took us to the main Queen's University building …

… and the entrance to the Botanical Gardens.

The coach then took us along a short stretch of the Falls Road, where we could see numerous painted Republican murals, …

… and then into the Shankhill Road area, where we stopped at one of the Peace Walls.

We then drove back along the Shankhill Road, this time passing numerous Loyalist murals and memorials.

Despite our tour guide's protestations that the city was no longer divided and that the peoples of both communities were living in harmony together, that was not the impression we had from what we saw!

Sue and I did think about staying in the centre of Belfast after the tour was over, but a heavy downpour changed our minds and we returned to Azura. After a quick visit to our cabin to drop off our bags and cameras, we went up to Deck 15 Forward to have a pre-lunch drink. We then had a snack lunch in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant before going out to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar.

By 2.30pm we were both feeling a bit tired, and went back to our cabin for a rest. Just after 4.00pm we returned to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for tea, and were still sitting there when Azura cast off her lines and began to sail out of Belfast harbour. We then returned to our cabin and stayed there reading until it was time to go for a pre-dinner drink.

We had our pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar and a little after 8.30pm we were in the Oriental Restaurant ordering dinner. It was very interesting talking and listening to our table companions' experiences of Belfast, and we did not leave the restaurant until nearly 10.15pm.

Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going to bed, but it was closed. Whilst we had been eating the weather had changed for the worse, and spray was making the deck too wet to be safe to walk on. The seas had also become rougher, and the ship had begun to develop a distinct pitching and rolling motion. At the time we both wondered if Azura would actually be able to land passengers by tender when she reached Stornoway, and the weather report that accompanied the on-screen map …

… indicated that the situation was not likely to improve overnight.

Wednesday 22nd June, 2016: Stornoway, Outer Hebrides
Our fears about Azura not managing to make a stop at Stornoway proved groundless, and by 7.30am – when we awoke – she was moored offshore and the ship's tenders were being prepared.

Azura was moored some two miles from the town, …

… and as there were a lot of organised tours booked to go ashore, we decided to have a leisurely breakfast before getting ready to go ashore by tender.

We had finished eating breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant by 9.30am, and after getting our coats, bags, and cameras from our cabin, we set of to go ashore. We joined the queue for tender tickets outside the Meridian Restaurant at 9.45am, and once it had been issued to use we sat down in the restaurant with everyone else who was waiting for their number to be called.

This did not happen for some time, and it was gone 10.30am by the time we had been called to go down to the tender embarkation pontoon on Deck 4, and just after 11.00am before we stepped ashore in Stornoway

As we disembarked we could see the Scottish Fishery Protection Vessel Jura moored near to the building that houses the Port Authority.

We walked a short way along South Beach, and stopped not far from a statue of a local fishwife.

This was located near the quayside almost opposite the impressive, Scottish baronial-style building that is the headquarters of the local history society.

We crossed the road to walk towards the main shopping area, and as we did so we passed two wooden seals.

Our walk took us through some narrow side streets which brought us out at the junction of North Beach and Cromwell Road.

We took a leisurely stroll up Cromwell Road, and did some souvenir shopping along the way. By the time we reached the bridge to Lews Castle, Sue and I were both feeling in need of a drink, so we stopped for one in the nearby Bridge Centre Café.

Once we had had our drinks we set off to walk back to the centre of Stornoway We went back using a couple of inland roads (New Street and Keith Street) …

… and then passed one of the local churches …

… and along Francis Street.

By then we had returned to Cromwell Street, and whilst Sue visited one of the shops, I went across the road to have a look at a second statue of a fishwife.

Whilst this was happening, it had begun to rain, and we decided to make our way back to the tender embarkation point. As we did so it became apparent that the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry Lord Seaforth had docked, and that she was beginning to load the cars and passengers who were going use the ferry service to reach Ullapool.

We had to join a rather long queue for the tender, but members of the ship's staff and local Cruise Ambassadors were on hand to make sure that we were all ushered into the local ferry terminal and kept warm and dry until it was time to board a tender. The wait was not too arduous, but the trip back was interesting! The sea had become somewhat rougher, and when the ferry passed the tender we were on, she was thrown about quite a bit by the action of the waves and the ferry's wake.

Sue and I finally got back to our cabin just before 2.30pm, and after dropping off our stuff we went up to Deck 15 Forward to get a drink before having a late lunch. We managed to get into the Venezia Self Service Restaurant just before the change over from lunch to afternoon tea, and after eating our lunch we went out to the area near the Terrace Bar to sit in the fresh air.

By 3.45pm we had returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time for the Azura to set sail for Iceland. This was due to happen at 4.30pm, but an hour later she was still riding at anchor and only just begun to re-embark the ship's tenders.

(At 5.30pm the ship's captain – Captain Derek Gray – announced that final preparations for our departure we taking place, and that the slight delay was due the worsening sea conditions which were making it difficult to re-embark the last three tenders. He also informed us that this was the first time Azura had visited Stornoway, and that she was the largest cruise ship to have used the port to date.)

Azura finally set sail at 6.00pm … and within fifteen minutes she had to slow down to a stop when it was discovered that the ship's anchor had fouled a number of lobster pots, and the ship's crash boat had to be launched to free them! This took over twenty minutes, but once it had been done and the crash boat had been brought back aboard, Azura was on her way again.

Sue and I had booked a table in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) – one of the ship's alternative dining venues – and so we decided to have our pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar before eating. As usual the food in the restaurant was superb, as was the service, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Sue and I ate the same food: a Duo of Oak Smoked and 21-Year-Old Whisky Marinated Salmon as a starter, followed by Chateaubriand of Prime British Beef with Madeira and Bearnaise Sauces, Baby Vegetables, and Pont-Neuf Potatoes for our main course, and Crêpe Suzette Flambé for dessert.

After dinner we returned to the Terrace Bar for a breath of fresh air before returning to our cabin to sit and read before it was time to go to sleep. By then the Azura was already heading out towards the North Atlantic on her way to Iceland.

Thursday 23rd June, 2016: At sea
Sue and I both woke up earlier than expected as the ship had moved into an area of poor weather and rougher seas, and had begun to respond accordingly. This change was probably due to Azura having sailed overnight on a north-westerly course into an area of the North Atlantic where such conditions are not uncommon.

The situation had improved somewhat by the time we had eaten breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, and we were able to spend a short time on deck near the Terrace Bar before the ship hit a very heavy rain squall. This drove us back inside, and after collecting our respective Kindles from our cabin, Sue and I sat reading in the Glass House Bar until 11.30am.

At that point we returned to our cabin to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch. This is part of P&O's system for rewarding regular customers, and takes the form of a three course lunch that is hosted by the ship's senior officers. We were sat on a table for seven, and our host was the ship's Communications Officer.

The lunch went very well. The food was excellent and our table companions – including our host – turned out to be an interesting collection of people. The conversation across the table was funny as well as informative, and we were amongst the last to leave the restaurant.

Sue and I spent a short time on the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin to read and to rest. The weather had changed yet again, and although it was still cloudy, it was no longer raining and the horizon was clearly visible.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Sue and I began to get ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Captain's Welcome Aboard/Gala Cocktail Party, which was held at 8.15pm in the ship's atrium. We were lucky enough to be served our free drinks by a bar steward that we knew … with the result that we managed to be given three drinks each in thirty minutes!

At 8.45pm we went down to Oriental Restaurant for dinner, where we joined six of our eight table companions. We all enjoyed our meals, and the eight of us parted company at 10.15pm. Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck to sit in the open air for a few minutes before going back to our cabin to watch the coverage of the EU Referendum on Sky News until it was time to go to bed.

Friday 24th June, 2016: Reykjavik, Iceland
I awoke at 7.00am, and Azura was less that two hours sailing time from Reykjavik.

I was quite surprised when I turned on the cabin's TV to discover the result of the Referendum. I had expected the result to be close, but not that the vote would be in favour of leaving the EU.

By the time that the Azura was mooring alongside in Reykjavik harbour, Sue and I were already in the Oriental Restaurant eating breakfast. Once we had finished, we went back to our cabin to get ready to go ashore.

We had to queue on the dockside for about fifteen minutes before we were able to board a shuttle-bus to take us into the centre of the city. It dropped us off right outside the Harpa, the country's main concert hall and conference centre.

After a short break to get our bearings, Sue and I set off to follow the Sculpture and Shore Walk towards the Old Harbour, where we were able to see several ships of Iceland's Coast Guard.

This area is currently being developed, and there was quite a lot of building work taking place. Interestingly, one of the exhibits on show was one of the narrow-gauge locomotives that was used when the Old Harbour was first modernised over one hundred years ago.

One of the sculptures represented Icelandic fishermen pointing out towards the sea.

We then walked along one of the Old Harbour's quays, from where we had an excellent view across the harbour.

One thing that we had not expected to see moored in the harbour was a Viking Longship!

The Old Harbour is still a working harbour, and several trawlers were on slipways being refurbished.

We saw a couple of whale-catchers moored alongside one of the quays (although they did not appear to be in commission at present) ...

… as well as numerous trawlers.

Although most of the buildings around the Old Harbour seemed to have been built from concrete or corrugated steel sheet and painted in various shades of grey, one building stood out because of its brightly coloured glass-fronted balconies.

We thought about paying a visit to the Maritime Museum, but it began to rain and we decided to find somewhere y where we could get some refreshments. We therefore made our way inland along Tryggvgata

… until we reached the Reykjavik Fish Restaurant.

We liked the look of the restaurant (it was almost full of locals!) and managed to get a table. As it was already 12.30pm we decided to eat lunch, and ordered fish and chips. The fish was obviously freshly caught, and was cooked in a light and tasty batter.

Once we had eaten of lunch – and the rain had stopped – we continued to walk along Tryggvgata towards the area centred around the Ingolfstorg, Austurvöller, and Vikurgardur Squares.

This seems to be where most of Reykjavik's restaurants, bars, and hotels seem to be concentrated.

In Vikurgardur Square we saw a statue of Skuli Magnusson (a leading pioneer of the Enlightenment in Iceland)  …

… and a memorial to Georg Schierbeck Landlæknir (Founder of the Icelandic Garden Society).

On our way towards Austurstræti (which we knew would take us towards the shuttle-bus pick-up point), Sue and walked past a small archaeological dig which was looking for evidence of the earliest settlement in Reykjavik.

Austurstræti seemed to be lined with bars, restaurants, and shops ...

… and led us to Lækartorg Square. From there we walked along Lækjargata towards the seafront and the Harpa. We boarded the shuttle-bus as soon as we got to the pick-up point, and ten minutes later – just after 2.30pm – we were walking back aboard Azura.

After a quick visit to our cabin, Sue and I went up to the Verona Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft) to get a drink, and we stayed there discussing what we had seen ashore for about twenty minutes. We then returned to our cabin to rest and read before it was time to get ready for dinner.

Although the air temperature was quite cold, we decided to have a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar. Whilst it was not unpleasant, when the wind direction changed and it began to rain we cut short our time there and went down to dinner slightly earlier than usual.

For the second evening running there were only eight of us at dinner, but this did not spoil our enjoyment, and during the discussions with our table companions we learned some interesting and helpful information … including the fact the the local hop-on, hop-off tour bus (which we had though of taking during our second day in Reykjavik) cost nearly £25.00 each and tended to be over-crowded and to have a very poor-quality commentary. (One of the couples who had used this tour bus had to change buses in mid tour when theirs broke down!)

After dinner we went for a walk along the Promenade Deck, which was reasonably dry and out of the wind. We then returned to our cabin to watch the TV for a time before getting ready for bed.

Saturday 25th June, 2016: Reykjavik, Iceland
When we woke up just after 7.00am, the visibility was so poor that we could not see more than a few hundred yards. This gradually began to improve as we prepared to go to breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, but even when we had finished eating at 9.30am the cloud level was still low.

We took our time getting ready to go ashore, and finally climbed aboard the shuttle-bus to the centre of Reykjavik just before 10.30am.The journey to the Harpa took about ten minutes, and by 10.45am we had looked at the statue of a cellist that is on display outside the Harpa

… and were on our way southwards along Lækjargata.

In one of the numerous small open areas that line Lækjargata a Norwegian youth marching band – Levre Skoles Musikkorps – was playing.

On either side of the space the marching band was playing in were a number of statues and sculptures, some of which were modern …

… and others which were more traditional.

Just before we reached the Tjörnin (the Pond), we walked past a very interesting-looking traditional building.

We turned behind this building and crossed a walkway towards the Ràdhúsid (City Hall).

From the walkway we had an excellent view of the Tjörnin.

We were able to walk through the building and then along Tjarnargata, the road which runs along the western side of the Tjörnin. This is lined with some interesting examples of local house designs.

From that side of the Tjörnin we had a great view of the Fríkirkjan (the white-coloured Lutheran church in the foreground) and the Hallgrímskirkja (the towering church on the skyline).

The park at the southern end of the Tjörnin contained a number of sculptures and statues.

Sue and I crossed to the eastern side of the Tjörnin on the bridge that carries Skothusvegur across the middle of the lake. The southern part of the Tjörnin is surrounded by parkland and has a fountain at its centre.

At the eastern end of Skothusvegur there is a very interesting-looking building called Hijómskálinn.

Sue and I then turned northward along Fríkkirkjuvegur. We sat for a short time in a small park that contained even more examples of different styles of sculpture and statuary.

Our walk took us past the Fríkirkjan and the Listasafn Íslands (National Gallery of Iceland) …

… and a very interesting sculpture of a footballer.

We retraced our route back along Lækjargata to the Harpa, where we took a short break before boarding the shuttle-bus back to Azura. We were back aboard just after 1.00pm, and after a short visit to our cabin Sue and I went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink, but it proved to be too cold to sit there in comfort.

After less than ten minutes we went to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch and a drink, and followed this with another spell in the fresh air near the Terrace Bar.

We returned to our cabin just after 2.15pm, and stayed there reading and resting until it was time to go for a drink a little after 4.00pm. We went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, had a drink, and stayed there for about forty minutes. Sue and I then returned to our cabin and remained there until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Despite the fact that the air temperature was colder than we had hoped, it was possible for us to have a pre-dinner drink by the Terrace Bar because it was sheltered from the wind. At 8.30pm we left the bar and went down in the lift to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner, where we joined six of the eight other passengers with whom we share a table.

After dinner Sue and I thought that we would have a walk along the Promenade Deck, but the air temperature had dropped somewhat and the effect of the wind across the deck made it feel even colder. As a result we did not stay there very long, and by 10.45pm we were back in our cabin and getting ready for bed.

Sunday 26th June, 2016: Ísafjördur, Iceland
When we woke up at 7.30am, Azura was already approaching Isafjordur.

As it was Sunday and we were not going on a tour, we took our time getting ready and having breakfast in the hope that when we did decided to go ashore, we would not have to wait too long for a place on a tender.

It seemed as if the Azura had anchored a long way from Ísafjördur …

… and we could see one other cruise liner moored alongside the quay and another between Azura's position and the quayside.

(These turned out to be the Venturer

… and the Rotterdam.

The latter had been moored behind Azura in Reykjavik and seemed to be following a similar itinerary.)

In the end we waited until 11.10am before thinking of going ashore, having spent over an hour sitting and reading in the Glass House Bar. We collected our coats, bags, and cameras from our cabin and made our way to the Meridian Restaurant to collect a tender ticket.

We had to wait for forty minutes before our numbers were called and it was after midday before we stepped ashore in Ísafjördur. We followed the road inland (Njardrsund) …

… until we reached the local Masonic Temple (Freemasons seem to get everywhere!), …

… where we turned left along Sudurgata towards the location of the local Maritime Museum. Just before we reached the Museum we came across a memorial to all those who died on Arctic convoy QP13.

Near to the memorial was an example of a 3-pounder Quick-Firing gun that was manufactured in the UK in 1894.

The Museum tells the story of the Icelandic fishing industry …

… and around the entrance are examples of the equipment that was used. These included a narrow-gauge railway system that was used to move wagon-loads of fish from the trawlers to the processing shed and harpoons that were used to catch whales.

There was also a monument to a prominent member of the fishing community who died in 1902.

We returned along Sudurgata and passed several local trawlers …

… and locally-registered sailing craft.

After a short visit to the local tourist information centre, we began to walk towards the centre of Ísafjördur along Adalstræti, where we saw some wonderful examples of brightly-painted local houses.

It then began to rain … but not too heavily at first, but it did give us an excuse to pay a visit to a local bakery and café, Gamla Bakaríid.

After eating some very tasty local cakes and having had a drink, we set off to look around the rest of Ísafjördur. Just outside the bakery were two restored vehicles, both of which are owned by Gamla Bakaríid.

As we began to walk up the main street of Ísafjördur (Hafnárstrætie) …

… the rain began to get much heavier. We tried sheltering in the entrance of a local bank, but the rain showed no sign of stopping. In the end we decided to try to reach the local church, which was only a few hundred yards away.

Along the way we passed further examples of local house styles …

… before we reached the church.

We went inside, and were very impressed by its elegant simplicity.

One striking feature was the altar piece, which comprises well over one hundred model birds fashioned from clay, each one having been made a different members of the congregation.

The last thing that we did before making our way back to the tender embarkation point was to look at a sculpture that depicts two local fishermen.

By this time we were both feeling very wet, and we got a lot wetter during our walk back to the quayside … where we found a very long queue of passengers waiting to catch a tender back to Azura. We joined the queue at 2.10pm … and did not get back aboard until well past 3.00pm. There were crew members on hand giving out cups of much-appreciated hot soup, and this helped to keep peoples' spirits up and to stop them getting too cold.

Once aboard Azura and back in our cabin, we exchanged our wet clothes for dry ones before going up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for a very late lunch. We then returned to our cabin for a much-needed rest before it was time to get ready of dinner.

Because the weather was so unpleasant, we had to have our pre-dinner drink in the Planet Bar. Quite a lot of other passengers had the same idea, and we were only just able to find somewhere to sit. We met one of the other couples with whom we share a table for dinner in the queue for the lift down to the Oriental Restaurant, and discovered over dinner that the other two couples had also been in the Planet Bar as well!

After dinner we did manage to get out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air, but despite the fact that the sun wasn't going to set that night, it was rather dark outside due to the low cloud cover.

Monday 27th June, 2016: Akureyri, Iceland
The passage into and out of the Arctic Circle that occurred overnight made little difference to the weather, which was mildly stormy. In fact it was not until 7.30am – when the Azura was moving alongside the dock in Akureyri – that there was a break in the cloud and the weather seemed to improve.

The Rotterdam had already docked ahead of Azura, and had to begun to disembark passengers whilst Azura was still manoeuvring into position alongside the quay.

From our balcony we could see part of the residential area near the docks.

By 10.15am we had eaten breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and were on our way ashore. We walked up Strandgata, …

… across Glerágata, and on until we reached a square called Rádhúistorg.

We turned left, and began walking up Hafnárstrætie

… where we did some souvenir shopping. We then turned right into Kaupvangsstræti

… which turned out to be a lot stepper than the photograph seems to indicate. At the top of Kaupvangsstræti we turned left onto Eyrarlandsvegur, …

… which took us behind Akureyri's main Lutheran church, Akureyrarkirkja.

Eyrarlandsvegur was lined by some very imposing large houses.

At the junction of Eyrarlandsvegur and Spitalavegur was an imposing statue entitled Ótilegumadurinn (The Outlaw).

A short walk along Spitalavegur

… took us to one of the entrances to the Botanical Gardens.

We spent some considerable time walking around the Botanical Gardens …

… before stopping for a drink and a snack in the café that is situated near the centre of the Botanical Gardens.

Opposite the café was a small, white summer house …

… and nearby was a exhibition of photographs of places around Akureyri.

These had all been taken by female photographers during the colder months of the year, and included some spectacular photographs of the Aurora Borealis.

We then walked around the rest of the Botanical Gardens …

… until we reached the gate we had entered by. We retraced our route along Spitalavegur

… until we reached the junction with Eyrarlandsvegur again. On the far side of the street was the Old Catholic Church …

… and from this vantage point we had an excellent view across the fjord …

… and of our ship.

Sue and I then walked the short distance downhill to Akureyrarkirkja

… which we entered by its imposing doors.

The inside was imposingly simple in design, but included some wonderful stained glass windows.

The central window behind the altar was salvaged from the old Coventry Cathedral that was bombed during the Second World War.

The church has a magnificent organ …

… that has 3,000 pipes.

Hanging from the ceiling of the church was a large model of a sailing ship.

We descended the hill the church is built atop of by a very long set of stairs …

… which took us back to Hafnárstrætie.

One end of the street was dominated by a building that was painted in the colours of the Icelandic flag.

Our walk back followed the route we had taken on our way into Akureyri.

At one of the sets of traffic lights we passed through during our walk back still had a heart-shaped filter on the red light.


This was introduced some years ago by the town's mayor to mark Valentine's Day, and the locals liked the idea so much that many traffic lights still have these filters fitted to them.

It had just begun to rain as we reached Azura

… and we were able to get aboard without getting too wet. Others were not so lucky, and were caught in the torrential downpour that lasted for quite some time.

By 2.00pm Sue and I were eating lunch in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, having already had a drink under cover near the Terrace Bar. For once the restaurant was not very crowded, and we were able sit there for some time before we returned to our cabin.

After resting for well over an hour we returned to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for some tea, but when we decided to go out onto the open deck area near the Terrace Bar, it was too wet and cold and we went back to our cabin instead.

Due to the earlier bad weather, Sue and I had a pre-dinner drink in the Glass House Bar, but before going to dinner we decided to see what it was like on the Promenade Deck. Luckily the weather had improved considerably, and although it was windy, the sun was shining.

We had been standing on deck for only a few minutes before another passenger pointed out towards the horizon and said 'Look, there are some whales!' … and there were! For the next ten minutes we saw numerous whales coming up to the surface to blow, and in several cases, to wave their flukes in the air as they dived back underwater. As a result of seeing this wonderful sight we were slightly late getting to the Oriental Restaurant … only to discover that everyone else was also late as they had been watching the whales as well.

After dinner we returned to the Promenade Deck, but the weather had deteriorated again as the Azura had begun to make her way along the northern coast of Iceland, and no whales could be seen. We returned to our cabin, and by 10.30pm we were getting ready for bed.

Tuesday 28th June, 2016: At sea
The poor weather continued overnight, and when we awoke it was to grey skies and a grey sea. Azura was still off the northern coast of Iceland, but was just beginning to turn southwards towards the Shetland Islands.

After eating breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, we paid a visit to the Future Cruise Desk (Deck 5 Midships) to enquire about the cost of a cruise to North America in 2017. It turned out to be somewhat more expensive than we had hoped, and we decided not to book places on it at the moment. Sue and I then had a look around some of the nearby shops before venturing out onto the Promenade Deck for some fresh air. Following that we went back to our cabins to collect our Kindles, and then went up to the Malabar Bar (Deck 7 Midships) to sit and read.

Whilst we were there one of the ship's entertainments staff ran a very interesting session about how to get more from your iPad, and they were followed by one of the ship's musical groups, who played a range of popular music.

At 1.15pm we decided to go outside for some more fresh air, but it had become somewhat colder since we had last been on the Promenade Deck, and we only stayed out there for a few minutes. After a quick trip back to our cabin to drop off our Kindles, Sue and I went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for lunch. This took until just after 2.00pm, at which point we decided to see if the air temperature had got any warmer.

It had, and we spent some time near the Terrace Bar talking to other passengers. The change in temperature brought with it fog, and by 2.30pm Azura was shrouded in it and was sounding her foghorn at regular intervals. We decided that we had had enough of the damp and returned to our cabin, where we stayed until 4.00pm, when we went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for some tea.

We went out on deck for a short time after tea, and the fog was nowhere as thick as it had been, and visibility had improved somewhat. It was , however, still damp and rather cold, so we only remained outside for about five minutes. We were back in our cabin by just after 4.30pm, and stayed there reading and resting until it was time to get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise. This was preceded by the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party, which was held at 8.00pm in the Manhattan Show Lounge (Deck 7 Aft).

After the Cocktail Party, Sue and I went up to the Epicurean Restaurant for a special birthday dinner. We had a table by the window, and were able to see that the fog had completely dispersed and the sun was shining. The food and service were – as usual – excellent and when we left at 10.15pm we were both feeling very full.

Sue ate Buttered Green and White Asparagus with a Poached Egg, a Coddled Egg, and Pancetta for her starter, a Dover Sole á la Meunière with Baby Vegetables and Potatoes for her main course, and Elements of Summer Trifle for her dessert.

I ate Jamón Pata Negra Ibérico de Bellota with Manchego Cheese for my starter, a 28-Day Dry Aged Beef Sirloin with Triple Cooked Chips, Yuzu Hollandaise and Chimichurri Sauce for my main course, and Glazed Banana with Caribbean Demerara Rum Tot, Peanut Butter Parfait, and Aerated Dark Chocolate for my dessert.

We were even able to enjoy sitting outside by the Terrace Bar for a short time afterwards watching the sun slowly descend towards the horizon before we went back to our cabin to sit and rest for a while until it was time t get ready for bed.

Wednesday 29th June, 2016: At sea
Overnight the weather reverted to being rather cloudy, and the sea became slightly rougher. When we woke up just before 8.00am Azura was to the north of the Faeroe Islands on a straight course for the Shetland Islands.

For a change Sue and I went for a continental breakfast in the Venezia Self Service restaurant, after which we spent some time looking around the ship's shops and sitting on the Promenade Deck. It was a little too cold and windy to stay on deck for very long, and we ended up sitting in the Malabar Bar until it was time to go to the special brunch that had been organised by the ship's Food and Beverage Department. This was held in the Meridian Restaurant, and was intended to showcase the variety of food served aboard Azura.

We were greeted with a glass of sparkling wine, and after a short briefing by the Food and Beverage Manager, we were split into groups and taken on a conducted tour of the main sections in the ship's galley.

Each section head or manager explained how their part of the galley worked, what they produced, and how many staff they employed. We were also shown examples of the range of food produced by each section.

After returning to the restaurant we were seated at tables and offered more wine and/or water as well as bread. Once all the tours were complete we were allowed back into the galley to pick up the starter – or starters – of our choice. Once we had eaten that, we went back to collect a main course from the selection that were on offer … and once that had been eaten we returned for a third time to pick up a section of desserts. The meal was finished off with a choice of tea or coffee.

The food on offer included:
International Selection of Charcuterie and Smoked Meats
Marinated Olives with home-made Pickles and Chutneys
Seafood Smorgasbord Platter with selection of Flavoured Salad Nestings
Avocado & Tiger Prawn Cocktails with Bagel Toasts
Chicken, Spinach Corn Tikka, Onion Bhaji
Chorizo Sausage and Butter Bean Cassoulet, Garlic Mushrooms
Artisan Cheeses and Dugustation Breads
Main Course
Fillet of Beef with selection of Sauces (Port, Madeira Jus, Peppercorn Sauce, and Bearnaise Sauce)
Pan-seared Sea Bass with Purple Potato Mouseline
Roast Leg of Pork
Chicken Fajitas with Sour Cream and Guacamole
Paneer Fajitas with Sour Cream and Guacamole
Individual Smoked Tofu Nut Roast with Cheese Glaze
Pancakes with Maple Syrup
Banana Sundae – with a selection of toppings
Lemon Curd Meringue Cones
Strawberry Shortbread Tower
Eton Mess

We finished eating just after 1.30pm, and after a short break for some fresh air on the Promenade Deck and a drink in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, Sue and I returned to our cabin to rest for the rest of the afternoon.

During the early evening Sue and I got ready for dinner, and at 7.30pm we went down to the Promenade Deck to see if we could spend some time in the open air before going for a pre-dinner drink. When we got there we found that it was both cold and wet, and we went up to the Planet Bar for a pre-dinner drink instead.

When we arrive at the Oriental restaurant for dinner we discovered that the other four couples were also all there, and for only the second time during the cruise there were ten of us at the dinner table. The conversation around the dinner table was quite animated at times, and before we knew it is was gone 10.00pm.

After dinner Sue and I ventured up to the Promenade Deck … and found that it was not quite so cold and the wind was no longer blowing spray over the deck. We stayed there for about ten minutes before going back to our cabin to read before getting ready for bed.

Thursday 30th June, 2016: Lerwick, Shetland Islands
The sound of Azura anchoring woke us up at 7.20am. Because Lerwick Harbour is not large enough for such a large ship to dock alongside, Azura had to moor nearly two miles from the quayside.

The Pilot Boat was alongside as Azura began to moor, but once the procedure was under way, it left.

Although we did not have a tour booked until the afternoon, Sue and I decided to go ashore as early as possible so that we could look around Lerwick beforehand. We ate breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, and by 9.30am we had got our tender tickets and were sitting waiting for our numbers to be called. The process was faster than it had been on Stornoway, and within an hour we were stepping ashore in the centre of Lerwick.

Sue and I set off along the Esplanade …

… and did some souvenir shopping along the way. When we reached the junction with Commercial Street, …

… we turned left. Our attention was immediately drawn to the cannons and ramparts of Fort Charlotte …

… which we decided to visit, and about which I will write a blog entry in the near future.

From Commercial Street we had a good view of the local inter-island ferry.

After visiting Fort Charlotte we walked further uphill towards King Erik Street, where we saw the local Police Station …

… but there was no sign of Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez of SHETLAND fame!

Just across the road from the Police Station was Lerwick's Town Hall. This is a magnificent structure built in the Scottish Baronial style.

At its entrance was a plaque that commemorated the thanks of the members of the Royal Norwegian Navy's 30th and 54th Motor Torpedo Boat flotilla's that were based in Lerwick during the Second World War.

The main staircase in the Town Hall was dominated by a stained glass window that was paid for by the members of the Masonic Lodge Morton No.89 (Scottish Constitution) and installed when the Town Hall was built.

The inside of the main meeting room in the Town Hall had a magnificent wooden roof that was modelled on the design of an upturned boat, whilst its windows were all fitted with stained glass.

The main rose window celebrated the links between the Shetland Islands and Norway …

… whilst below it the arms of some of the most important families in the Shetlands were depicted.

On display in the main hall was yet another reminder of the links between the Lerwick and the Royal Norwegian Navy in the form of the ship's wheel from one of the motor torpedo boats (MTB 613) and its bell.

Outside the Town Hall was the main War Memorial, and listed on it were the names of the Islanders who had died on active service during the First and Second World Wars.

Sue and I then walked back towards the seafront down one of the numerous narrow and very steep alleys that link the upper part of the town to the lower part.

By the time we got back into the centre of Lerwick it was almost midday, and we stopped for a cup of tea and a toasted sandwich each in on of the local cafés, the 'Coffee & Keetchin'.

By the time that we had finished it was almost time to join the queue for the tour we were booked on. During our time ashore the weather had been improving all the time, and by midday it was sunny and seasonably warm for the Shetlands.

On our way to the car park where we were supposed to meet the coach we passed a memorial to a Hull whaling boat – the Diana – that that had almost been lost at sea.

We boarded our tour coach at 1.15pm, and the first stop was at the birth place of Arthur Anderson, one of the founders of the Peninsular & Oriental Steamship Company … in other words, P&O.

On our way to our second stop of the tour we drove through some of the rural parts of Shetland Mainland.

Our second stop was at 'Shetland Jewellery', which specialises in the manufacture of silver jewellery whose designs are heavily influenced by traditional Nordic designs.

It was situated next to a loch, …

… and across the valley we could see the remains of houses that were abandoned during the Clearances.

Our next stop was just outside the town of Whiteness, from where we could see the Atlantic Ocean.

It was only a short ride on the tour coach from Whiteness to one of the farms where Shetland ponies are bred, and we spent a very enjoyable time in the company of a group of these magnificent animals.

The tour coach then took us to Scalloway – the ancient capital of the Shetland Islands – where we visited the Scalloway Museum …

… and the ruins of Scalloway Castle.

On our way back to Lerwick we stopped near to remains one of the pre-historic brochs that were built at various locations across the islands. Clickimin Broch is a particularly large example, and it is situated so that it is almost surrounded by a lake.

The tour finished back at the point where we had joined it … in the car park in the centre of Lerwick, next to the tender embarkation pontoon. We got off the tour coach at 4.30pm – just as it was beginning to cloud over and to drizzle – and were back aboard Azura thirty minutes later. Sue and I had time to drop off our bags and coats before going up to the Terrace Bar for a drink as Azura set sail.

We went back to the Terrace Bar at 8.00pm for our pre-dinner drinks, and at 8.30pm we went down to the Oriental Restaurant to eat. There were only three other couples at the table as one of the couples had chosen to follow our example and dine in the Epicurean Restaurant.

After dinner Sue and I returned to the Terrace Bar and stayed there for over half an hour watching as the Azura sailed down the eastern coast of Shetland towards Sumburgh Head. We then went back to our cabin feeling rather tired and by midnight we were both asleep.

Friday 1st July, 2016: Kirkwall, Orkney Islands
Azura was moored alongside the dock of Kirkwall's Cruise Terminal by 8.00pm, and the signs were that the weather was going to be reasonable fine.

Sue and I were booked on a tour starting at 1.15pm, so we decided to use the shuttle-bus provided by Kirkwall City Council to go into the centre of Kirkwall. We had eaten breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant by 9.30am, and by 10.00am we were queuing for the shuttle-bus. The journey in took less than ten minutes, and after walking out of the bus station and crossing Junction Road, we walked up Castle Street in the direction of Broad Street.

In Castle Street we passed the local Masonic Hall …

When we reached Broad Street we turned right towards St Magnus Cathedral ...

… which we spent some time looking around. The Cathedral has a War Memorial Gateway …

… as well as a memorial to those who were killed aboard HMS Royal Oak

… and to the men of the local congregation who were killed during the First World War.

Next door to St Magnus Cathedral were the ruins of the Bishop's Palace …

… and the Earl's Palace.

Sue and I then walked towards the seafront down Broad Street, …

… Albert Street, …

… and into Bridge Street, doing some souvenir shopping as we went.

By the time we reached the seafront it was 11.30am. To make sure that we were back at the Cruise Terminal in time to join our afternoon tour, we began to walk back to the bus station to catch a shuttle-bus to the ship. We were back aboard Azura by midday, and after a quick visit to our cabin to freshen up, we went up to the Promenade Deck to sit and wait until it was time to go back ashore.

We were ready and waiting to join our tour by 1.00pm, and within fifteen minutes we had boarded the tour bus. Somewhat to our surprise it drove us to a hotel – The Shore Hotel – that is located on the seafront of Kirkwall.

After an introduction by one of the owners of the hotel (Mike Berston), we were all given a tot of 12-year-old Highland Park malt whisky and toasted each other. This was followed by a taster menu of locally-sourced food and drink:

Bere & Flourie Bannocks with Grimbister Cheese and Orkney Cheddar, accompanied by a small glass of Swanny Brewery Scapa Special Ale
Sweet Cured Herring with local oatcakes, accompanied by as small glass of Orkney Brewery Red MacGregor Ale

Fresh-caught local Partan Toes (i.e. Brown Crab Claws), accompanied by a small glass of Orkney Brewery Dark Island Ale

Braised Orkney Steak, Carrot Purée, & Clapshot, accompanied by a taste of Scapa Skiren Ale

Orkney Fudge Cheesecake and Orkney Ice Cream

Tea & Coffee
A farewell tot of 12-year-old Highland Park malt whisky

It was 3.30pm by the time we had finished, and we swayed our way back to the tour bus, which got us back to Azura by 3.45pm. Sue and I decided to go to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air after dropping our cameras and coats back in our cabin.

Azura was due to set sail by 5.00pm, and at 4.30pm we went down to the Promenade Deck in the hope that a pipe band might appear on the dockside to wish us farewell. We were not disappointed, and a couple of minutes after we arrived on deck, the Kirkwall City Pipe Band came out of the Cruise Terminal building and began to play a number of traditional Scottish tunes.

The band played until nearly 5.00pm … at which point Azura had cast off and was beginning to move away from the quayside. Sue and I then returned to our cabin to get ready for the final formal dinner of the cruise. Almost as soon as we had got back to our cabin, the clouds darkened and it began to rain intermittently.

We decided to risk going up to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but almost as soon as our drinks had arrived, it began to rain again and we had to sit in the Verona Self Service Restaurant to finish them.

At 8.30pm we went done to the Oriental Restaurant, where we joined our eight dinner companions. As usual for the last formal dinner of the cruise, proceedings were interrupted between the main course and the dessert by a parade of the chefs and galley brigade through the restaurant. They were greeted by cheers and loud clapping, and after the leading chefs had been introduced, they all trooped out again to carry on working.

After dinner Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for a short time. The weather had improved somewhat, and it wasn't raining. From the starboard side of the ship we could see the lights of a town on the horizon, and when we got back to our cabin and looked at the on-screen map, we worked out that it was probably Peterhead.

Saturday 2nd July, 2016: At sea
Sue and I had both been feeling a bit under the weather on Friday, but overnight we both developed very heavy colds. (This is a phenomena that we have noticed on our last few cruises. During the last day or so we both begin to get some sort of cold or cough. We suspect that it might be due in part to the enclosed environment of the ship when it is at sea, and possibly to the air conditioning system circulating viruses that the filters have not removed.)

When we woke up at 8.00am, Azura was already off the coast of Yorkshire and making good speed down the eastern coast of England.

After a breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, Sue and I paid a visit to the ship's shops – where we didn't buy anything – and to the Reception Deck, where we left our cruise feedback questionnaire. We then collected our Kindles from our cabin and spend until 11.30am sitting reading in the Glass House Bar. When we went back to our cabin to begin packing, our cabin steward had just stared to clean it, so we went down to the Malabar Bar to read until 12.15pm.

On our return to our cabin we discovered that the cabin steward had just finished and we began the tedious but necessary process of packing. By 1.30pm we had managed to pack all three suitcases, and decided to take a break for lunch. We went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, and after eating we went out to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air.

We had returned to our cabin by 2.30pm, and within forty five minutes we had packed two of the three travel bags we had brought with use. We then had a much needed rest until just after 4.00pm, when we went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for tea, followed by another spell in the fresh air near the Terrace Bar.

Sue and I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and watching the in-cabin TV service as well as preparing the final bits of packing that were to go in the last of the three travel bags. At 8.00pm we went up to the Terrace Bar for our last pre-dinner drink of the cruise, and by 8.35pm we were sitting in the Oriental Restaurant for our last dinner on the Azura.

The meal proved to me yet another excellent one, and it was with regret that we said goodbye to our table companions and the two waiters who had served us. We left the restaurant at just before 10.30pm, and Sue and I decided to go out onto the Promenade Deck to watch the final rays of the sunset disappear and the lights of the coastline of Britain appear on the horizon.

We returned to our cabin at 10.45pm, and after packing the last travel bag that had to be left outside our cabin so that it could be collected and taken off once Azura had docked in Southampton, we looked at the ship's position on the on-screen map … and discovered that Azura was passing through the Straits of Dover!

We were in bed by just after 11.00pm, and read for a while before going to sleep.

Sunday 3rd July, 2016: Southampton
As a result of our heavy colds, Sue and I had a disrupted night's sleep, and were awake when Azura moored alongside the Mayflower Cruise Terminal at 6.30am.

By 7.40am we were dressed and ready to go to breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, and just over forty minutes later we were making our way ashore. It took us slightly longer than usual to find all our bags, but despite this delay we were still driving out of the valet parking compound before 9.00am.

Unfortunately part of our route out of Southampton was closed due to a charity run, and it took us nearly thirty minutes to reach the M3 motorway. Once we were on the motorway our journey home was uneventful, and even though we stopped to do some basic food shopping at Winchester Services, we were home just a few minutes after midday.


  1. Brilliant Journey- just adore all the various Buildings and Harbour-side views. Thanks for posting. KEV.

    1. Kev,

      It was a great trip ... and it is interesting to see the how different styles of architecture and building materials are used the further north one goes.

      All the best,


  2. Replies
    1. Ross Mac,

      I am very pleased that you enjoyed reading it.

      Sue and I now have a certificate that states that were have been within the Arctic Circle ... although the truth is that it is the third time we have!

      All the best,


  3. Well, you chose the right time of year to head north. How does it go? June: 2D6. 8-12=fine, 6-7 = rain, 4-5=drizzle, 2-3 = fog.

    1. Whiskers,

      We were mostly throwing nines and tens, with the occasional six and two.

      All the best,


  4. A long but very interesting and enjoyable travelogue Bob :)

    1. Tamsin P,

      I am glad that you persisted with your reading of this blog entry and that you enjoyed it. There was just so much to see, and in the near future I will be writing about certain specific places that we visited or things that we saw during this cruise.

      All the best,


  5. Replies
    1. Alastair,

      I'm very pleased to see that you enjoyed reading this rather long travelogue!

      All the best,


  6. Yet another v interesting travelogue. The taster lunch looked great.

    I was also interested to see the masonic temple. A friend of mine moved from here when he retired to a little town on the coast in the far north of Sutherland and apparently he has a hugely busy masonic year. They are v active in the community and the lodge meets 8 times a year and they have ceremonies at every meeting. Then you add in chapter and mark as 99% of members do all three.

    Only one formal dinner on installation night and on the others they dine informally with the food prepared by family members. Lovely masonic kit all in green and gold.


    1. Guy,

      I am very pleased that you enjoyed reading this travelogue ... and the taster lunch was very good indeed!

      The Craft in Scotland seems to be far more central to the smaller local communities than it is in England, and far less reticent about who are members and what they do. As a result it seems to be more highly regarded by people who aren't members.

      I like the idea that there only needs to be one formal dinner per lodge each year, and that families are involved in preparing food for the informal after-meeting meal. If English Masonry did something similar we could start meetings later, which might make attending more attractive to members and potential members who have only a limited amount of time available.

      All the best,


      PS. Your are right about Scottish regalia; it does look very attractive.