By Peter Ellegard
There’s something very special about staying on a ship. Even more so when it is more like a luxury superyacht, managed by the trust that runs the Royal Yacht Britannia and is docked a short stroll from it in Edinburgh’s fashionable Leith district.
A former lighthouse tender that retired in 2000 and opened as a boutique floating hotel a year ago in January following a £5 million conversion, Fingal is elegance personified.
For passengers arriving into Edinburgh by train or plane, the ship’s BMW limo can pick you up from Edinburgh station and whisk you to its dedicated Port of Leith berth in style. After golfing around East Lothian and at Edinburgh’s historic Bruntsfield Links I drive there, parking just steps from my overnight home away from home.
I’m given a royal welcome in the elegant reception area then escorted to my cabin, one of 23 built when two accommodation decks were added in the refit. I’m struck by the beautiful wood everywhere and the sheer craftsmanship and incredible attention to detail – hardly surprising as Britannia’s workmen helped with the refit. Fingal’s trident motif I had noticed at the top of the black and red hull’s bow is omnipresent, including in my cabin.
Like the other 22 cabins, it is named after one of the Scottish lighthouses Fingal served during 37 years with the Northern Lighthouse Board – all designed by the Stevenson family of famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Mine is called Lismore after the lighthouse built by his grandfather, Robert Stevenson, on an Inner Hebrides islet.
The name is carved into the floor outside the cabin. Inside are more references to the lighthouse and to Fingal’s past. On the desk beside a tray of complimentary fudge and chocolates, a book on the Stevenson lighthouses is open at the page about Lismore along with a photograph of Fingal during its working life.
The cabin is exquisitely furnished and decorated. Behind the double bed, which sports a locally-made plaid runner and cushions, the grey suede headboard depicts a marine chart of the Lismore lighthouse location. A suede panel in a discreetly-lit ceiling recess above bears a compass and Fingal’s name.
The detail continues throughout the cabin. Fingal’s motif is etched into the desk drawer’s grey lining. A double wardrobe, featuring curved doors covered in grey leather with stitched leather handles again bearing the trident motif, opens to reveal a beautifully-crafted hardwood interior complete with an iron, ironing board, laptop safe and drawers containing amenity items. A boxed, silk Hunt & Holditch bow tie is thoughtfully included in one drawer for guests should they have forgotten their own – priced at £25.95.
The shower cubicle is tiled in marine green and iridescent squares. Brass bathroom fittings include taps resembling stopcocks and hooks shaped like anchors on which generously-large bathrobes are hung.
Once settled in, I’m given a tour of Fingal. Mine is one of 10 classic cabins. There are eight luxury cabins, two classic duplex cabins and two luxury duplex ones, one of which I explore. I’m blown away by its stunning spiral staircase and the angled wall formed by the curve of the hull, which is tiled in the bathroom behind the free-standing bath.
The top cabin, the Skerryvore Suite, is even more luxurious and spacious, its bathroom previously the compact cabin used by Princess Anne when she occasionally took trips on the vessel in her capacity as Northern Lighthouse Board patron.
I also visit the engine room, its machinery gleaming as new behind a glass-walled corridor, and the ballroom that seats 60 below a removable glazed skylight in what was the ship’s hold.
Fingal’s heart is its art deco-style Lighthouse Bar, where you sit at tables or at the bar below its reflective, wavy copper ceiling to enjoy fine wines, beers, cocktails or Scottish spirits as well as light meals. The pre-mixed Lighthouse Martinie is served in a lighthouse-shaped bottle. I sample a local Britannia Gin with an Aberdeenshire tonic.
Supper comprises mouth-watering creations cooked from local ingredients and presented with panache. The menu and portions are pared down compared to a full dinner but you can add dishes, or use it as a preamble before dining in one of the many nearby establishments ashore. I enjoy a post-supper drink on the aft deck, taking in the views of Leith and the port at dusk before retiring to my comfy bed.
Breakfast includes a traditional Scottish fry-up, eggs benedict and – my choice – eggs royale. Before checking out I tour the nearby Royal Yacht Britannia, which guests are invited to do.
My short stay has been so enjoyable it’s a wrench to leave. En route to Edinburgh Airport I drive 10 minutes to visit the spot where the five-hole Leith Links once stood. The first official rules of golf were drawn up here in 1744. For golfers wanting a cosseted stay with the chance to pay homage to the home of golf or take an East Lothian golf tour, Fingal truly is shipshape and Bristol – or at least Edinburgh – fashion.
It’s pricey, but you’re treated like royalty.
Historic Port of Leith
Edinburgh EH6 7DX
T: 0131 357 5000