Hebridean Painting & Wildlife Cruise 2024

Small cruise ship painting experience visiting Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Jura, Islay and more

Dates: 28 June – 5 July 2024 – fully booked – waitlist only 
Tutor: Nicky Sanderson
Activity: Drawing & painting (watercolour & mixed media); Wildlife watching (also wild swimming, if you wish)
Departure & destination port: Oban
Locations: Isles of Mull, Iona, Colonsay/Oronsay, Jura & Islay; Sound of Jura; Kintyre & Crinan; Seil Island

This art cruise combines a daily plein air drawing and painting workshop with spotting and learning about the rich wildlife in the Hebridean isles. It’s a unique adventure and like a creative nature retreat on a boat! Departing from Oban, where we meet for a welcome lunch, we sail along the Isle of Mull to Iona. From there the route takes us to the isles of Colonsay and Oronsay, Islay and Jura, before sailing back north along the Kintyre peninsula, the Gulf of Corryvreckan and Seil Island.  

We’ve designed this exclusive itinerary to offer a variety of stunning land and seascapes, plus architecture and history – all to inspire you! Capture the wild beauty of the Hebridean seascapes with your paints and guidance from artist Nicky Sanderson, whilst learning about the island locations, their history and their wildlife from the knowledgeable crew. If wild swimming is your thing you’ll get plenty of opportunities to live your passion!

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“A wonderful experience combining painting, wildlife watching and living on a small ship.  Took me into another world for a week where I developed my painting style.  Very helpful and knowledgeable tutor and crew including a first class cook.” {Stewart, Glasgow}

Immerse yourself

This cruise will be a catalogue of iconic species to spot and observe! Wildlife in the summer is usually a nice crossover of the whale and dolphin species, plus white-tailed sea eagles, maybe golden eagles, puffins and all the other Scottish seabirds. With a chance of also seeing otters and seals we will be kept busy admiring them all and every day will take us through different island landscapes.

Our crew are very familiar with the locations we visit and happy to share their knowledge with you!

West coast beach

Art inspired by stunning surroundings

This adventure is created for artists by artists. We will go ashore and explore islands and beaches, with plenty of opportunities to get painting boards and sketchbooks out and spend a bit longer at at least one location each day for creating artwork. You’ll get a wealth of ideas and techniques to enhance your creative work with guidance from our art tutor Nicky Sanderson, who also leads the Sense of Place art experience in the Outer Hebrides. Check out her profile page here.

Watercolour Nciky Sanderson

You will feel a connection to nature as you explore these seascapes and ancient landscapes, still sculpted today by wind and rain and human hand. Each day will have a different theme and artistic focus. Your sketchbook will form a record of the sights you see and by the end of the trip will contain a wealth of inspirations tucked away inside. Drawing with mixed media, using graphite, charcoal and ink, along with quick washes of colour from your paints will provide the basis of your work. You will have the opportunity to experiment with using the local environment as your tool – have you tried painting the sea with seawater or making brushes out of washed up rope, feathers or seaweed?

We will provide an easily portable set of art materials, as well equipment such as painting boards, water containers, masking tape and a sturdy canvas bag for carrying materials.


Day 1 – Arrival and welcome
We meet at a restaurant in Oban, the town where the cruise departs and finishes. Over a welcome lunch and drinks we’ll give an introduction to the upcoming trip before heading to the harbour and our boat, the Hjalmar Bjørge. The adventure begins! We’ll berth for the night at Loch Spelve on the Isle of Mull.

Day 2 – South shore of Mull to Bunessan
This rugged and dramatic coastline is home to the lovely Lochbuie and the 15th century Moy Castle. We’ll see soaring sea cliffs, the Carsaig Arches and beautiful white sandy beaches like Ardalanish Bay, where white-tailed sea eagles, otters and red deer are all at home. Likely anchorage for the night is at Bunessan,  a small village on the Ross of Mull.

Day 3 – Iona, Colonsay/ Oronsay
We start the day with a visit to one of the world’s most magical places, the famous Isle of Iona. Many call it a ‘thin place’, a place where they feel an otherness. From Iona we head south towards Colonsay and its little picturesque neighbour of Oronsay, home to a beautiful white sand beach looking across to the Paps of Jura in the distance. Oronsay also has its own historic Priory as well as a very well preserved Celtic Cross. Overnight along the sheltered east coast of Colonsay.

Dolphins feature

Day 4 – Islay and Jura
Today we will slide through the Sound of Islay between Islay to the South and Jura to the north, getting great views of the Paps of Jura from all angles. Watch out for golden and white-tailed eagles around here!  Overnight along the east coast of Jura.

Day 5 – From Jura to Tayvallich in Kintyre
Leaving Jura and crossing the Sound of Jura to the mainland we will pass by another ancient religious site at Eilean Mor and then sail into Loch Sween past Castle Sween to the small village of Tayvallich where we spend the night.


Day 6 – Along Knapdale to Crinan Canal
Today we retrace our steps down and out of Loch Sween and swing northwards along the coastline of Knapdale, heading for the little village of Crinan with its picturesque entrance to the Crinan Canal. We will spend the night here.

Day 7 – Corryvreckan Whirlpool to Seil Island
From Crinan we head across and past the north tip of Jura, the location for the Corryvreckan Whirlpool that appears at certain stages of the tide. Turning north we pass by the area known as the Slate Islands for their historic industrial usage, supplying roofing slate around the world. Seil Island will be our destination for the night, made famous itself as it is linked to the mainland by the “Bridge over the Atlantic”.

Day 8 – Back to Oban
We’ll arrive back in Oban after breakfast (10.30ish) so you still have most of the day for onward travel. You’ll leave with a sketchbook full of ideas and notes, and a heart full of memories.

Our boat, the MV Hjalmar Bjørge

The MV Hjalmar Bjørge (the correct Norwegian pronunciation is ”YAL-MUH B’YOR-GAY”) is a former Norwegian ice-class rescue vessel. Since undergoing an extensive refurbishment this outstanding small ship combines comfort with seaworthiness for adventurous sea voyages to explore the Scottish islands and coast. It is large enough to contain passenger cabins and a saloon, but small enough to drop anchor in extra special, beautiful locations that passengers on larger cruise ships can only dream about. The crew are very knowledgeable about wildlife and local history, and keen to share their knowledge with you.

The MV Hjalmar Bjørge sleeps 10 guests in 5 twin cabins. Each cabin has a hand washbasin, but toilets (3) and shower rooms (2) have to be shared with other guests. Because of the small number of cabins we’re unable to offer single occupancy on this trip. There is also a drying room and we’ll use the saloon as our studio in case of wet and windy weather.

It is important to keep in mind that on this cruise the luxury lies in the experience – the breathtaking views, the art tuition, the exclusive itinerary, the unique and authentic adventure – rather than shiny premiums cabins. 

Prices & other info

The price for this 8-day fully-catered cruise experience is GBP 3300 per person. This includes:

  • 8 days (7 nights) accommodation on board the MV Hjalmar Bjørge (sharing twin cabin – 2 berths)
  • 6 days art tuition
  • All meals and snacks on freshly prepared by the on-board chef
  • Welcome drinks and lunch in Oban on arrival
  • Services of your crew
  • Exclusive artist-friendly itinerary
  • Art materials and equipment (painting boards, water containers etc.), sketchbook journal
  • Detailed pre-travel information with everything you need to know and bring (including kit list of basic art materials).

The cruise experience starts and finishes in Oban on the Scottish West Coast.

The easiest way to get to Oban is by train from Glasgow Queen Street station and the journey takes around 3 hours. It will be a while before summer 2024 timetables are available. We’ll be happy to advise you on travel connections and accommodation before and/or after the cruise, e.g. if you want to arrive in Oban a day earlier. You can use our Getting There page as a starting point to plan your journey.

An initial non-refundable deposit of £150 secures your space and we’ll collect a second payment of £350 by 30 June 2023. The balance is due 8 weeks before the start date. Personal travel insurance is required. Flights and travel to/from the departure and arrival locations stated above are not included, nor are alcoholic drinks (other than the welcome drinks) nor gratuities.

Please note that a certain level of mobility is required to take part in this cruise. You should be able to climb in and out of a small boat and sometimes manage uneven footings.

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