Fingal makes a stay in Edinburgh’s maritime quarter Leith a shore-to-ship experience. And, with fabulous food and luxe cabins, this is a hotel like no other
Words Libby Norman
Fingal – everything about the prospect floats my boat. This is partly because sea voyages may offer the allure of distant shores, but not when you’re travel sick at the thought of waves cresting the bow. A luxury floating hotel that stays safe in harbour and delivers exceptional hospitality and food seems to promise everything I’d want from a seagoing experience. My partner, on the other hand, finds this beyond exciting for all the right nautical reasons. But then he does boast at least one ship’s captain in his forebears and a father who was an actual lighthouse keeper in the wildest northern tip of Scotland.
Fingal has a fascinating history as a working vessel delivering essential supplies and maintenance staff to the lighthouses of the Northern Lighthouse Board. She was retired from sea duties in 2000 and, after a spell in Cornwall, was taken under the wing of The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust. It was keen to restore this piece of maritime history as something beautiful for visitors to Edinburgh.
“Our Classic Cabin is all pleasing curves, with huge bed, cosy woollen throw and portholes with a view of deck and the water beyond”
Our vessel is moored in Leith, which is a quarter of Edinburgh we don’t know at all. Steeped in maritime and trading history and with a salty tang in the air, this offers the promise of being on the water, yet conveniently close to Edinburgh central two miles down the road. It’s also within easy walking distance of Royal Yacht Britannia, so handy for exploring another piece of maritime history.
We are awed by the elegance of Fingal – especially as this was a working ship navigating some of the most treacherous waters round our coast. Her working days done, she is a thing of beauty in her black and red livery. Embarking up the gangplank – cruise style – we find ourselves in a swish Deco-style reception, wood panelled and with a glamorous glass lift in its centre. What we love instantly is that this is a setting full of maritime references and luxe touches.
Each room is individually designed and our Classic Cabin is all pleasing curves, with tactile wallcoverings and huge bed with cosy woollen throw. We discover that every element here has been custom designed, and with clever references to Scotland’s maritime traditions. We have portholes – of course – and a door that gives us access outdoors, perfect if we feel like taking a turn around the residents’ deck to catch the sea breeze. The bathroom is delightful – huge rain shower, elegant lighting, ship’s-wheel brass taps, Noble Isle toiletries and fluffy white robes.
We set out to walk around old Leith and it offers insights into the trading past of a bit of the Scottish capital that was, until relatively recently, off the tourist path. The cobbled streets and merchants’ houses put us in mind of Hanseatic ports. You can see that this was once a very wealthy and cosmopolitan trading hub – it was formerly a separate city to Edinburgh. Now it has a hip and alternative vibe and we stumble across cool studios and seriously good bars and fish restaurants.
After our breezy walk, we head back to our ship for afternoon tea. It’s served in The Lighthouse Bar, a gorgeous copper-ceilinged space that offers fine views over water from its swish banquette seating. Tea is delivered on tiered stands, with savouries first – amuse bouche, delicate savouries and an array of sandwiches including fillings such as Fingal’s own hot smoked salmon. Then the sweet stand arrives and we are overawed by the gorgeous macarons, choux buns and divine buttermilk and fruit scones. After a scone too far we admit defeat and retire to our cabin knowing there will be no need for dinner.
The next day’s breakfast is just as hearty and sets us up for the day. Individual dishes are cooked to order and I opt for the eggs benedict while my partner has a full Scottish. Both are delicious and with coffee and juice on tap. The continental-style buffet features pastries and breads galore and treats such as more of Fingal’s home-cured hot smoked salmon. At breakfast, as with our afternoon tea, we notice a pleasing buzz. Overnight residents are joined by people meeting for birthdays, business meetings and just because they want to try out this new floating hotel.
Before we disembark we are given a privileged tour of the ship. The curvaceous ballroom is high glamour – a double-height space with twin sweeping staircases that’s perfect for a wedding for up to 60 dinner guests. My partner revels in the engine room tour. Restoration is still a painstaking work in progress, but it’s fascinating to peer behind glass at the beautifully polished machinery that once powered this plucky vessel through high seas. Returning to dry land we do feel like we’ve been on a bit of a voyage. We love Fingal – it’s different to anywhere we’ve been and a most welcoming place to bunk down for the night.
Fingal floating hotel is located at Alexandra Dock, Leith, Edinburgh. For reservations, restaurant bookings and information about weddings, visit fingal.co.uk
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