Last Updated on July 15, 2019 by Fiona Maclean
A Floating Boutique Hotel in Leith, Edinburgh – Fingal.
What happens to working ships when they are too old to carry on at sea? This is the story of Fingal, the last ship built by the Blythswood Ship Building Company of Glasgow and a tender that had spent her working days servicing the Northern Lighthouse Board’s sites from Oban and Stromness in Orkney.
Originally registered in Leith and launched in 1963, Fingal spent 40 years in some of Scotland’s roughest waters, transporting supplies and staff to lighthouses. Now, a phoenix-like transformation has seen this steam tender vessel reborn as a luxury boutique hotel.
Intrigued? I was – and went along to Leith on the outskirts of Edinburgh to see just what was on offer. Perhaps best known now for a rich diversity of food destinations including two Michelin star offerings – Tom Kitchin’s eponymous restaurant and Restaurant Martin Wishart, Leith also provides a retirement home for the Royal Yacht Britannia. The restoration and conversion of Fingal into a small hotel is the work of the Britannia Trust, who acquired her in 2014 and set about this remarkable project. At a cost of around five million pounds, it was a no-expense-spared evolution which was completed towards the end of 2017 so that Fingal could begin her new life as a 23 cabin boutique hotel.
On the northern outskirts of Edinburgh, Leith is a working port that was once part of the Hanseatic League and a leading centre of Scottish industry; soap making, leadworks and the production of Roses Lime Juice which was created in an attempt to provide sailors with vitamin C and prevent scurvy were just a few of the local businesses. More recently, the area fell into decline – you may recognise some of the streets from the film Trainspotting, though much has changed yet again!
A substantial regeneration programme and the presence of some genuinely special bars and restaurants has resulted in a vibrant and popular area onto the outskirts of Edinburgh. It’s popular with local residents and tourists alike and there’s a buzz to the streets, especially on a sunny day.
It was hard not to get caught up – and I somehow managed to take a little diversion to The Ship on the Shore for a glass of Perrier Jouet and three oysters – a fine offering indeed.
Everywhere along the shoreline, there are reminders of the maritime significance of Leith – from the Malmaison hotel which is built in what was the old Seaman’s Mission to the cannon and whaling harpoon that you’ll find as you wander. And of course, there’s the Royal Yacht. Step on board to explore this iconic ship. It’s nostalgic and memorable and worthy of a separate feature.
I’d like to think that if the Royal Family ever had a new yacht it would be fitted out a little like Fingal.
My own cabin was a real delight, with beautiful wood panelling and a divinely comfortable king-sized bed complete with tartan throws and pillows in muted heather colours by local designer Araminta Campbell.
The ensuite shower room glistened with sparkling emerald mosaic tiling and steampunk style brass fittings and replete with fluffy towels and robes. Everything had a place, from the luxurious bespoke Noble Isle toiletries to the compact desk. Fresh flowers topped the storage unit housing minibar, tea and coffee making facilities, wardrobe and drawers.
Each cabin is named after one of the Scottish lighthouses that Fingal used to serve and you’ll find your cabin’s namesake in the form of a spectacular photograph by Ian Cowe on the wall.
Should you feel the need for yet more luxury there are duplex suites and even a penthouse with its own large living room, dining room and full sized bathroom. I learnt that Princess Anne, as Patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board, used to stay on Fingal in the early days – and her cabin was what is now the bathroom for the penthouse.
There’s a ballroom that could have come straight from the Titanic hidden in the bows of the ship and for those who prefer not to tackle the spiral stairs, a small but very efficient lift. And, if you have time to explore, ask to see the decommissioned engine room.
On the top deck, you’ll find the Lighthouse Bar which serves breakfast, afternoon tea and what is described as a ‘light supper’.
Like the rest of Fingal it’s beautifully appointed with well designed and comfortable leather seating and an eye-catching ceiling panelled with beaten steel panels coated in shimmering copper that looks for all the world like the sun on a calm sea.
Having already eaten a few oysters, I thought it appropriate to continue with some from Fingal. Along with a glass of champagne of course;)
I followed that with a delicious plate of John Dory fillets on a bed of asparagus & pea fricassee, baby spinach served with Allemande sauce
And then with a selection of cheeses served with gooseberry jelly and hand made biscuits. What was described as a ‘small plate’ turned out to be a generous portion that seemed a perfectly adequate main course to me – though I wish I’d been able to try a few more of the dishes on offer that evening.
I wandered out onto the top deck to watch the stunning sunset. Tables and chairs for al-fresco dining may have arrived already, I understand they are being made bespoke, like most of Fingal’s fixtures and fittings.
Those guests enjoying the luxury cabins on the lower deck have their own private outdoor deck to use too. Definitely somewhere to enjoy a nightcap before climbing into bed.
Something of a water baby I sleep best on board a moored ship and Fingal was no exception. There’s an almost indistinguishable movement which just seemed to rock me to sleep. Morning came far too soon but the promise of a Scottish Breakfast was enough to lure me out of bed and into the power shower. Back in the stunning Lighthouse Bar, I checked out the buffet before picking the full Scottish Breakfast, complete with tattie scones and black pudding to go with my tea and toast.
The perfect place for a special celebration, I’d recommend Fingal as somewhere to stay if you are planning to visit one of the Michelin Starred restaurants in Leith. But, the light supper in the lighthouse bar and restaurant is also highly recommended. So, why not book for a couple of days and explore the area properly.
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