Chris Hutchinson discovers rugged and rural Canada - and becomes an adopted Newfoundlander

THE itinerary on the good ship Boudicca included Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and Ireland’s Donegal and Belfast. Also appealing was the smaller scale ship.

Consulting the shore tours staff was a wise move, their first-hand knowledge from a comprehensive range helped us to select an exciting tailor-made programme of excursions, at a cost kind to my wallet.

First port of call was Killybegs in County Donegal, Ireland, taking us along the wild Atlantic Way, passing small bays, sandy beaches, emerald fields dotted with white cottages, and introducing us to charming Glencolmcille Folk Village. This is where you re-live old Ireland comprising cottages from 1700s to the 1900s.

Crossing the Atlantic we soon became aware that Boudicca’s amenities catered for all, and we watched the magnificent sights of whales and dolphins.

Setting foot in St John’s, Newfoundland, we went to Signal Hill, a historical site where Marconi received the first wireless transatlantic message in 1901. In the bay was a pod of Orca and Humpback whales, the latter entertaining us by leaping, twisting, and diving - a sight to behold.

Then on to Cape Spear, the most eastern point of North America, with a dramatic coastline. Returning to the city, characterised by individual coloured wooden houses we headed downtown where, in the vibrant George Street, is O’Reilly’s traditional Irish bar. Here I embraced a ceremony called “Screeching”, entailing a recital, kissing a cod and drinking screech (rum) encouraged by locals calling out, “Tis the rum me son” - great fun. I am now an adopted Newfoundlander, with a certificate to prove it.

After my intimacy with the cod, I had reservations about eating it again, but after sampling a beer my appetite returned and I was served a huge plate of cod and chips - the best I’ve tasted. Was it the one I kissed?

We sailed for Sydney, Nova Scotia, Latin for “New Scotland”, berthing next to old sailing ships and the world’s largest fiddle. Arriving at the picturesque village of Baddeck, at the edge of the stunning Bras d’Or Lakes, we boarded Amoeba a traditional schooner. We had just cast off when skipper John signalled by blowing through a large shell, and two bald eagles appeared and hovered above our masts. John threw cod into the lake, and the eagles responded by swooping in and retrieving the cod just metres from me - a magnificent sight! Sailnig on the lake was a thrilling experience. A memorable tour.

Now half-way through our cruise, we enjoyed traditional and international cuisine and great evening entertainment of cabaret, music and comedy.

Sailing back to Newfoundland, destination Corner Brook at the Gulf of St. Lawrence, our guide took us through Captain Cook’s trail. As a young map-maker, he chartered these waters from 1763 to 1767, the trail took us past Cape Bretton’s mountains, fjords, jagged headlands and forests. We stopped at tiny fishing ports, with unusual names such as Blow Me Down, where we watched waterfalls cascading from the rugged landscapes into tributaries, weaving their way through woodlands into the lakes.

In contrast we arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows, Norstead, a remote community of 35 people. Here we travelled back in time to around 1,000 years ago, when a Norse expedition from Greenland landed on this peninsula. Visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site, now a reconstructed Viking village, we experienced Viking life as it was. Highlights included sampling Viking bread cooked over an open fire, the Chieftains Hall, workshops, longboats and family houses. I tried axe throwing, managing to hit the target once. We immersed ourselves in the sights, sounds and scents of a Norse village.

On our return journey we encountered icebergs, brilliant white and glistening against blue sky - a truly phenomenal sight. The captain manoeuvred to get the best viewing points, it seemed like we were up close; another benefit of a smaller ship.

Our last port was Belfast and a panoramic tour was a great way to see the city. Highlights included Stormont Parliament Building and estate, City Hall with its magnificent marble interior and the imposing Belfast Castle.

This cruise had it all, spectacular scenery, the wonders of wild life, and nature at its best and at its most natural. Life on board Boudicca was fun, entertaining, leaving us with indelible memories.

My highlight - I kissed the cod in Canada!