A BOTTLENOSE dolphin breaks the surface, trumping the porpoises I saw just a moment ago.

Overhead, the gannets soar; in the distance, a rugged fold of mountains gazes back over the cobalt waters. Welcome to the Firth of Clyde, Scotland’s forgotten cruising wonderland.

I’ve long harboured a love for this remarkable estuary tucked between Glasgow and Kintyre, ever since I was a wee laddie heading “doon the watter” to work on my dad’s old boat.

I was awestruck by the big skies, wonderful wildlife and what seemed to me like an endless treasure chest of islands. My late dad was similarly entranced. A member of the Clyde Cruising Club, he built his own yacht and won the Murray Blair Cup three times.

Skipper of Argyll Cruising’s Splendour, Ted Creek, is also a fan. “I love the Hebrides, but the Firth of Clyde is seriously underrated too,” he tells me from the helm of an old fishing trawler brilliantly converted into a small cruise ship, as we chug through the Clyde in the shadow of the brooding Arran Hills.

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“We start and finish our season with cruises on the Clyde and the relocation cruises up to Oban and back to Holy Loch are a great way to get the best of both the Hebrides and the Firth of Clyde.”

I’ve cruised the Hebrides more than 20 times so I’ve chosen the Splendour’s end-of-summer six-night “Southern Hebrides and Mull of Kintyre Cruise” relocation trip south from Oban to the Clyde. It proves a brilliant week shared with a fellow Scotsman, a lovely veteran Scottish yachtswoman and engaging couples from both Australia and America. All the guests are all blown away by the Hebrides. And the Firth of Clyde.

Our first night sets the wildlife tone. Ted tenders us ashore at wild and wildly beautiful Loch Spelve in Mull. We ramble along in the patter of cheery conversation that warms our week. We all go quiet when we spot an otter working his way along the shore.

A tern skips by a moment later, before another breathtaking moment – we spot a herd of wild red deer, the UK’s largest land mammal. Being on the Splendour is like sailing through a David Attenborough documentary.

The wildlife stars for me are the marine mammals. “It’s been an amazing year for marine mammals with lots of food around drawing them inshore and to the surface,” explains Ted. I spot porpoises flitting along and those gorgeous hulking bottlenose dolphins, one special moment I savour a bottlenose leaping clean out of the water like a hurdler off the Garvellachs.

The highlight, though, is the minke sighting approaching Corryvreckan.

There is plenty of time ashore too. We visit the grave of St Columba’s mother in the Garvellachs and the house in Jura where George Orwell wrote 1984. My fellow guests are staggered when I tell them Orwell almost never completed his magnum opus when he nearly drowned in a boating accident in Corryvreckan.

Gigha proves a community-owned, beach-kissed joy; Jura ideal for a wee dram with a view.

Two landings stand out. In Islay, we enjoy the utterly unique experience of bashing ashore by speedboat at Ardbeg! The stillmen rub their eyes as we approach. The other is more spiritual than spirit in Holy Isle in the Clyde.

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The island is run as a retreat and centre for peace by its Buddhist owners, but we’re welcome to walk through their tranquil garden and around rugged hillsides alive with wild Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and Saanen goats.

Back aboard, young Scottish chef Thomas always welcomes guests back with a cheery smile and superb food. Breakfast kicks off with porridge then the likes of Argyll Smokery salmon with scrambled egg or a full Scottish.

Elevenses brings the irresistible smell of freshly baked shortbread and Argyll Coffee Roasters coffee. The most memorable lunches are served on the large wooden table outside on the bow – the mackerel caught by a guest is just gorgeous. Dinner sees the likes of halibut, venison loin and Ayrshire pork. On the last night, Thomas snares squat lobsters from an Arran fishing boat.

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Rounding the Mull of Kintyre is a breeze as Ted finds a weather window. A moving moment comes when I play McCartney’s Mull Of Kintyre to a guest, her late father’s favourite song. The mood lightens when I play her whisky-loving husband Andy Stewart’s Campbeltown Loch as we approach the famous whisky town.

Here Iain McAlister, manager of the superb Glen Scotia distillery, pops aboard to say hello. He used to work on boats and is seriously impressed with the Splendour.

Our last port of call is Rothesay in Bute, which proves another delight as we visit the newly opened Bute Yard, with its gin distillery, brewery and foodie outlets. The Splendour allows you to parachute in on various islands you wouldn’t easily be able to visit on one trip under your own steam.

I’m finishing writing this article as we cruise back into Holy Loch. The Hebrides may be the first place you think of when sailing or cruising in Scotland. But the Firth of Clyde is no poor sibling, with world-class wildlife, a tempting sprinkling of islands and the dramatic “doon the watter” views that have attracted Scots since time immemorial.