Maid of the Loch
Current / Last Route
A & J Inglis Ltd., Glasgow (assembled at Balloch)
Rankin & Blackmore Ltd., Greenock
Compound Diagonal 2 cyls. 24” & 48” x 51”
Hoist & Lifts:
Sorry, Not Compiled Yet.
Loch Lomond is Britain's largest sheet of inland water – bigger than either Lake Windermere or Loch Ness – and, since the wee MARION first puffed about the place in 1818, steamers constantly churned the Lomond waters, not only carrying a burgeoning tourist trade (the Trossachs and the “Three Lochs Tour” had been a must for Scottish visitors since the sensational success of Sir walter Scott's novels) but servicing a host of little communities on the isles and bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. For a comprehensive history of the Loch Lomond steamer fleet, Alan Brown's lavishly illustrated Loch Lomond Passenger Steamers 1818-1989 (Alan T Condie Publications, 2000) cannot be bettered.
With nationalisation the British Transport Commission inherited the LMS Railway's Loch Lomond fleet. Two gracious Victorian paddle-steamers, PRINCESS MAY (1898) and PRINCE EDWARD (1911) had survived the Second World War and indeed had done a roaring trade; some 500,000 passengers were carried annually for the duration, the war-battered Scots public thankful for Loch Lomond's peaceful beauty and with no excursion services available on the Firth of Clyde.
The Loch Lomond excursion season began with a brief outing at the Easter holiday weekend; resumed in late May and continued to the end of September. The steamers ran a twice-daily service between Balloch and Ardlui with calls at all intervening piers on both sides of Loch Lomond and in both directions. From 1949 a programme of short evening cruises – with special train connections from Glasgow – was reinstated.
There was as yet no sign of the huge social change – especially in British holiday habits – which years of postwar popular affluencer would engineer, and that with calamitous impact on our excursion steamer trade. The real worry to BTC top-brass, in assessing their Loch Lomond business as 1950 loomed closer, was the state of the venerable ships. PRINCESS MAY celebrated her fiftieth birthday in 1948 and was rapidly deteriorating. And PRINCE EDWARD was nearly forty years old. Both ships were of extremely light construction – the shallow approaches to important Loch Lomond piers imposed strict limitations on draft – and modernisation and new passenger facilities, with the inevitable addition of weight, was not an option.
Though the early post-war summers saw an understandable reduction in trade as the Clyde excursion business resumed – Loch Lomond now won about 125,000 passengers a year – the BTC had noted a considerable boost in trade with 1947 and the advent of a new paddlesteamer on the Arrochar leg of the Three Lochs Tour – WAVERLEY. At peak periods she was landing over a thousand passengers a day, and “it was felt,” observes Alan Brown, “that a modern vessel on Loch Lomond would not only make an appropriate consort for the new WAVERLEY but also attract more custom to the Loch Lomond services themselves...”
By 1949, then, there was good evidence to suggest that even the nationalised British Railways could afford to embark on the frivolity of building a new Loch Lomond excursion steamer, and the Scottish Region Marine Department duly prepared a case for the Railway Executive.
It was obvious that a new ship would have to be big enough to carry the peak Three Lochs Tour traffic and boast the most advanced passenger facilities. This, then, was a job for a Clydeside yard, who would prefabricate the vessel before transporting her to Balloch in sections. (Most of the Loch Lomond fleet had been Clyde-built, but small enough then to be floated up the River Leven to Balloch. With one earlier vessel her passage under an inconvenient River Leven bridge, at Bonhill, was only accomplished when all the local children were given a day off school and herded on board till she was sufficiently low in the water.)
Yet the new ship could not be so big that she would not fit onto the rather splendid Loch Lomond slipway, at Balloch, where the steamers were routinely winched out of the loch for overhaul, Board of Trade inspection, and painting. And the biggest problem of all was shoal water, at the head of the loch but especially in the vicinity of Luss, an important pier. Even PRINCESS MAY and PRINCE EDWARD could be in difficulty in high summer, when the loch-level could drop considerably after weeks of dry weather.
So it was essential that the new ship was of very limited draught and, for the passenger capacity they had deemed essential, twin-screw propulsion was immediately ruled out. The new ship would be paddle-driven; it seems surprising, though, that diesel or diesel-electric machinery was not thought more fitting (and a good deal more economical) in the post-war age.
Alan Brown credits the decision for steam propulsion to Captain H Perry, Marine Superintendent for British Railways (Scottish Region.) His arrival at Glasgow in the late Thirties, in the same capacity for the LNER had coincided with the advent of the Clyde's first non-steam paddler, the diesel-electric TALISMAN (1935). The pioneer was plagued with mechanical problems and though wartime service, and subsequent modification, left her a most reliable ship by the late Forties, Captain Perry viewed her with abiding mistrust. No more internal-combustion paddlers were ever built for west-coast passenger service.
And so it was that Scottish Region duly petitioned the Railway Executive for a new paddlesteamer to replace PRINCESS MAY on the Loch Lomond trade. She should be some 190 feet in length with capacity for some 1,200 passengers, and be powered by two-crank compound diagonal steam engines – fed by an oil-fired Navy boiler with a speed of around fourteen knots.
They must have argued it well; in July 1950 the Railway Executive duly ordered a new vessel, with these specifications, from A & J Inglis at Pointhouse, Glasgow, for the agreed sum of £187,000. It was also agreed to reconstruct Balloch Pier and a new structure – stone, with concrete and steel piling – replaced the old wooden structure in the winter of 1951-52; this incorporated a single timber-framed steamer berth and cost £15,000.
MAID OF THE LOCH was duly launched at Balloch on Thursday 5th March 1953, named on 22nd May and assumed public service on 25th May, just a week before the Coronation. By that time a new subsidiary company, Clyde Shipping Services, was in charge of assorted BR steamer services, including Loch Lomond, and – irony of ironies – Luss Pier had closed in 1951, in thoroughly rotten condition and with no funds or prospects for its repair.
MAID OF THE LOCH had been duly built at Pointhouse and carefully transported, by rail and in numbered plates and sections, for re-assembly - “like a giant Meccano set” - at Balloch. She was a one-class steamer and carefully designed so that all her 1,000 passengers – the final capacity agreed – could be sheltered in wet weather. To minimise draught, too, she was constructed almost entirely above main deck level of aluminium.
In fact she is the largest ship ever built for any inland loch in Britain – nearly twenty feet longer than PRINCE EDWARD. Like the LMS inland steamers built in the Thirties for Loch Awe and Windermere, too, she had a special – and almost identical – colour-scheme. Hull, superstructure and paddleboxes were all white and she bore a plain yellow funnel. During construction this was painted with a black top, but the result was not very attractive and the black top was eliminated before she took up service. (Of course, during a season's service smut and fumes darkened the top of her lum anyway.)
The boot topping, along the waterline, was green and MAID OF THE LOCH had silver ventilators with blue interiors. Her paddleboxes were of the traditional Loch Lomond style with horizontal slots; but they bore an intricate interwoven Celtic design in silver paint; and the vessel's name in red letters on a blue background.
“Reminiscent of the 1934 paddlers,” writes Iain C MacArthur, “ she is the only Loch Lomond steamer to have been plated to the bow and with a full length promenade deck. Other new features are the large fore and aft deck shelters with a connecting upper passenger spar deck. Unlike the 1934 Clyde paddlers, however, the navigating bridge was not raised above this deck. Instead it is situated at the forward end and an enclosed wheelhouse was erected for the first time on a Loch Lomond steamer.
“One traditional feature of the Loch Lomond steamboats was retained; the companionways between the promenade and main decks are incorporated in the sponson-houses; in this instance aft as well as in the forward position, an arrangement which saves valuable space amidships. To reduce top-weight the funnel and much of the superstructure are of aluminium. Masts were latterly considered a luxury in the Loch Lomond fleet for neither the 'Prince' nor the 'Princess' could boast one in their later days, but the new paddler received both a foremast and a mainmast...” The rails on these companionways were decorated with handsome heraldic sheets – an early target for looters in the horrors that lay thirty years ahead.
And the facilities were magnificent. “A dining saloon on the main deck, the normal position on the Loch Lomond steamers and on LOCHFYNE, QUEEN MARY II and TALISMAN, seats eighty persons. The whole area aft on the same deck was originally a general lounge but after a few seasons the tearoom was transferred from the lower deck to the lounge, and cafeteria service was introduced. Both the lounge/cafeteria and the dining saloon on the main deck are well lit by large windows with unusual arched tops which afford a panoramic view of the loch. A bar is corporated in the after deck shelter. A public address system was fitted to dispense appropriate music and announcements...”
Robert Cleary's delightful little book, Maid of the Loch (1979) – geared, of course, for on-board purchase - walks his captive reader around the last Loch Lomond paddle in a style that teeters rather desperately between the engaging and the naff – with one dreadful double-entendre.
“We're pleased to have you aboard! Let's go for a tour of the steamer.
“When you come aboard you are on the promenade deck. There's plenty of space both on deck and under cover. Looking towards the bow you can see the forward deck-shelter, refurbished with new seating for the 1979 season. Inside this lounge is the “Maid”'s souvenir shop where you can buy maps and films and confectionery and small gifts to remind you of your visit to Loch Lomond. As you come out of the deck-shelter you may detect a delicious hot, steamy aroma emanating from a lower deck. Immediately below you is the galley where food is being prepared both for the crew and for passengers who patronise the steamer's restaurant.
“You can walk almost to the bow of the steamer except for the small area reserved for rope-handling. The steam-winch can be seen in use when the steamer is manoeuvring at Balloch Pier.
“The purser's office is situated on the promenade deck just behind the forward shelter. Her you can purchase your steamer journey ticket and a ticket for a meal in the restaurant. Having left the purser's office we'll move towards the stern – we bypass the deck-bar for the moment and can walk right up to the stern-rail to watch the creamy wash left behind by the paddles.
“If you fancy a 'blow', climb the stair near the stern which will take you on to the bridge deck. Many people like to stand in the lee of the tall buff funnel which provides both heat and shelter. You can leave the bridge deck by the forward stairway which will take you close to the bar. The bar is fitted with modern seating which allows you to enjoy a drink in comfort and not miss any of the wonderful scenery.
“We've still to view the main deck. This is easily reached by any of four stairways, cleverly designed to save space, neatly tucked away in each of the four paddle sponsons. By going down the after stairs we are near the cafeteria; why not pop in for a cup of tea or coffee, or a soft drink and crisps for the kids? For the more ravenous there are sandwiches, cakes, teabread, pies and sausage rolls. There are wide windows in the cafeteria through which you can view the passing scene while enjoying a snack meal.
“When you come out of the cafeteria your party may have to split up – for the ladies' toilets are on the port (left) side and the gents on the starboard (right) side. If you walk along the alleyways here on the main deck level you will have a good view of the main engine room. Steam is generated in the large boiler, situated in the casing forward of the engine room, by an oil-fired burner.
The steam passes by pipes to the pistons, then to the condenser where it is converted, by a cooling medium, into water. The water is then pumped by the feed pump, through the heater, back to the boiler where it is reused. Steam is raised a few days before the first sailing of the year and pressure is maintained until the end of the season.
“The daily routine commences by heating the oil in the burner to 210 degrees F.; at this stage the auxiliary stop valve is opened, and this in turn operates the various pumps and generators. “Steam is raised to 120 lbs per square inch and approximately one hour before the first departure of the day the main steam valve is opened, steam is passed evenly through the system and the engines are turned over slowly to allow them to heat in order that full power will be available by sailing time.
“The long connecting rods from the pistons turn the crankshaft at 35 revolutions per minute to maintain a service speed of twelve knots.
“If you look through the portholes on either alleyway where the crankshaft goes through the hull-casing to reach the paddles you can watch the paddles themselves driving the steamer through the water.
“At the forward end of the engine-room alleyways are the entrance doors to the restaurant. Reservations for meals should be made in advance at the purser's office. If you do have a meal on board you will be able to relax in comfortable surroundings and not miss any of the scenery while you eat. Have a close look at the beautiful silver cutlery on the tables. Here can be seen the history of the Clyde and Loch Lomond steamers representing the various railway companies which once owned the steamers.”
On her trials - Monday 4th May, 1953 - MAID OF THE LOCH attained a top speed of 13 ¾ knots. Her service speed was, of course, only twelve knots. She was named on Friday 22nd May by Lady Watson, wife of a member of the Railway Executive. The new steamer then bore guests and officials to Ardlui at the head of Loch Lomond.
She entered public service the following Monday – the Queen's Birthday Holiday – under the command of Captain Donald MacDonald, formerly master of the PRINCE EDWARD; it was the 11.25 sailing out of Balloch, calling at Balmaha, Rowardennan, Tarbet, Inversnaid and Ardlui. The following month, MAID OF THE LOCH enjoyed the first of several royal guests – Queen Salote of Tonga, a large and jolly soul who had entranced London crowds at the Coronation on 2nd June. (“Who is that little man in the Queen of Tonga's carriage?” one onlooker unwisely asked Noel Coward. “Her lunch!”)
There would be more royal patronage in future; The Queen twice sailed on MAID OF THE LOCH, in 1965 and 1971, in the respective company of The Duke of Edinburgh and The Princess Anne.
PRINCESS MAY, still in her old BTC livery, was broken up on the Loch Lomond slipway that summer, soon after MAID OF THE LOCH entered service. PRINCE EDWARD was retained meantime and did not escape the new colour-scheme, though the top of her funnel was repainted black after much smoke-staining. She maintained a programme of secondary runs; and plans were laid for her modernisation – conversion to oil-burning; plating up to her bow – but it soon became apparent that Loch Lomond passenger traffic could not justify her retention. After just two seasons as second fiddle to MAID OF THE LOCH, PRINCE EDWARD was withdrawn from service; she was scrapped in the spring of 1955.
The hope was that the handsome MAID OF THE LOCH, in all her spacious elegance, would recover much of the massive war-time market. For the 1955 season the Loch Lomond schedule was recast for one vessel's capabilities and MAID OF THE LOCH now made a morning and afternoon cruise from Balloch calling at all piers. “On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays,” records Robert Cleary, “passengers could leave the steamer at Tarbet and walk over to Loch Long to join the Clyde paddlesteamer WAVERLEY (MAID-class motor-vessel on Saturdays) thus making a circular excursion known as the Three Lochs Tour, incorporating Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Goil. Passengers could also partake of rail/steamer tours involving the West Highland trains at Arrochar and Tarbet or Ardlui. A third variety of excursion took in Loch Katrine and the Trossachs in addition to a sail in Loch Lomond. As every one of these tours could be made in either direction the “Maid” benefited from the traffic flow in both directions...”
But the world had changed and, in a Britain where “most of you have never had it so good”, the increasing availability of cheap air-travel and the Spanish holiday package-tour was revolutionising British vacation habits. MAID OF THE LOCH never fulfilled the original BTC hopes of profitable Loch Lomond cruising. Indeed, she began slowly but steadily to accumulate a horrifying deficit.
There were also direct circumstances beyond her control. At the end of the 1963 season, for instance, Ardlui pier was closed. It was in an advanced state of disrepair and the owner – proprietor of the adjacent Ardlui Hotel – did not have the resources for its reconstruction. As a result, from 1964 the MAID OF THE LOCH could merely cruise to the head of the loch, without a call at Ardlui, and this only reduced passenger numbers further – no dropping-off point now for those making a circular tour by rai, Ardlui being a station of the West Highland Line.
More pier closures remorselessly followed; Balmaha in 1971; Tarbet in 1975. But the fundamental economic difficulty was that she was simply too large and her costs of operation were not matched by income from the traffic now offering.
Most of MAID OF THE LOCH's sailing career was, in fact, a veritable battle to evade the axe and by the time of Dr Beeching's infamous recommendations for wholesale railway closures, in 1963, the MAID could be sneering dismissed as a “white elephant.” “Certainly she is an economist's nightmare,” Iain McCrorie could write in the still more fraught climate of 1977, “and her story since the early Sixties has been none other than a fight for survival.”
Yet she was spared by Dr Beeching; almost as important, so was her “Blue Train” suburban railway link to Glasgow, which terminated right at Balloch Pier. MAID OF THE LOCH was also granted gifted and resourceful CSP management – British Railways had in 1957 allowed the old Caledonian Steam Packet Co. Ltd.'s name to revive, managing all Clyde and Loch Lomond passenger services as well as the Kyleakin ferry – and urgent action was rather galvanised by her deficit at the end of the 1961 season - £63,000.
For the 1962 season her working day was lengthened and evening cruises were laid on to attract more passengers. A public outcry against Beeching's threat to Loch Lomond sailings duly ensured MAID OF THE LOCH's survival in 1963 and for 1965 – shaken by the impact of the lost Ardlui call in the 1964 season – the CSP authorised a massive publicity campaign.
There were also gimmicks that would rather raise eyebrows today; comely (indeed, leggy) young girls were hired as “Loch Lomond Hostesses” for excursions that summer, and evening “Showboat” cruises, with live on-board entertainment, were promoted on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Nevertheless they were good ideas and their effectiveness was beyond dispute – passenger carryings improved by 65%.
Yet the early Seventies brought still more retrenchment – and a bizarre change in ownership. The Scottish Transport Group assumed control f all CSP and David MacBrayne Ltd vessels in 1969; the Group also took over all nationalised Scottish bus operations and – for obscuire accounting and administrative reasons – legal ownership of MAID OF THE LOCH was transferred to W Alexander & Sons (Midland Ltd). The logic of entrusting a West Highland paddlesteamer to a Falkuerjk-based diesel bus operator was not immediately apparent; the CSP, of course, continued to manage the vessel.
It was late in 1970, though, before the CSP general manager, John Whittle, noticed the British Railways emblem still resplendent on the Loch Lomond paddler;'s bows and ordered its removal forthwith.
But the Three Lochs Tour had to be cut to two days per week after the 1970 season – it ended completely when Arrochar Pier closed in 1972 – and the loss of Balmaha Pier was another blow. The “Showboat” cruises had rather lost their impact and from 1971 they were offered on Wednesdays only.
It was a fitting background of doom and gloom for the MAID's first serious mishap; on Saturday 12th May 1973 she ran aground while undertaking a charter sailing near Luss. It took several hours before she was successfully refloated , with the aid of assorted pleasure-launches which sped to her rescue from Balloch. The advent of the “Cameron Wildlife Park” - it opened near Balloch that summer, though it held nothing more sensational than a few lugubrious brown bears – helped somewhat; it brought folk to the lochside where the MAID herself was her own advert.
If MAID OF THE LOCH hit an absolute low in her active sailing career, it was in 1974, Despite costly boiler repairs in April, she was struck and struck again by mechanical trouble, being forced repeatedly out of service and finally to premature retirement on Saturday 24th August, three weeks before her advertised timetable actually expired; she had grounded momentarily, near Balloch, late in July and this was afterwards reckoned to have dislodged sediment in the base of her fuel tanks, with unhappy consequences for her combustion and thus her steam pressure.
Passenger carriage for 1974 hit an all-time base of 89,000. Another factor, undoubtedly, was competition; Loch Lomond Sailings Ltd of Balloch had begun touting for cruising business that summer, with two big purpose-built motor launches.
Yet her managers refused to give up. That winter, the Company (now, of course, Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd) engaged a team of consultants to advise on all their cruising operations and this proved another lifeline for MAID OF THE LOCH, whose promotion was now entrusted to Mr Norman Wright.
On his recommendation there was considerable new investment, both on the paddler's engines and steam-plant, and her internal accommodation. She emerged for the 1975 season both with a new look – red funnel with black top – and machinery that was now entirely reliable and remaind so for the rest of her active career.
There were also thoughtful changes to her facilities. The old, traditional long tables in her cafeteria were replaced with modern, smaller units and a new, much less wop-wop public address system was installed. She was also the last CalMac steamer with a traditional waiter-service dining room – at least, one in regular use, which the “Queen's Restaurant” on QUEEN MARY II seldom was – and that was an attraction CalMac sensibly advertised.
Her timetable was entirely rejigged; the long cruise to the head of Loch Lomond was withdrawn – this saved on fuel costs – and two shorter cruises were laid on for weekend afternoons, with an attractive fare-package for young families. All this certainly improved carryings – 126,000 passengers boarded the steamer in 1975, despite the closure of Tarbet Pier.
Her original buff funnel was restored for 1976 as the red style was judged a disappointment (it would have looked better with a deeper black top, as she enjoys now.) And the head of the loch cruise was reinstated to her timetable for Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, with extra calls at Rowardennan from Monday through to Friday. In addition her deck bar was refurbished with modern banquette seating and low tables. The head of the loch excursion did not survive in the 1977 timetable – fuel prices were rapidly spiralling – and the short weekend cruises were cut; but MAID OF LOCH was fitted with VJF ship-to-shore radio on 15th July in compliance with new safety requirements.
She celebrated her Silver Jubilee on Saturday 18th June 1978; a special cruise was laid on for invited guests and 800 passengers – each passenger received a piece of birthday cake; each child a stick of rock! - and, the previous week, a plaque was donated by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society to mark her 25 years in service. MAID OF THE LOCH was now minus a mainmast; found to be rotten, it was removed before that season's excursion programme began. (“Loch Lomond Mast Rot” is, in fact, an historic hazard of steamer services here and is found nowhere else.)
MAID OF THE LOCH now enjoyed thoroughly reliable propulsion and, from 1976, generous grants by Strathclyde Regional Council; usually in excess of £60,000 a year. 1978 brought further good news from assorted local authorities and the Scottish Tourist Board; it was announced that, through a five-year programme, £500,000 was to be spent in reinstating or repairing piers at Rowardennan, Luss, Tarbet and Inversnaid. In addition there was to be a regular grant for running the steamer.
So it was that at last MAID OF THE LOCH would be able to call at Luss, though the new pier was not ready in time for a visit in 1979. That was another trouble-free season, with helpful innovations: a “Freedom of Loch Lomond” weekly ticket, and a round-trip by bus for passengers from Inversnaid to Stronaclachar and the pleasures of a cruise, by the tough old SIR WALTER SCOTT (1900) on Loch Katrine.
MAID OF THE LOCH duly paid her honours with successful berthing trials at the new Luss Pier on Thursday 15th May 1980, followed by a special cruise. (The confectionery doled out on this occasion is not recorded.) The afternoon of Monday 9th June, however, brought calamity; sailing from Balloch via Luss to Inversnaid, MAID OF THE LOCH ran aground from a sandbank, some 25 yards from shore, immediately after leaving Luss Pier. Again a flotilla of launches and speedboats came to the rescue, though one 89-year old passenger spent another four hours on board – and even enjoyed a complimentary high tea – before finally being persuaded to entrust herself to a tiny rescue-craft. MAID OF THE LOCH was finally refloated seven hours after first grounding. It had been an exceptionally dry summer and the loch was more than two feet below its normal level for the time of year.
It seems that it was around this time that CalMac made the decision that, somehow, they must divest themselves of the “white elephant” and the entire Loch Lomond operation. Certainly in 1980 they carried only 95,000 passengers, though to describe this as a “disaster”, as CalMac did, was a little lower the top, and to argue that they had “lost” 31,000 passengers over five years was not entirely candid; it could be be argued (as Alan Brown does) and with equal fairness that MAID OF THE LOCH had gained 6,000 pasengers since 1974.
Alan Brown goes on to outline the considerable investment in Clyde and Loch Lomond cruising facilities from local authorities and other agencies between 1975 to 1980 – to the tune of some - £457,000 – and to suggest that Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd somehow and dishonourably failed to keep their side of the bargain. A fair case for the prosecution can be made; but the fact remains that in her last active season – 1981 – and with all the subsidies and grants made available – MAID OF THE LOCH still lost some £73,450; the Company is not a charitable concern, and the primary obligation of this state-owned body is to maintain important links in public transport and essential, lifeline services to many Scottish islands.
It should be borne in mind to that this 1979-1982 period marked perhaps the nadir of CalMac fortune; the public spending crisis and jobsworth management saw such humiliations as, for instance, major units like HEBRIDES and SUILVEN enduring the de-rating of their engines (to cut speed and save fuel.) The Company could not even be bothered to issue the usual colourful brochure for the 1980 season – the bare timetable leaflets were issued instead, of vaguely Eastern European appearance – and, incredibly, no drive-through ferry had been laid down for the STG since IONA in 1969.
A number of sailings and calls had to be abandoned in the course of that last 1981 season, partly due to adverse weather and considerable pier damage at Rowardennan. After the last big push for 1975, too, a culture of slack and could-care-less seemed to have overcome MAID OF THE LOCH and her crew. Brasswork was painted over, rather than polished; paddlebox detail was not maintained, and weeds flourished in the wheelhouse flowerbox.
The Company had already abandoned Clyde cruising after the 1980 season – GLEN SANNOX, not surprisingly, had failed to retain QUEEN MARY's business; and Strathclyde Regional Council now directed their entire cruising subsidy (£100,000 in 1981) was solely for the Loch Lomond operation. Nevertheless the “white elephant” closed her season on Sunday 30th August in splendid weather and with a capacity crowd.
There is no point in dwelling on the bitter war of words (and numbers) which broke out when CalMac finally announced, on 2nd December 1981, that MAID OF THE LOCH would not sail the following season. Several weeks later, on 18th January 1982, she was officially offered for sale – at an unspecified price. The available commercial options for a land-locked paddlesteamer were, admittedly, somewhat limited; her commercial value was put, by the informed, at but around £15,000 and MAID OF THE LOCH's scrap value a mere £8,000. The PSPS naturally ran about like headless chickens trying to talk up a rescue-bid; but, unlike WAVERLEY, MAID OF THE LOCH was never going to sail around the British coastline drumming up trade and friends, and the loss of PRINCE IVANHOE only a few months before had hit everyone hard.
Five firm bids were received and on 10th March 1982 it was announced that a joint offer of £45,000 by Ind Coope Allow Brewery Co. Ltd and Verigen Ltd. (owners of Loch Lomond Marina and two motor launches, LOMOND DUCHESS and LOMOND PRINCESS) had been accepted. It later emerged that, for another £20,000, CalMac agreed to throw in Balloch Pier and its adjacent slipway. The buyers were then forced to shell out additional funds to British Rail for a strip of land between Balloch Pier and the steamer car-park; in all, they spent some £110,000.
Howls of cynicism greeted Ind Coope's confident announcements of a new and glorious future. They hoped to have MAID OF THE LOCH sailing again for the 1983 season – at least once a week, perhaps with diesel or diesel-electric machinery. Yet this was scarcely a credible prospect alongside the elaborate plans they also announced for a static role – MAID OF THE LOCH's alternative function as a “leisure centre2, complete with restaurant, bars, disco and family rooms. The suggestion that power, water and sewerage might solemnly be disconnected once a week so the unplugged paddler could churn about the loch was not taken seriously.
It caused little surprise when, on 2nd April 1982, Alloa Brewery announced its purchase of the COUNTESS OF KEMPOCK – formerly the COUNTESS OF BREADALBANE (1936), which the CSP had sold only in 1971. - and that this craft, refitted and renamed, would operate on Loch Lomond for the 1982 season. Further details are given under her profile on this website.
What befell MAID OF THE LOCH over the next decade was the sort of unfolding horror her admirers could only watch through barely parted fingers. She did not sail (though served, at least in the early seasons, as a landing stage for COUNTESS FIONA.) She was not maintained. She was not even watched. By 1988 COUNTESS FIONA was well established as a Loch Lomond concern; but not the slightest progress had been made to restore MAID OF THE LOCH for cruising, as a “leisure centre” or for anything else. Dirty, rusting, vandalised and even looted, her appearance and condition were rapidly deteriorating.
Desultory negotiations – Alloa Brewery were thought to be quite happy to hand MAID OF THE LOCH over to some sort of publicly funded charitable trust – ended when the company's Managing Director suddenly died and, early in 1989, its entire Loch Lomond operation was put on the market. It was duly sold – to an Australian company, which duly went bust; and then sold again, in September 1990, to a Newcastle hotel company, which early in 1992 also went bust.
COUNTESS FIONA had not sailed since 25th September 1989 and MAID OF THE LOCH was now in a deplorable state; some scrapping had already started, all her valuable movables had unaccountably vanished (including her wheel, her bell, her binnacle, her compass and her builder's plate) and three to four feet of water swilled gaily round her hull, causing a marked list to port. In March 1992, Dumbarton District Council agreed to pay for site security and have the paddlesteamer pumped dry. A charmless watchman was duly appointed; he was especially good at being rude to journalists and kennelled his large German Shepherd in the MAID's old cocktail bar in the after deck saloon. Most jealously it guarded its domain and, of course, deposited filth everywhere.
Talks began with the Receiver and on 4th December 1992 he formally accepted an offer of £55,000 from Dumbarton District Council, who became due owners of MAID OF THE LOCH, COUNTESS FIONA, Balloch Pier and the slipway. The Council bravely appealed for the return of assorted items looted from the MAID and it is touching to note that several of them actually were.
Exactly three years later the last Loch Lomond paddlesteamer was transferred to the “Maid of the Loch Trust”, which has since had entire charge of restoring the vessel and has still real hopes of returning her to service. For reasons of legal and commercial advantage a new company, the Loch Lomond Steamship Co. Ltd., was formed in 1996 to assume responsibility for MAID OF THE LOCH. Directors include Colin Paterson, a past and particularly distinguished manager of CalMac who had quite turned Company fleet and fortunes around in the 1980s.
Meanwhile, work the work of restoration began, and has been carried out largely by volunteers, with expert direction and considerable help from companies offering their services gratis or at cost. The first work parties boarded MAID OF THE LOCH in 1993; Dumbarton District Council had been able to do little more than keep her afloat. Consultants began a comprehensive assessment and happily, in December 1993, confidently advised that full restoration was practicable.
The full story of MAID OF THE LOCH's ongoing restoration is told in a well-illustrated 2003 booklet issued by The Loch Lomond Steamship Co. Ltd. (Maid of the Loch: Loch Lomond's Paddle Steamer). An initial clean-up in May 2003 was finished in time for her 40th anniversary celebrations – volunteers filled four skips with garbage in two weekends – and the vessel was then chipped and red-leaded.
She was painted in a new and very attractive livery – black hull with red underbody; white superstructure and upperworks; red funnel with, at last, a deep black top – and her original wooden decking has been progressively replaced with metal plating. The saloons were at last granted watertight protection, though wooden decking will be overlaid to restore her original appearance for active service.
Dog-dirt and vegetation had to be cleared from internal areas; a young tree was sorrowfully but firmly removed from the cafeteria. Alongside this general clean-up, spraying, repainting, reglazing, redecking and refurbishing, the MAID's boiler was in 1996 cut up and removed, piece by piece. (It will be replaced by two new high-tech boilers when funds become available and her engine has already been partially restored.)
A steel promenade deck was laid in 1997 and in the spring of 2000 she won a grant of some £300,000 to create new on-board catering facilities.. That summer saw the laying of an aluminium top deck; Balloch Pier was rebuilt and a new car park created. In December 2000, Canapés Catering Co. of Glasgow opened a splendid restaurant on board; catering for private functions (from the corporate to cheerful Scottish weddings) is now a good source of income, and food and refreshments are available to the public throughout the summer and on winter weekends.
Her former saloon is now serving as the Queen's Restaurant (in honour of Queen Salote and Queen Elizabeth II) and can accommodate 120 people; happily, her original mahogany decking in this area has survived and been beautifully restored. The old dining saloon has now been carpeted and furnished and, equipped as a café-bar, holds sixty and can be hired for smaller functions.
The after deck saloon was, by 1993, in a deplorable condition but by 2001 was handsomely restored as the Douglas Mickel Saloon (the work sponsored by Mactaggart & Mickel, a Scottish housebuilding concern.) Miss Jean Inglis – a scion of MAID OF THE LOCH's builders – generously donated curtains for this lounge which is also up for hire as a function-suite. The steamer's former observation saloon now serves as an “interpretative centre”, in the clunking argot of our times, and houses an attractive souvenir shop. This saloon's windows – and indeed many other bits of MAID OF THE LOCH joinery – were removed and expertly restored at Anniesland College, Glasgow, by students as part of a training scheme.
The MAID's foremast, however, was discovered in 1994 to be dangerous and was duly removed; she is still mastless, though two are likely to be restored for active service. To celebrate her Jubilee in 2003 her appearance was further enhanced with the addition of a gold line to her hull and clever use of black and gold paint to accent the sweep of her paddlebox.
Various minor celebrities have shown a keen interest in the ship and helped to maintain her public profile and bids for assorted funding; they include actors such as Timothy West, Prunella Scales and the late Ian Bannen; well-known Scots broadcaster and musician Jimmie MacGregor, and The Princess Royal, who visited MAID OF THE LOCH in July 2002 and happily recalled her cruise aboard in 1971.
There would, happily, seem to be a real prospect of MAID OF THE LOCH again raising steam and exploring the waters of Loch Lomond by the end of the present decade. Meanwhile, the Loch Lomond Steamboat Co. Ltd. would welcome information as to the whereabouts of her wheel, her ship's whistle, and several other items listed on their website.
Text thanks to John MacLeod
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