As Waverley celebrates the 70th anniversary of her maiden voyage to Arrochar, Robert Cleary muses on the changing fortunes of a Clyde institution — the steamer pier.
CRSC’s New Year excursion to Arran in a strange way was the starting point for this piece.
As we approached the ‘old’ pier at Brodick on board Hebridean Isles, I reflected how the steamer pier had been adapted over the years to accommodate larger and larger ferries, with the first major improvement coming in time for the introduction of the car ferry Glen Sannox in 1957.
These surgeries and enhancements to the pier could, however, not last for ever and a completely new terminal is now necessary in preparation for the new main Arran ferry currently under construction at Ferguson Marine, Port Glasgow.
A good number of people will be required to operate the new facility — rope-handlers, ticket clerks, marshalling staff, admin people etc, all necessary to provide the life-line service in all weathers, all year round for the modern ferry traveller.
It occurred to me how much ‘ferry’ travel has changed since I first became old enough to travel on my own aboard the steamers. I always loved the smaller piers on the Clyde and became especially fond of Arrochar pier at the head of Loch Long, during my time on the ‘Maids’ in 1968 and 1969 and on Waverley in 1970. Many of the smaller piers were, of course, in decline by that period and some of them, like Arrochar, were summer-only, catering purely for excursion traffic.
A delightful cameo of how the smaller piers were operated has come to light in a memo from the General Manager’s office in Gourock, dated 29th May 1957, when Arrochar pier came under the management of the British Transport Commission for the first time.
The Station Master at Arrochar and Tarbet will arrange for attendance on the steamer on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He will also cover the attendance duties on the evening cruises and any other dates.
The responsibility for collection of Arrochar Pier dues will be that of the steamer purser.
The pier gates to be kept closed until the gangways are in position when the person in attendance will open the main gates to allow passengers off only. The steamer staff to assist the pierman with gangways etc.
All passengers landing at Arrochar Pier on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays must surrender a pier dues ticket at the gangway. Pier dues tickets will be issued at the Purser’s Office during the voyage (Purser to arrange for periodic announcements to this effect over the public address system). [This arrangement was workable on Waverley, but Maid of Argyll, which operated the cruise on Saturdays, did not at this stage have a public address system]. Pier dues will not be levied on passengers landing from evening cruises.
No one to be allowed access to Arrochar Pier until all arriving passengers have been cleared when the main gate should be closed. For all sailings including evening cruises, access to the pier will be by the small wicker gate to allow collection of pier dues.
The steamer purser to take up position in the hut at the pier entrance to collect pier dues (rolls of non-collectable tickets will be supplied for this purpose).
After departure of the steamer, pierman to secure gangway in safe position before leaving pier, the gates of which should be locked.
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The instructions in this memo are indeed a far cry from the arrangements which will apply at Brodick from the summer of 2017.
We are fortunate that we still have six traditional steamer piers in regular operation on the Clyde. These give a hint of how things were in the past when the main traffic consisted of passengers going about their business, commuting or enjoying a summer sail.
This summer, if you board or disembark from Waverley at Helensburgh, Kilcreggan, Blairmore, Millport (Keppel), Tighnabruaich or Tarbert, you are continuing a great tradition. Of these piers Kilcreggan alone is in use all year round.
More than ever the piers — and Waverley herself — need your support to ensure that ‘real’ Clyde cruising continues for many years to come.
ROBERT CLEARY’S LIST OF TRADITIONAL CLYDE STEAMER PIERS NEEDING OUR CONTINUED SUPPORT:
Waverley begins her main Clyde season on Friday 16 June with a 70th anniversary cruise from Glasgow to Loch Long and Loch Goil, calling at Greenock, Helensburgh, Kilcreggan and Blairmore. www.waverleyexcursions.org.uk
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