Robert Cleary recalls the days when summer on Loch Lomond meant a cruise on Maid of the Loch, and expresses the hope that this will soon be possible again.
This fine photograph encapsulates all that Loch Lomond cruising should be about — a beautiful steamer, stunning scenery, sunshine and healthy passenger numbers. It was taken on Maid of the Loch’s final day in service under CalMac ownership on Sunday 30th August 1981 as she approached Luss in the afternoon.
A total of 978 passengers had joined her that day at Balloch, many fearful that this would be her last trip. The CRSC Review for 1981 reports “there was something of a carnival atmosphere aboard”. Yet it was also tinged with sadness, with strong rumours that CalMac would cease operating her at the end of 1981.
The previous year the re-opened pier at Luss had boosted her carryings and given many more tourists the opportunity to sail on the steamer, with the possibility of short return trips from Luss to Rowardennan, Inversnaid and Balloch. An inclusive ticket for lunch aboard also proved popular for passengers joining at Luss on her way back to Balloch in the afternoon.
Maid of the Loch is the last of a long line of steamers that began sailing on Loch Lomond around 1816. Built by A. & J. Inglis at Pointhouse on the Clyde, and reassembled on the banks of Loch Lomond, she entered service on 25 March 1953, initially under the ownership of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company Ltd. She was transferred to the Scottish Transport Group in 1969, then in 1973 to Caledonian MacBrayne.
Laid up at Balloch at the end of the 1981 season, Maid of the Loch began to look increasingly derelict, as her condition deteriorated. In 1992 Dumbarton District Council bought the ship and restoration work started. In 1995 the Council supported a group of local enthusiasts in setting up a charitable organisation, the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, to take over ownership and carry on restoration. She became ready for static operation with a cafe/bar and function suite in the autumn of 2000.
The process of restoration has been a long business but, thanks to the dedication of all concerned, including numerous volunteers and donors-in-kind, the Loch Lomond Steamship Company has announced plans to return the ‘Maid’ to full steam operation in 2018 — with the proviso that £1.7m can be raised to match funds pledged by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Maid of the Loch has a ‘2 Star’ Visitor Attraction award from VisitScotland under their quality assurance scheme. From Easter 2017 the ship’s Tea Room and the adjacent steam slipway will be open at weekends. There is plenty of nearby car parking.
As we contemplate the delights of cruising on Loch Lomond and hope for Maid of the Loch’s return to service under her new owners, we wish them well in their endeavours.
Robert Cleary was Purser on Maid of the Loch from 1973 to 1981.