Prompted by a collection of steamer tickets he has built up over the years, Eric Schofield begins a series in which he recalls some of the journeys he has made, accompanied by photographs he took on each occasion.
To enjoy a sail on a steamer or ferry it is necessary to obtain a suitable ticket for the journey you intend to take. Nowadays that means in most circumstances purchasing the required ticket prior to boarding, the ticket normally being collected from you as boarding takes place.
But there are still services that are operated on what might be considered the traditional manner, allowing you to board and then purchase your ticket from the Purser. On some of the smaller ferries and cruise boats the job of collecting fares/issuing tickets is often the duty of one of the deck hands — or even the owner of the vessel himself.
Of the larger vessels, Waverley and Balmoral have maintained not only the tradition of excursions to a variety of destinations, but also the practice of first allowing passengers aboard and then selling tickets from the Purser’s Office, with collection usually taking place when the time comes to disembark.
The one common factor, no matter what the method employed, is that travellers are normally left without a ticket as evidence of the journey, and we enthusiasts love to collect all sorts of ephemera relating to the ‘boats’, be it timetables, tickets, items with ship or company logos — and then again a picture or twenty, all of which bring back the memories.
No 1 Excursion to Ardrishaig
These tickets displayed here (above right) bring to mind Monday 24 May 1965, when I made what could be seen as a direct connection to the daily sailing undertaken in summer by David MacBrayne’s Columba (1878-1936), arguably the most famous Clyde steamer of all time.
After the Second World War the Glasgow/Greenock-Ardrishaig route was cut back to start and finish at Gourock, and so it was to the latter pier that I made my way to board one of Columba’s successors, Lochnevis, for a return trip to Ardrishaig. Onboard, I watched Duchess of Hamilton set sail at 0920 on her way to Campbeltown, followed almost immediately by Maid of Ashton on her morning round of the Holy Loch piers.
The overcast and occasionally wet conditions did not encourage use of the camera for much of the day, and it was not until we were homeward bound — on the approach to Tighnabruaich, with Lochnevis now running late due to heavy traffic — that I next took a couple of pictures as the Caledonian Steam Packet Company’s Queen Mary II vacated the pier to allow access to the MacBrayne mail boat.
The slight improvement in the weather allowed for another worthwhile picture as we approached Rothesay Pier, its frontage fully occupied by Maid of Cumbrae, Arran and Caledonia. Before long we returned to Gourock just as the Clan Line’s cargo ship Clan MacIlwraith passed outward bound.
I duly photographed Lochnevis as she headed off, some 30 minutes behind schedule, to her overnight berth at Greenock. As there was now only 40 minutes or so before Queen Mary II would arrive on her return sailing to Glasgow, I decided to make the upriver journey by steamer rather than by train.
The cloudy and rainy conditions began to lift as evening approached, and as we headed past Port Glasgow we were treated to a fine view of the Ellerman Line’s City of Birmingham coming downriver in glorious sunshine.
My pictorial efforts finished with a new build, the Ben Line’s cargo ship Benledi, at the Barclay, Curle fitting out wharf.
It’s true, my return sailing from Ardrishaig to Glasgow was not, as in Columba’s days, by a single ship: the journey involved two vessels belonging to two distinct companies.
But in retrospect, the very fact that I was able to recreate on service sailings, not a one-off charter, the ‘all the way’ trip between Ardrishaig and Glasgow made this rather ordinary day seem something special.
If it hadn’t been for Lochnevis running late I would have taken the train from Gourock and been back in Glasgow before Queen Mary II called at Gourock on her Spring Holiday Monday cruise. I have to be honest and say that the significance of having completed the sailing ‘all the way’ only struck me as I was preparing this piece.
Also by Eric Schofield:
Published on 28 January 2018