CalMac’s Farewell to Tighnabruaich

The last CalMac call: Pioneer at Tighnabruaich on 31 August 2003

Graeme Hogg surveys the long decline of Tighnabruaich as a cruising destination, and looks forward to the day when Waverley returns there.

Many CRSC members and other enthusiasts crowded aboard Pioneer on the morning of 31 August 2003 for her official farewell cruise on the Clyde, prior to her sale to new owners in Equatorial Guinea.

Her route that day took her down the Largs Channel, through the Tan to Garroch Head and up the west side of Bute to Tighnabruaich for time ashore, before proceeding through the Narrows, across Rothesay Bay for a brief race with Waverley, and back to Gourock. It was an enjoyable day, though tinged with sadness that a great favourite was departing these waters. 

Glen Sannox at Tighnabruaich during her CalMac cruising days

What nobody on board could have anticipated was that the Tighnabruaich visit that day marked the last call there, to date, by a CalMac vessel. This was an inevitable consequence of CalMac restricting its activities to the main ferry services, but it was probably assumed at the time that there would be other occasions when its vessels would visit on special sailings or charters. However, it was not to be.

The pier has survived and is still in use as one of Waverley’s major calling points, although she has been sorely missed while out of service last season and this. 

Tighnabruaich’s slow demise as a calling point began in 1970. In May of that year the daily service (except on the Sabbath) to Tarbert and, in summer, Ardrishaig came to an end.

It had continued only until what is still called ‘the New Road’ opened up vastly improved road access to the Tighnabruaich area. From then on, the pier was purely a destination or calling point for cruises.

That year it still received calls from Duchess of Hamilton, Queen Mary II, Waverley and the ‘Maids’. The ‘Hamilton’ was withdrawn at the end of that season, and by the end of the 1973 season Waverley and the ‘Maids’, in traditional guise, were also gone from what was now the CalMac fleet. Queen Mary (she dropped the II in 1976) soldiered on until she made her final call on 11 September 1977, a dreich day that matched the gloom of those bidding farewell to the ultimate development of the Clyde turbine steamer.

Keppel at Tighnabruaich in 1980

Glen Sannox took on the CalMac cruising mantle from 1978, dwarfing the pier on her fairly regular visits, but she was never wholly successful in the role and ceased her cruising activities in 1981. At that point, it appeared that the pier would have to depend solely on visits from Waverley to continue in operation.

CalMac had other ideas and, in 1985, the original ‘streaker’, Jupiter, began a limited cruising programme including one visit per week to Tighnabruaich. The following year Keppel, having been stood down from her Largs-Millport ferry duties, became the CalMac cruise vessel and made 3-4 calls per week on her seasonal programme, which continued until her withdrawal at the end of the 1992 season. 

As there was slack in the upper firth car ferry rosters, all three ‘streakers’ Jupiter, Juno and Saturn, together with Pioneer, were allocated, in rotation, a varied programme of cruises from 1993, giving Tighnabruaich 2-3 visits per week.

The support for these sailings was variable, but they continued until the end of the 2000 season, when CalMac decided to focus purely on its ferry services. 

That was the end of regular CalMac sailings to Tighnabruaich, with only Pioneer’s farewell visit to come. The CalMac gangway lay on the pier for a few years afterwards, offering some hope of further calls, but eventually it was taken away on a truck. Since then Waverley has been a welcome regular visitor every summer, and Balmoral also made occasional appearances. The continuance of calls by Waverley each summer is vital to the pier’s future operation.

Coachloads of visitors: Clyde Clipper in 2010

Apart from that, The Second Snark offered cruises to and from the pier for a couple of years in the early 2000s, and Clyde Cruising’s Cruiser and Clyde Clipper called early- and late-season on numerous occasions with two coachloads of visitors having sailed from Blairmore. This group would be decanted ashore and another two coachloads boarded for the return trip. However, this too came to an end in 2018.

The only other calls have been charter and private parties, including Cruiser visiting Ormidale and Tighnabruaich on 1 September 2001 (CRSC), The Second Snark visiting Berry’s Pier in Loch Striven and Tighnabruaich on 7 September 2013 (CCA), and the PSPS/CCA Festive Cruise on Clyde Clipper on 28 December 2015. VIC32 has visited on a very occasional basis and a sail training ship once in a while.

The pier has been owned by Argyll and Bute Council since the mid 1960s. It is a tribute to them that they have recognised its importance to the area and continue to support its maintenance. They are helped by the Tighnabruaich Pier Association, formed in 1999, which works in partnership with the Council to carry out improvement works to the pier building and to operate the facility during the season on the Council’s behalf. The relationship is a happy one and hopefully it will continue so that Waverley can deliver people to the Kyles for many years to come.

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Queen Mary at Tighnabruaich in 1976, her penultimate summer as a Clyde steamer. For a quarter-century after the war she was the quintessential Kyles steamer, bringing day trippers for a leisurely cruise ‘doon the watter’ to Tighnabruaich

Jupiter in 2000, when the ‘streakers’ were still involved in CalMac cruising

Cruiser at Ormidale, Loch Riddon, on a murky day in 2001

The Second Snark heads home after a visit to Tighnabruaich in September 2013

Balmoral off Tighnabruaich on 25 September 2017, on a cruise that ran into fog in the West Kyle, obliging her to turn back and return to Largs through the Narrows. Since that late-season visit, she has not been back to the Clyde

Hope for the future: since the demise of CalMac cruising, Waverley alone has maintained a regular service through the Kyles to Tighnabruaich, and she has not called since 2018. Will she resume the tradition in 2021?


Working as Assistant Purser on MV Cowal

The yellow funnel of MV Glen Sannox

Celebrating the 40th birthday of MV Isle of Cumbrae

Maid of the Loch’s tartan lum

Two paddlers, two lakes, two dreamers

Jeanie Deans at Tighnabruaich

Cruising by paddle steamer at Dresden (1): setting the scene

Cruising by paddle steamer at Dresden (2): some wonderful surprises

Graeme Hogg is Chairman of Tighnabruaich Pier Association and a Past President of CRSC.

Published on 5 June 2020