On the Spot: Duncan Wilson

Duncan Wilson remembers how, at Tighnabruaich in the late 1960s, he awoke one morning to the sound of ‘an engine noise. I got out of bed just in time to see Countess of Breadalbane sailing away from the pier’

Duncan Wilson has family connections with Tighnabruaich going back to the interwar years. He first became acquainted with the village as a boy in 1964, just in time to know steamers such as Jeanie Deans and Duchess of Montrose. Here he takes his turn to answer Stuart Craig’s ‘On the Spot’ questions, and gives us an insight into the comings and goings at Tighnabruaich in the late 1960s.

What is your earliest memory of sailing on a Clyde steamer?

My earliest memory of sailing on a Clyde steamer was a trip on Duchess of Hamilton from Tighnabruaich to Brodick and back via Rothesay. From Rothesay we returned to Tighnabruaich on Countess of Breadalbane. The ‘Countess’ stayed in Tighnabruaich overnight. In the morning I heard an engine noise. I got up out of bed just in time to see her sailing away from the pier. The thing about Tighnabruaich was that a lot of cruises and excursions stopped there. The vessels concerned then headed back to the point of origin. There were really not many opportunities to sail elsewhere from the village and return at night. The only regulars I remember were the ‘Hamilton’ and  MacBraynes Lochfyne, on which I sailed to Tarbert and Ardrishaig and back on more than one occasion. I do recall Waverley, Talisman and Caledonia and various ‘Maids’ calling at the pier and also the ‘Jeanie’ on her regular weekday sail round Bute.

Queen Mary II arriving at Tighnabruaich c1970. This photo (like several others shown here) was taken by Eric Schofield, who was instrumental in Duncan Wilson’s decision to join CRSC

The daily arrival of Queen Mary II at 2.50pm was always a grand affair. She sailed through the Kyles and carried out a big sweeping turn off Rubha Dubh before arriving at the pier. Being the largest of the Clyde steamers, her size dominated the pier. I took the all-the-way trip from Glasgow on her once. I recall her giving way to Lochfyne on her way back to Gourock. You always knew when Lochfyne was leaving Tighnabruaich — even if you were up the hill behind the trees, you could hear her engines beating and vibrating as she sailed from the pier.

Also sailing in from Rothesay were Gay Queen and Maid of Bute. Strange though it may seem now, the only road in and out of Tighnabruaich in those days was the single track road which wound its way along the east side of Loch Fyne through Otter Ferry and Kilfinan. The main way was by sea with passengers embarking and disembarking at the pier carrying suitcases and backpacks. Buses and trucks were provided by Spearman’s Transport.

Tighnabruaich was a bustling wee village during the 1960s. The post office van would reverse down the pier to meet Lochfyne and collect the mail bags. Tuesday 30th September 1969 was a sad day for Tighnabruaich: Lochfyne departed for the last time and in doing so, she took a piece of Tighnabruaich with her, of that there is no doubt. The new road from Glendaruel had just opened. The oil rig construction yard was built at Portavadie and, of course, never built a single oil rig. Property speculators moved into the Kyles area hoping to make a quick profit, but left empty handed. I don’t think Tighnabruaich was ever quite the same again.

What was the most recent sailing you took?

CRSC’s nominated cruise on Waverley from Glasgow to Ardnagal Pier at the head of Loch Long on 28th August, which was also the last sailing of her 2022 summer season.

Favourite steamer: Duchess of Hamilton, pictured arriving at Tighnabruaich c1968 after a trip to Inveraray

Holidays — Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran: where would you choose?

I think I would have to say Arran for the variety of scenery with lots of walking and climbing. Also good pubs and restaurants.

What is your favourite steamer or ferry?

Caledonia finished in 1969 and Duchess of Hamilton in 1970, so I would have to say Waverley. We are extremely lucky to have her.

Favourite ferry from days gone by would be the 1978 Claymore. I thought she looked very well balanced with the superstructure up forward, hoist and funnels midships and the mast at the stern. Today I would have to say Lord of the Isles.

Duncan Wilson at Oban in June 2022: he prefers Waverley’s current livery to all previous versions

Which was Waverley’s best livery?

The one she has now.

What was your favourite ‘streaker’ or, if old enough to remember them, your favourite ‘Maid’?

I have been on at least one ‘Maid’, but I don’t know which one! From a naming perspective, my favourite would have to be Maid of Argyll.

Jupiter was the first ‘streaker’ in service and the one I always remember. I fail to understand the affection in which the ‘streakers’ are held by some people. They were obsolete from the day they entered service and should never have been built. They were only built to that design because Dunoon Town Council failed to come up with the money to redevelop Dunoon Pier to enable a drive-through car ferry service [thereby obliging CalMac to add a side-loading facility to the stern-loading design].

What name would you give the second of the ferries being built at Fergusons just now? You can be imaginative!

Clisham, after the mountain on Harris.

Looking back, what is the perfect example of the Clyde steamer or car ferry?

The perfect example of a Clyde steamer was Duchess of Hamilton. Perfect example of a car ferry: Isle of Arran.

What would you like to see happen on the Clyde ferry scene over the next few years?

I’d like to see common sense prevail and have a truly effective service to Brodick with two smallish vessels. Also a more effective service to Campbeltown. That round trip on Sunday from Ardrossan is just a jolly for shipping enthusiasts.

In the future I’d like to see an integrated transport hub at Hunterston with ferries running to Campbeltown, Brodick, Cumbrae and possibly even Claonaig. It would be good to see custom-built semi-fast passenger vessels running, for example, between Largs, Millport and Rothesay.

A tanker reversing onto Claymore at Kennacraig in 1992: Duncan admired the ship’s profile, with superstructure up forward, hoist and funnels midships and a tall mast at the stern

The best point-to-point route you’ve sailed on?

The best point-to-point route on which I have sailed was from Kennacraig to Oban via Port Askaig and Colonsay on board Claymore.

I was quite lucky and got the whole route included in a Hopscotch ticket. The girl I spoke to in the CalMac office told me I would be quicker driving! I told the traffic marshalls at Kennacraig what I was doing and my car was loaded on first. I just sat back and enjoyed the cruise!

Apart from Millport’s Old Pier, which pier would you like to see re-open?

I would like to see Arrochar re-open. It would be good to see Waverley linking up with Maid of the Loch when she starts sailing again. I did the Three Lochs Cruise during the 1960s.

What inspired you to join CRSC?

I remember going to a CRSC exhibition in a Strathclyde University building, possibly early 1990s. From there I went to a few meetings before becoming a member. One of the first speakers I saw was Eric Schofield. He must have inspired me because I joined the Club shortly afterwards.

Perfect example of a car ferry: Isle of Arran, pictured on her first visit to Wemyss Bay on 22 January 2012

Would you like to see Zoom meetings become a permanent feature of the Club’s year, even once normal meetings are established again?

I think Zoom meetings have their place and are probably here to stay, but I also think it is essential that the Club resumes a full schedule of winter meetings. CRSC meetings are not only about the presentation, but also about socialising, networking and catching up with people that you may not have seen for a while. What I have noticed about the Zoom meetings is that, although the Club has more than 500 members, only around 100-150 attend on Zoom.

What makes you continue your membership of CRSC?

A sense of history and a sense of belonging. Also, as I have said above, meeting different people.

What could the Club do better?

I think the Club should be giving the members more notice prior to excursions, assuming they start again. Previously excursions have been sprung on us with only about two weeks’ notice. The Club should start publicising excursions well before they are due to take place. I also think the Club should ensure that successors are in place for office bearers who are unable to continue on the committee. Should any individual become unable to continue in office for any reason, then the Club has to ensure that there is someone else who is able to step in quickly and seamlessly. Ideally the Club has to target potential committee members who still have youth on their side.

‘Socialising and catching up with people you haven’t seen for a while’: Duncan Wilson (right foreground in blue jacket) with a CRSC group on the bridge of Finlaggan during the Club’s excursion to Islay on 27 October 2018. In the centre (in open-neck shirt) is Captain Callan Sloan

Memories of Tighnabruaich in the mid 1960s: Talisman on her Sunday cruise from Millport

‘I do recall various ‘Maids’ at the pier’: Maid of Argyll at Tighnabruaich on 18 July 1971, with Waverley passing

Lochfyne arriving at Tighnabruaich in September 1969, the final month of MacBrayne sailings through the Kyles of Bute to Tarbert and Ardrishaig

‘The daily arrival of Queen Mary II at 2.50pm was always a grand affair’: she is pictured making way for Lochnevis at Tighnabruaich c1966


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Published on 11 September 2022