On the Spot: Walter Bowie

For much of his career Walter Bowie was either a Waverley Purser or a CalMac employee. He is pictured during one of the paddler’s visits to Iona in the mid 1990s, with Loch Buie at the jetty. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

Walter is a well kent face within the steamer fraternity and far beyond. After his debut as Assistant Purser on PS Caledonia in 1965, he worked — mostly as Chief Purser — on no fewer than 16 other vessels, including all four ‘Maids’, all three ‘streakers’, the three ABCs, Glen Sannox, Columba, Hebrides and Iona.

From 1974 to 1998 Walter was a full-time employee of Caledonian MacBrayne, latterly as Publicity Manager, in which role he organised a series of special excursions taking the company’s vessels to unusual destinations (‘Walter Specials’). He was the last Purser to sail on Maid of the Loch (30 August 1981) and is the only person to have worked on Waverley in four decades of her life. In 2007 and 2008 he was invited out of retirement to give the commentary aboard Saturn during CalMac’s special cruises for the last two Clyde visits by QE2.

An enthusiast to his fingertips, Walter has been a member of CRSC since the early 1960s. We tracked him down and interrogated him with our usual battery of questions. Some of his answers are very candid.

Walter and his brother Hamish in the Purser’s Office of PS Caledonia c1967. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

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

Gourock to Tarbert on Saint Columba.

What was the last sailing you took?

Ardrossan to Campbeltown and back on Hebridean Isles on 23 September 2018.

Holidays: Dunoon, Rothesay or Arran?

None of these. We usually holidayed in Kintyre.

What is your favourite steamer?

Of the old ships, I liked Caledonia best because she didn’t look like a paddle steamer when viewed from the side. Of the car ferries, then it’s the cruise vessel Glen Sannox. She was such a happy boat to work on, and she was my first boat as Chief Purser. Of the present generation, it has to be Hebridean Isles. She has comfortable seating, excellent catering and a sensible layout, including an open viewing area forward of the bridge. The only thing I don’t like about her is the split-level paint line on the hull.

Throughout the late 1960s the Bowie brothers were a fixture on Caledonia, working at weekends as Assistant Pursers. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

Which was Waverley’s best livery — LNER, CSP or CalMac?

Caledonian MacBrayne, by far.

What was your favourite ‘Maid’ (if old enough) or ‘streaker’ (if young enough)?

Maid of Argyll and Jupiter. I enjoyed the Argyll’ because of her friendly crew, and whenever I walked up the gangway of Jupiter, I instantly felt at home.

Jeanie Deans or Waverley?

Waverley. I never liked the shape of the stern of ‘Jeanie’, and she had peculiar vents coming out of the aft deck — they looked like trumpets.

A new turbine has been built on the Clyde: what would you name her?

Davaar. I like the Kintyre association.

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

Build new tonnage with ‘forward viewing’ decks (as on Isle of Arran, Caledonian Isles, Hebridean Isles, Argyle and Bute). Make all vessels non-smoking, including E-cigarettes, both internally and on open decks. Wightlink do that, and their St Clare, by the way, could be used as a general design/style idea for future short ferry crossings.

Walter was on board when the BBC transmitted its TV programme ‘Songs of Praise’ from the car deck of a ‘streaker’. Copyright Walter Bowie

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

Ardrossan to Douglas. I sailed on Claymore on that route several times, including the first time she ever did it. There was a civic reception, and I and the Clyde area manager Andrew Horne represented CalMac at it.

Apart from Millport, which pier would you like to see re-open?

Dunoon, not the Victorian pier but the ‘Highland Mary linkspan as a vehicle pier, using two identical ships built or acquired for the run. They don’t need to be elaborate boats.

What direction would you like to see CRSC take in the next few years?

CRSC are doing a fine job, but I don’t agree with the Club donating money to charitable organisations on behalf of its members — that should be a matter for members themselves. Consideration should be given to amending the constitution, to stop ordinary committee members from serving for more than, say, three consecutive years. This would not include serving as Vice President or President, Secretary or Treasurer. It would encourage an influx of ‘new blood’. One other thing connected with that sincere suggestion is that Club office bearers should not be serving on committees of kindred organisations. This could avoid any potential conflict of loyalty or interest.

If CRSC had loads of money in the bank, what would you spend it on?

Reduce the annual subscriptions. That might well encourage an increase in membership, and thereby further the aims of the Club.

What makes you continue your membership of the Club, year on year?

I continue my membership because I find it a great way to meet and socialise with fellow enthusiasts. The annual publications and the amazingly well improved and updated website give lots of pleasure and interest.

What could the Club do better?

 The Club is doing a grand job and I am proud to be a member.

Walter was a regular on Maid of the Loch in her last years under CalMac ownership. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

On Caledonia, Walter’s favourite of the steam era. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

On Waverley at Brodick c1969. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

On Maid of the Loch with ‘On the Buses’ TV star Bob Grant. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

On Hebrides at Brodick at the dawn of the CalMac era — 3 January 1973. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection



Walter showed a flair for marketing CalMac and was well regarded by the company’s managing director, Colin Paterson. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

Walter (right) with a boyish-looking Brian Fulton, now a CalMac senior executive. This photo was published in the company’s mid 1990s ‘Passengers Charter’

Manning the CalMac Exibus, a touring vehicle designed to publicise CalMac services in towns and cities throughout the country — and as far afield as Dublin. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection




A ‘Walter Special’: Columba at Tarbert on 2 April 1988. Copyright Walter Bowie Collection

Another ‘Walter Special’ was a cruise on Jupiter to Arran via the Kyles, with a diversion to Lochranza Bay before the pier was reconstructed. The Purser standing on the starboard bridge wing next to Captain Dennis Armstrong is the young, moustachioed Andrew O’Brian, now Waverley’s Senior Master. Copyright Walter Bowie

Walter was tempted out of retirement to supply the commentary for cruises by Saturn marking the last Clyde visits of QE2. Copyright Walter Bowie

Walter (right) at Campbeltown on 19 July 2015 with his brother Hamish (left) and fellow CRSC member Colin Smith (centre). Copyright CRSC

Walter (centre) has been a regular visitor to Kintyre since childhood. He is pictured with Hamish Bowie and PSPS National Chairman Paul Semple during a visit to Campbeltown by Waverley on 24 June 2017. Copyright CRSC

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Published on 8 November 2018