The “Maid of the Loch ” was the last paddle steamer built in Britain. A. & J. Inglis of Glasgow produced her as a kit of parts which was assembled on a specially constructed slipway at Balloch and launched in 1953. At 555tons and carrying up to a thousand passengers she was larger than previous steamers used on the Loch. She provided a service from Balloch pier, initially to Ardlui at the north end of the loch, but later her last call was a few miles short of this at Inversnaid and she would cruise to the head of the loch. She was transferred to the Scottish Transport Group in 1969; then in 1973 to Caledonian MacBrayne.
As with other steamers, cost pressures led to her being laid up after a last commercial sailing on 31 August 1981. One problem was that some of the piers on the loch would become unusable, either because of poor state of repair, or silting making the area around them too shallow; some of these piers had not been built to take a vessel as large as the Maid of the Loch. A series of attempts to bring her back into service under a succession of owners was unsuccessful, and she presented a sad sight gradually deteriorating at the side of the loch.
In 1992 Dumbarton District Council bought Maid of the Loch and restoration work started. In 1995 the Council supported a group of local enthusiasts in setting up a charity , 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 autumn 2000.
The key to the restoration was the repair and refurbishment of the slipway adjacent to the pier at Balloch. There not being any connection to the sea it was not possible to take the ship to a dry dock for repairs to the hull so a slipway with a steam-operated cable-hauled cradle had been built. This had fallen into disrepair by the 1990s and eventually a Heritage Lottery Fundgrant was awarded along with assistance from local and Scottish governmental organisations. This enabled the paddle steamer to be lifted out of the water on 27 June 2006.
The Maid of the Loch is open to the public every day Easter to October, and weekends only through the Winter. Volunteers are working to bring her back into steam operation. She has a new livery of red, white and black, the funnel now red with a black top. Repairs and servicing are now earnestly underway to ensure that she will soon be providing a paddle steamer service on Loch Lomond again.
The leaflet also mentions a steamer service on Loch Katrine but does not name the vesse. This was the screw steamer “Sir Walter Scott” built by William Denny and Bros 1899 then dismantled and re-erected on the Loch on 1900. “Sir Walter Scott” is still (2014) in service while the “Maid of the Loch” unfortunately is not.
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