(Apologies to the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, the original version of this article omitted the picture of the restored Maid of the Loch)
Many years ago now, when I was still based in Scotland, I used to occasionally visit Balloch to see the laid up Maid of the Loch.
At that time the Maid had the company of another vessel, the Countess Fiona, I think at Balloch. Even in the sad state the Maid was in then, I could close my eyes and imagine her in her prime cruising on the magnificent Loch Lomond. Many years have passed since then and the Maid of the Loch still lies at Balloch, but although she is not sailing again, her beauty has been restored. This owes much to a marvellous band of volunteers and solid backing over the years from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
The Maid of the Loch was built in 1953 by A&J Inglis on the Clyde, but was withdrawn from service in 1981. Since then she has had several different owners, but has remained laid up at Balloch. By 1992 the Maid had been vandalised, damaged and was in danger of sinking. The Loch Lomond Steamship Company, a charity registered in Scotland, was given the ship – free of charge – and has owned her since 1996. LLSC has no paid members of staff – all are volunteers.
The long term aim of LLSC has always been to return the Maid of the Loch, the last paddle steamer to be built on the Clyde to cruising on Loch Lomond. In 2006 the charity won HLF funding to rebuild the Grade A listed Balloch Steam Slipway; has rebuilt Balloch Pier, created new car parking and restored the Maid from a vandalised state to an established visitor attraction. Now there is more good news.
HLF are supporting the £5.5 million project to restore Maid of the Loch to steam operation once more.
“Brilliant – ‘Maid’ it”, was the comment from Phil Preston, Chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, the charity that owns the Maid of the Loch. “This has been a 20 year cause, during which we have raised and reinvested over £1.9 million and committed over 80,000 hours to restoring the ship. With this promise of around £3.8 million from HLF, we now need to do the hard work of raising the other £1.7 million”, he said. Then he added with a huge smile, “I guess it’s now Full Steam Ahead!”
Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “As with all ships, restoring the Maid of the Loch to full sailing condition is going to be an enormous challenge. By giving this initial support, we have given its owners the opportunity to see whether they can meet that challenge, and we wish them well in their endeavours.” This is a Round 1 Pass, meaning that the charity can prepare all the necessary technical surveys, drawings, and specifications for the ship’s rebuild. Included in this will be a big effort to get people involved, and to record and publicise the various stages of the rebuild. The Round 1 Pass is a vital first stage of the overall project and is worth £230,400.
Local MSP, Jackie Baillie said: “This is tremendous news and the grant will help the Maid of the Loch sail once again on Loch Lomond. The board and volunteers have painstakingly restored the Maid and their vision has driven the project forward. We are all grateful to them for their efforts. We are blessed with stunning scenery at Loch Lomond, Scotland’s first National Park, and what better way to see it than from the water, aboard the Maid of the Loch.”
The engagement of consultants and marine experts will begin immediately with all necessary surveys, reports, and costs being ready for the spring of 2016. The ship will meet the latest marine safety standards, and be fitted with a lift to enable access for all. All being well, it is anticipated that Maid of the Loch will sail again in 2018.
It never fails to astonish me, how the protection of our maritime heritage around our coast owes so much to a stalwart band of volunteers who give up so much of their own time and skills. To get this elegant lady sailing again after so many years would be a marvellous achievement, but the Loch Lomond Steamship Company still needs extra public support to complement the HLF grant.