YESTERDAY was sadly not a day of celebration for those involved in the long-running campaign to get the Maid of the Loch back to sailing on Loch Lomond again.

You would have to be in your 50s to remember having seen the her sail on the loch as she made her last commercial sailing in 1981. At that point she was the last steamer on the loch, having also been the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain.

Not many people will be aware that, prior to the Maid, Loch Lomond was host to a plethora of passenger-carrying steamships, dating back to 1816, just four years after Henry Bell from over the hill at Helensburgh started the world’s first passenger-carrying steamship service on the Clyde with the PS Comet.

The National:

Thanks to local historian A Graham Lappin we know the names of many of the Loch steamers. The first was called Marion after the wife of the renowned engineer David Napier, who built her specifically to service the growing tourist trade at Loch Lomond.

It was tourism around the largest freshwater body by area on the island of Great Britain which drove the demand for steamers on the loch. The Marion was just 60ft long and could manage just one circumnavigation of the 23-mile long Loch each day.

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She had set the pattern for the future, however, and with piers built at Luss, Balmaha and Inversnaid to name but three, the Victorian era saw numerous steamers on the loch, some of them transporting livestock as well as passengers.

At one point there were fears that there were so many boats on the loch that its famously pure water would be contaminated, which would have been disastrous for the dyeing industry that drew water from its principal outlet the River Leven. That industry is long since gone, however,. Tourism thrives, however, so let’s hope the Maid of the Loch will soon be back sailing.