PS Maid of the Loch is the last paddle steamer built in Britain. She operated on Loch Lomond for 29 years and as of 2019 is being restored at Balloch pier.
The Maid of the Loch is open to the public every day Easter to October, and weekends only through the Winter. She has a new livery of red, white and black, the funnel now red with a black top.
PS Maid of the Loch is the last of a long line of Loch Lomond steamers that began about 1816, within four years of Henry Bell's pioneering passenger steamboat service on the River Clyde. In 1950 the British Transport Commission, owner of the newly nationalised railways, made the decision to replace the Princess May and Prince Edward with a new paddle steamer, to be the largest inland waterway vessel ever in Britain.
Maid of the Loch was built by A. & J. Inglis of Glasgow, launched on Thursday 5 March 1953, and entered service later that year. She is a "knock down" ship: that is, after assembly at the shipyard she was dismantled, and shipped to the loch by rail to Balloch at the south end of the loch, and there her sections were reassembled on a purpose built slipway. The tonnage measures 555 grt, and the length is 208 ft (63 m). Her two-cylinder compound diagonal steam engine is less advanced than had become usual on steamers such as the PS Waverley, but was considered suitable for the limited area of operations.
Maid of the Loch was painted white with a buff funnel. She was operated by the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.
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 charitable organisation, 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 Fund grant was awarded along with assistance from Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, and West Dunbartonshire Council. This enabled the paddle steamer to be lifted out of the water on 27 June 2006.
Fundraising continues for the next stages of the restoration including donations from the Wolfson Foundation, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society and £950,000 from the Scottish Government's Regeneration Capital Grant Fund, amongst others. There had been the suggestion that if Loch Lomond Steamship Company raised £1.7 million by June 2018, that the Heritage Lottery Fund would donate £3.8 million towards the restoration, however in September 2018 it was announced that the Heritage Lottery Fund had decided against this donation.
In January 2019 an attempt was made to winch the Maid of the Loch out of the water onto her slipway but the ship "slipped its ties" and slid back into the loch. An investigation is now underway by the Health and Safety Executive before attempting to lift her out of the water again. Restoration work continues on the ship, with her interiors being returned to their original 1950s appearance while adding modern conveniences like a lift between decks, and also enabling her engines and paddles to turn slowly fed by a package boiler mounted on the pier.
In 2019 the project was set back due to a failed bid to the National Lottery Fund. However, it received £950k from the Scottish Government with the intention of contributing to the regeneration of Balloch and Haldane. The charity is now in the process of revising its position in order to make it worthy of an additional £3.5m of public funding.