The aroma of steam and hot oil is once again to be savoured by all who go aboard the last paddle steamer built in Scotland - Maid of the Loch.
Over the weekends of 26/27th October and 2nd/3rd November visitors to Maid of the Loch have been able to witness the main engine back 'In Steam' and see her paddles turning. For 10 minutes every half hour the engine has been turning slowly astern with steam supplied from the shore side Byworth boiler.
When Maid of the Loch was laid up after her 1981 season many could be easily forgiven for thinking that never again would the sound of paddle beats be heard at Balloch Pier. However, in early October this year her paddles starter turning again as the refit project supported by funding from the Scottish Government and other partners reached its conclusion.
The battle to return Maid of the Loch to steam has lasted a generation. PSPS work parties began on her in 1993 with the short team goal to prevent the ship sinking at her berth, make the decks watertight and improve her appearance. Since then the ship has seen extensive refurbishment to allow her to open as a static visitor attraction with the ultimate ambition of returning her to service.
Getting the main engine fully functioning is a vital step on releasing that ambition. The Loch Lomond Steamship Company can take pride in what has been achieved this year. Over £1.1 million has been spent in total to purchase and commission a shore side boiler to supply steam to the main engine. The Queens' Lounge has been fully refurbished, the starboard paddle box fascia replaced, a lift installed between the promenade deck and main deck, toilets refurbished and the upper saloon aft fully refitted. 2019 has seen the biggest transformation to the ship in 38 years!
As the engine starts, just for a moment, you expect her to pull away from the pier and make her way into the loch. Remarkably little work was needed on the paddles, fresh water being far kinder than salt.
It is expected that there will be further "In Steam" days before Christmas. Dates and opening times will be posted on the Maid of the Loch website.