The engines of the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain have been fired up for the first time in almost 40 years, raising hopes that it might yet set sail on Loch Lomond again.
The Maid of the Loch has reopened to visitors following an extensive £1.1m restoration project which included a total overhaul of the original engine room.
Now operating as a static tourist attraction, the charity responsible for its upkeep said seeing the ship’s paddles turning again was a “significant” milestone.
First launched on the loch in March 1953 with a licence to carry 1,000 passengers, the Maid hosted royal guests, celebrities and around 3m day-trippers during her 28 years on the water.
Advertised as having “commodious saloons” and serving “lunches and teas of the highest quality at popular prices” she was the last and largest paddle steamer to sail on Loch Lomond.
But as more Scots turned to foreign travel, passenger numbers waned and revenue dwindled. The ship was decommissioned in 1981 and quickly fell into disrepair after being neglected.
It is now cared for by volunteers who secured a grant of almost £1m from the Scottish Government as they sought to return the vessel to something approaching its former glory.
The project has seen the Maid’s appearance returned to her original 1950s style by renovating the deck bar, which can now host school visits, functions and events.
As well as bringing the ship up to date with 21st century marine safety standards, the restoration also focused on the engine room, with new pipework and two new pumps being installed.
John Beveridge, chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, said: “We are thrilled to have our Patron Lord Smith of Kelvin fire up the engines for the first time in nearly four decades and to celebrate the completion of our wonderful £1.1 million refit.
“We are still some way from achieving our aim of her sailing again but are more determined than ever to succeed.
“Our fundraising efforts will continue, and, in the meantime, visitors can come and see the Maid in her former glory and enjoy the spectacle of seeing the ship in steam once again.”
Lord Smith of Kelvin said: “Since 1996 the Loch Lomond Steamship Company has worked tirelessly to save and maintain this beautiful ship, and everyone involved deserves huge congratulations in what they have managed to achieve.
“I know there have been many disappointments along the way, including the rejection of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid a year ago, but now to have a real ‘live’ attraction and newly refurbished rooms is a real achievement.
“Equally important, is the legacy which this ship can offer.
“Keeping traditional skills alive, training and employing future generations, and attracting inward investment to the area.
“Scotland needs icons like the Maid of the Loch, and I share the charity’s hopes that we will eventually see this wonderful ship sailing again.”