Coasts of Clyde
The following embedded links take you to YouTube versions of the classic British Transport Films’ promotional documentary ‘The Coasts of Clyde’. It is loaded in three parts (presumably due file size, bandwidth or some other restrictions). If interested you can buy higher resolution copies of this film on DVD.
I think this film demonstrates why there is still a band of ‘steamer enthusiasts’ that have kept the last of the Clyde steamers, Waverley, going for the last 35 years (the ship has now been in operational preservation for significantly longer than it was in commercial service – 27 years). Those of us on the wrong side of 50 can still recall with some fondness the days when there was a fleet of steamers on the Firth of Clyde. Waverley has been the sole survivor of the breed since 1978. The film includes views of the Clyde paddle steamers Jeanie Deans, Caledonia, Jupiter and Waverley and a brief clip of Maid of the Loch, which is currently statically preserved at Balloch on Loch Lomond. There is a very brief glimpse of three passenger steamers alongside Rothesay pier at the same time, something that most certainly will not happen again (at 3 mins 35 seconds in part 2). (The nearest that you can get to the Clyde steamer fleet feeling nowadays is to visit the paddle steamer fleets of the Lakes of Geneva and Lucerne in Switzerland – but you don’t get the open sea feel there). The Rothesay clip depicts part of the paddler Caledonia at the Craigmore (near) end of the pier, the turbine steamer Queen Mary II berthed at the middle berth (Berth2), on one of her regular ‘Doon-the-Watter’ sailings from Glasgow Bridge Wharf to the Kyles of Bute, and the Waverley berthing at the Ardbeg end of the pier, a berth that she has recently started to use again following the significant remodelling of Rothesay pier. There is some ‘artistic licence’ at work in the making of the film e.g. the sequence describing the passage through the famous ‘Narrows’ of the Kyles of Bute involves two different paddle steamers – the first part shows Jeanie Deans entering the narrow channel from the East Kyle (at 4:41), the Jupiter passing through it (at 4:50) and back to the Jeanie Deans exiting the Narrows and turning to port to head down the West Kyle to Tighnabruaich (at 5:04).
Incidentally, I think the Cunard Line vessel at the start of Part 1 is the liner Media, which was a product of the John Brown shipyard at Clydebank in 1947, the same year that the Waverley was built by A & J Inglis upstream at Pointhouse. The Media stayed with Cunard only to 1961 when she was sold to Italian interests. In 1989, by which time she was named Lavia, she was gutted by fire at Hong Kong (07/01/1989) while undergoing renovation (an uncanny repeat of the fate of the famous Clydebank-built Cunarder Queen Elizabeth in 1972). Lavia was towed to shallow water where she heeled over onto her side on a sandbank. She was righted and towed to Kaohsiung in Taiwan, arriving 17/06/1989 for demolition. This was around the time of my first visit to Hong Kong by I didn’t see her there.
It was in those days that my enthusiasm for the Clyde and its ships and shipyards and particularly its excursion steamers was born. It was an advantage, undoubtedly, that my best pal at the old Burgh Primary School in Rutherglen at that time was Robert Dalgleish, whose grandparents lived in Dunoon. We became juvenile members of the Clyde River Steamer Club in the mid 1960s and I am still a member of the 78 year old club. The picture below shows Rab and myself enjoying a sail on the paddle steamer Caledonia, leaning back on the hatch covering the companionway down to the crew accommodation, right up near the bow of the steamer. The date was the 18th May 1968 and the Caledonia was on a special charter that day to the Rutherglen West Parish Church where Rab and I were members of the 38th Glasgow Scout Troop. The sailing had started at the Bridge Wharf in Glasgow and visited the Kyles of Bute and Loch Riddon. Many years later, as a final year undergraduate, Rab based his degree thesis on a study of the economics of operating steamers on the Clyde. Sadly, the Caledonia was withdrwn from service at the end of 1969, an event that encouraged the formation of the Scottish Branch of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society. Although it proved impossible to keep the Caledonia operational theBranch members were successful in preventing her demolition and, in 1972 she began a new career as a static bar and restaurant on the River Thames at the former Savoy Pier just upstream of Waterloo Bridge. She continued in that role until badly damaged by a fire in 1981. Unfortunately the prospect of returning her to the Clyde for restoration as a possible running mate for Waverley could not be brought to fruition. She was replaced on the Thames by another Clyde Steamer, none other than the turbine steamer Queen Mary that also features in the film. She remained in the role until 2009. The vessel is currently being transferred to La Rochelle in western France for use as floating hotel.
Robert Dalgleish and me on PS Caledonia, 18th May 1968