If you were holidaying in Scotland in the latter part of the 19th century (and only the wealthy could) or fancied an excursion on your one day off work, you could visit the west coast islands by going ‘doon the watter’. A fleet of paddle-steamers, based in Glasgow, provided daily services to towns on the River Clyde including Helensburgh, Greenock, Gourock and Dunoon and to the islands beyond ….. Cumbrae, Bute and Mull in particular, as they were close enough for a day trip. The steamers were also used by local people to travel between the towns on the route and as feeders for railway stations. Surprisingly perhaps, they still operated in the mid twentieth century.
The three photos show boats boarding their passengers at the Broomielaw in Glasgow, a misty Rothesay harbour on the Isle of Bute with a moored paddle steamer and passengers waiting for the steamer on Rothesay pier.
After many years of restoration, much of it by volunteers, one of the boats, the PS Waverley, still plies the same routes, and is now the world’s last sea-going paddle steamer. I travelled on it recently and was surprised by its speed and manoeuvrability. It is still steam powered and you can watch the impressive engines providing what seems like effortless and almost silent power. The one disappointment was the lack of a team of grimy stokers shovelling coal into a boiler, as it’s now oil powered! The scenery doon the watter is, of course, as magnificent today as it has always been.
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