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Issue 14 - Operating under their own steam

Scotland Magazine Issue 14
May 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Operating under their own steam

Relax a while, forget the rush and hurry of train and plane, and join Sara Wilson on a steam boat

Transport has come on leaps and bounds over the last 100 years. We’ve seen the decline of trams and the ascent of skateboards, and it now takes just 30 minutes to get from Aberdeen to Glasgow if we hop on a plane and take to the skies.

Amidst this wheel-orientated revolution borne to try and save us time, Scotland’s steamships have continued to ply their trade against the odds.

Having carried more than five million passengers, the Clyde-based Waverley has established herself as one of the west coast’s most popular tourist attractions.

Similarly, the SS Walter Scott on Loch Katrine is, more than 100 years later, still mesmerising visitors with the astonishing beauty of the landscape which so inspired the writer she was named after.

This spring sees the launch of the first steamship on Loch Tay in Perthshire since World War Two.

Designed with Victorian-inspired flourishes and coupled with the very best of modern-day engineering, the Spirit of the Tay is further proof that steamship travel is alive and well in Scotland today.

There’s something leisurely about travelling aboard a boat – being confined to a deck for a couple of hours, all you can do is relax and savour the rolling scenery on either side of you and the cream-crested waves shimmering under you.

Although their engines are powerful, steamship travel has never been about getting anywhere in a hurry and in this day and age the kind of experience which allows us to luxuriate in pleasant surroundings is one we’re all itching to get a piece of.

The boats featured in this article each have fascinating stories to tell of survival and of the people who foresaw the place these vessels would have in history decades later.

Their very existence today pays homage to Scotland’s rich and colourful steam heritage and, perhaps more importantly, to the beauty of taking things slowly.

From failed relationships to near financial meltdown, the grand old lady, launched in 1947, has had her fair share of hardships but has sprung back to prove herself one of Scotland’s most prized possessions.

The Clyde came close to losing one of its most distinguished landmarks when the Waverley was considered to have no further role in tourism.

Thankfully the importance of preserving the world’s last seagoing paddle steamer was realised and last year’s £7 million funding has restored the grand old lady, named after her predecessor who went down during the war, to her former glory.

Sailings take place from May to October with departures from a variety of Clyde ports.

Tel: +44 (0)845 130 4647

What to do and see

Glasgow Science Centre
See science and technology brought to life at this, one of Glasgow’s top five paid attractions. Highlights include the 127 metre Glasgow Tower and the IMAX theatre.

The Tall Ship
A formidable sight along Glasgow Harbour, ‘Glenlee’ is the only Clyde-built ship left in the UK allowing visitors to experience a piece of maritime history.
Tel: +44 (0)141 341 0506

Where to stay

City Inn Hotel
Modern accommodation along with a highly recommended restaurant near the harbour.
Tel: +44 (0)141 240 1002

Campanile Hotel
Very comfortable hotel with café bistro and restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)141 287 7700

Where to eat

Tron Theatre
Situated in the Merchant City, one of Scotland’s leading theatres now offers a unique dining experience to suit all tastes.
Tel: +44 (0) 141 552 3748

Babbity Bowster’s
With live music at the weekends you can choose to dine in the friendly bar area or opt for the intimacy of the upstairs restaurant.
Tel: +44 (0)141 552 5055

SS Walter Scott
Can there be a better way of taking in the majesty of the Trossachs then aboard the mighty SS Walter Scott?

Folklore and legend abound along the mesmerising Loch Katrine route as Scotland’s only surviving screw steamer takes visitors alongside some of the great landmarks of Scotttish history and literature.

This stunning landscape proved the inspiration for Sir Walter Scott’s major work, The Lady of the Lake which compelled the first tourists to visit to experience it for themselves.

So it is fitting that the boat, launched in 1899, should be offering today’s visitors the chance to view this unspoilt scenery from the comfort of the deck. Cruises run from April to October commencing from the Trossachs Pier.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 376 316

What to do and see

Trossachs Pier Shop
Hire a bike and take off on the private road alongside Loch Katrine through magical Rob Roy country. Bikes can be taken aboard the SS
Walter Scott.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 614

Inchmahome Priory
This enchanting Augustinian monastery dating from 1238 is a must-visit while in the area. Take a boat from the Port of Menteith and see where Mary Queen of Scots stayed while she was an infant.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 385 294

Where to stay

Frennich House, Brig o’Turk
Friendly and comfortable accommodation plus fresh home-baked scones for breakfast.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 376 274

Altskeith, Loch Ard
This country house on the shores of Loch Ard is reputed to stand on the site of a former inn where the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy hid from the Redcoats.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 387 266

Where to eat

Inverard Hotel, Aberfoyle
Family-run restaurant offering an award-winning menu of traditional Scottish and exotic Filipino dishes.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 229

The Forth Inn, Aberfoyle
This restaurant offers wholesome Scottish fare, cooked to order from an imaginative menu.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 372

Spirit of the Tay
A little piece of history is currently being created on the shores of Loch Tay. Following two and a half of years of planning and building in Port Glasgow, the Spirit of the Tay is poised to be the first steamship on these waters since World War Two.

The 100 tonne vessel, which will be capable of carrying 250 passengers is due to make its maiden voyage in the late spring with plans for hour-and-a-half round trip sailings taking in some of Scotland’s most captivating scenery. A 50-person capacity Victorian-themed restaurant in the ship’s lower deck will offer fine dining in exquisite surroundings.


What to do and see Scottish Crannog Centre, Loch Tay Experience a piece of living history at this recreation of a Celtic loch dwelling.

Dewars World of Whisky
There’s a clever blend of the interactive and educational during this innovative peek into the making of Scotland’s national drink.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 822 010

Where to stay
Culdeen Bunkhouses, Fearnan
Unique and friendly family accommodation situated on a hillside.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 519

Kenmore Hotel
Set in the quaint village of Kenmore, this hotel has links to nearby Taymouth Castle.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 830 205

Where to eat
Morenish Lodge,
Enjoy panoramic views of the loch as you sample home-cooked cuisine.
Tel: +44 (0)1567 820 258

Farleyer Restaurant, Aberfeldy
You can choose a casual or formal dining experience here.
Tel: +44 (0)1887 820 332