Millport Illuminations 2001

After a very well supported Friday sailing, Balmoral was ready for the afternoon departure from Waverley Terminal at Glasgow Anderston Quay by 3pm on Saturday 22 September 2001. Already well loaded, she slipped down the river passing the new Clyde scenery at the SECC and Glasgow Science Centre, off with a party of revellers to the annual Millport Illuminations, a long standing Clyde tradition, centred on the Glasgow Autumn holiday weekend that marks the traditional end to the Clyde sailing season.

Two hours later Balmoral was approaching Helensburgh (after a call at Greenock) where it was announced to intending passengers that the ship was fully booked and only pre-booked ticket holders could be taken.

As she approached the pier her new temporary livery was shown to advantage, despite they grayness of the atmosphere. She sported a red funnel with black top, the two being separated by a thin white band. In addition the forward and side plating of her bridge had been painted dark brown to simulate a traditional wooden structure. These alterations had been carried out while the vessel had lain at Glasgow the previous Wednesday / Thursday and were made to prepare her for a role that she was to play in a BBC Gaelic drama set in the Hebrides at the start of the Great War. Originally the funnel was painted buff / black but this was changed to red / black as she was playing the part of one of the traditional mail steamers of the old David MacBrayne fleet. (If anyone has a photo of the buff / black funnel send it to the Webmaster for publication.) The new livery drew much approval, it being commented that it gave the vessel a more imposing look and reinforced her bond with Waverley - although the very narrow white band prevented the arrangement from being termed WSN livery. The only detraction of the scheme was that the traditional Campbell green boot topping does not combine well with the red funnel. If the livery lasts until the vessel returns to Bristol next week, it will be interesting to hear the comment of Channel enthusiasts.

By the time that Balmoral had left Largs on the final leg of the outward voyage she had a full complement of party mood passengers. She was early as she rounded to starboard to enter Millport Bay and the traditional bonfire there was yet unlit, however, Balmoral's arrival signaled the that ignition should commence and by the time Britain's most travelled excursion ship threaded her way through the rocky Eileans to the pier, the conflagration was well established sending a cloud of wood smoke across to the mainland.

Also well alight were hundreds of the little candle like lights that are a long tradition of the Millport Illuminations festival. They were spread across the shore of the nearest of the Eileans, shimmering as they burned and provided a surreal effect as the last light of day died beyond the distant lofty peaks of Arran.

Pursers Pat Murrell and Walter Bowie oversaw the disembarkation of the 700 plus passengers, reminding them to be back for sailing by 9pm as the next sailing from the pier would not be until Spring 2002. Balmoral made a fine sight, as she lay at the pier in the gathering darkness illuminated by her own lights and those of the town.

As the light failed we looked out to the neighbouring isle of Little Cumbrae and were reminded of the sermon of the one time minister of the parish, who famously prayed to the Almighty for the well-being of the Greater and the Lesser Cumbrae and the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland.


A masterful capture of the island's independent spirit which lives on today in its determination to meet the challenges on a Victorian resort in the 21st Century - the superb window displays and pyrotechnics extravaganza is a present-day embodiment of that spirit. One of the cards in the special Illuminations displays summed up Millport's optimism, proclaiming......


At 9pm with her 700 passengers aboard, Iain Quinn thanked the locals of Millport for their support of Waverley and Balmoral in 2001 and looked forward to Waverley's return in the spring of 2002. Captain Steve Colledge rang down to take Balmoral astern from the pier, but Balmoral didn't move. For some minutes she refused to leave Millport, her bow having settled into the soft sandy bed of the bay. To help Balmoral take her leave passengers co-operated with the skipper's request to move aft, the redistribution of 'cargo' being enough to lift her fore peak off the sand and dig her screws into the deeper water astern.

With that help, her powerful Sirron diesels, incredible in their longevity, pulled the veteran motorship off and astern through the Eileans where she turned for the Largs Channel and retraced her outbound wake all the way back to Glasgow Anderston Quay, arriving there in the 'wee sma' hours of Sunday. While some of our happy partygoers may have experienced more Millport Hallucinations than Illuminations it had been a night to remember - if they manage to remember it! That old Clyde tradition - the Millport Illuminations - had been celebrated again with some style and gusto!

Stuart Cameron

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