AFTER it was decommissioned and left to rot, the Maid of the Loch became an easy target for hordes of plundering opportunists.

The iconic paddle steamship, laid up at Lomond Shores, had its assets well and truly stripped clean – with items of significant natural heritage going missing.

Yet, despite the unsavoury chapter in its history, there is renewed hope that the famous ship could be restored to its former glory, complete with many of its original fittings.

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The Loch Lomond Steamship Company, which in 1996 took responsibility for restoring the Maid, has issued an amnesty appeal to try and help find some of her missing parts.

The call comes as the charity makes its final crowdfunding push to complete the restoration.

John Beveridge, the group's chair, said: "We hope this appeal will capture people's hearts and imaginations, and that those who may have pieces of the ship will consider returning them.

"After a local appeal a few years ago, the ship's bell was returned to us anonymously. It was in good condition and had clearly been kept by someone who wanted to protect this important piece of the Maid's heritage. Recently the ship's wheel was also returned to us anonymously."

Mr Beveridge added: "We are so grateful to the kind people who preserved and returned the bell and the wheel - such important parts of the ship's heritage.

"They will be vital to our current efforts to restore the ship and we hope this example will inspire others to take a look at their collections and consider returning any items they find from the Maid.

"We have a generous pledge of £3.8million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and we are currently working to raise the match funding for this.

"So the Maid has a genuine, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity right now to sail again, and we hope this might inspire people to help us to restore the ship both by donating and helping us to recover lost pieces of the ship."

Three weeks ago the Loch Lomond Steamship Company launched a crowdfunding campaign with a target to raise £125,000 in just six weeks, to buy and install the special steam boiler that will power the engine and thus restore the "Heart" of Maid of the Loch.

For more information, including how to help with the fundraising efforts, visit maidoftheloch.org