IT was the last paddle steamer built in Britain and spent almost three decades on the water before being decommissioned, neglected – and then lovingly restored. 

Now the Maid of the Loch faces yet another challenge as she battles to survive the volatile currents of the coronavirus crisis.

The charity responsible for the Loch Lomond attraction’s upkeep hopes to raise £25,000 to recover some of the income lost during the Covid-19 lockdown.

It comes just months after the Maid’s engines were fired up for the first time in almost four decades following an extensive £1.1 million restoration project.

Jim Logan, a volunteer engineer on the Maid of the Loch, said it may be 2021 before the static attraction can open to visitors once again. 

In a video calling for donations, he said: “After the hard work the staff and volunteers put in over the winter closedown, we had a lot more to offer visitors this season, especially with getting the engine running after 38 years. 

“To see the engine and paddles turning was extra special. 

“The Maid is unique, being the last paddle steamer built in Britain, and is a historic vessel which we really have to protect. 

“We are all desperate to get back on board to continue our work. 

“Normally, from our Easter opening and especially with this great weather, financially we would have been doing quite well. 

“But we may not be able to open at all this season. It could be 2021 before we open again, if we can. 

“As a charity we really rely on visitors’ donations to pay the ship’s running costs, for example insurance, staff, power, security etc. 

“Please make a donation, big or small. Send us a lifeline, so we are here on the Maid to welcome you all back.”

The Maid of the Loch first launched in 1953 with a licence to carry 1,000 passengers.

Advertised as having “commodious saloons” and serving “lunches and teas of the highest quality at popular prices”, she was the last – and largest – in a long line of paddle steamers to sail on Loch Lomond. 

The vessel hosted royal guests, celebrities and three million day-trippers during her 28 years in operation. 

But with the rise of overseas travel, passenger numbers fell and the steamer was decommissioned.

A crowdfunding page set up by the charity Loch Lomond Steamship Company explains: “After cruising the loch until 1981 she was allowed to decay for many years until our volunteers managed to get control of the vessel and began their rescue effort. 

“They have since worked incredibly hard to bring her back to life and recently have even managed to get the engine turning again. 

“The smell of hot steam and oil has filled the engine room once more during our special ‘In Steam’ event days.

“Recent efforts by volunteers to research and collate the ship’s heritage have resulted in contributions from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. 

“So this is about more than the ship - we need to reawaken and preserve these memories.”

The steamer now plays host to tourists, aficionados and a variety of events – including weddings.

The charity said: “Just to operate the ship at the pier costs over £100,000 per annum and we need to raise some of that to keep the Maid going until we can reopen. 

“Costs include insurance, power, staff, licenses and from now on there will be additional costs required to provide safe reopening while meeting new rules for virus control.

“All money raised will be used to keep the ship maintained and safe and allow us to reopen to visitors and events as soon as possible.”

It added: “The Maid has a special place in many peoples’ hearts and we hope she has a little bit of yours. Your donation will help our lovely old lady be ready to welcome everyone once again.”

The fundraiser comes amid widespread fears over how Scotland’s tourism industry will recover from the pandemic.

A new survey found 67 per cent of the tourism firms on the iconic North Coast 500 (NC500) are set to re-open as soon as the go-ahead is given by the Scottish Government.

Accommodation providers, food and drink outlets, retail operators and visitor attractions hope the Highlands will see a staycation boom before the end of this year’s summer season.

A total of 185 tourism businesses from across Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness responded to the NC500 survey between May 14 and 26.

Of these, 86% have had to close due to the pandemic, and 15% feel they are unlikely to reopen.

Half have had to furlough some or all of their staff.

Scotland’s NC500 tourist trail marks its fifth anniversary this summer. What began as an initiative to bring some fresh opportunities to the area was last year estimated to have boosted the economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs.

NC500 business members are now rallying to safeguard jobs, protect the hospitality sector and rebuild public confidence.

Many are planning to adopt new measures to prioritise public health and safety, including contact-free methods of check-in and payment, changing access arrangements for customers and suppliers, in-room dining and personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff. 

Tom Campbell, chairman of NC500, said: “It’s clear from the NC500 Covid-19 business impact survey results that the majority of our members want to see a cautious re-opening of North Highland tourism this summer and are looking forward to welcoming back visitors from across Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

He added: “Seismic change in how Scots and other UK nations holiday as a result of Covid-19 could result in a staycation boom, helping to ensure the success of the NC500, businesses and communities along the route continues through difficult times.”