SHE was the largest ever vessel to be built for an inland waterway in Britain - and the last in a long line of steamers to sail on Loch Lomond.

Maid of the Loch, the last traditional paddle steamer built in Britain played host to royal guests and celebrities during 28 years on the water.

Now the 191 feet-long, 430-tonne historic steamer could return to cruising in three years as a restoration campaign has been successful in raising enough to purchase the essential materials and equipment required to recreate both port and starboard paddles.

A recent crowdfunder campaign raised a total of £43,000 for the paddles.

This had triggered a further £15,000 awarded by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS), Britain’s longest established, largest and most successful steamship preservation group.

Jim Mitchell, industrial heritage director said: "This will allow us to finish restoration of the paddles this year and means that when the ship is returned to the loch in 2023, all the below-waterline work will be completed, including, paddles, hull repairs and rudder work, up to the standard required for passenger certification in due course.

"We are hoping that this will give other funders the confidence to invest in the Maid so that we can be sailing by 2025."

The steamer was so large that after being built at A & J Inglis in Glasgow she was dismantled and re-assembled at the loch.

HeraldScotland: The Maid of the Loch winching operation was watched by a big crowd of spectators - many of them volunteers with the ship (Photo - Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images)

Licensed to carry 1000 passengers, making it the largest cruise ship on Loch Lomond, some three million passengers have travelled on it.

Eventually, the attractions of affordable overseas travel had an adverse impact on the Maid’s revenues and passenger numbers.

She was decommissioned in 1981 and in the years following, she suffered what the Loch Lomond Steamship Company (LLSC) described as “a sorry period of neglect, decay and vandalism” until she was bought, in 1992, by Dumbarton District Council.

Four years later, she was rescued by the volunteers of the LLSC, who began taking care of her and raising the substantial funds necessary to get her sailing again.

Two years ago there was a transformation in the engine room, where work has included professional overhaul of the engines, installation of new pipework and a mobile boiler plant erected on the pier.

Now hopes are high that visitors to the Maid will be able to enjoy the ship 'in steam' again and watch her engines and paddles slowly turning.

Sir Boyd Tunnock, a patron of the LLSC who also donated to the appeal as well as sending lots of caramel wafer biscuits to the hard-working volunteers who will be carrying out the repair work.

HeraldScotland: The Maid was winched out of Loch Lomond for a hull survey in 2019 - but with hundreds of people watching on, the cradle on which the ship was sitting failed and she slid back into the water

Over the last 25 years, a loyal band of volunteers has focused every available hour on the Maid's recovery and conservation.

The campaign organisers say repairing the paddles is one of the most challenging jobs of the restoration process.

The money will allow the purchase of new paddle floats, bearings and bushes as well as overhaul of the jenny nettles structure and painting of the interior of the paddle boxes.

The 'jenny nettles' is the arrangement that makes the paddles feather resulting in more efficient propulsion.

On the port side this is misaligned and requires significant refurbishment.

Replacement of the spring beams and the addition of paddle turning gear are also required and are included in the restoration campaign aspirations.