Paddle Steamers used to be status quo of travel globally, these days, you’d be hard pressed to find one. Most stay in inactive preservation and those that do operate are confined to whichever body of water they are operated in. Not the Paddle Stamer Waverley though. She is the last ocean-going paddle steamer in the world.
She isn’t the first PS Waverley though, the original Waverley, built in 1899, served as a passenger steamer down the River Clyde. She served during both World Wars and it was during the historic Dunkirk evacuation, that she was struck by a bomb and sunk with the loss of hundreds of lives.
A second PS Waverley was constructed and launched in 1946. She was originally operated by North East Railway before moving to British Transport Commission. When the railways were nationalized in 1948, she came under the ownership of the British Railway Board.
Through the 1960s, numbers declined for the paddle steamer. By 1973, Waverley officially became the final sea-going paddlesteamer. The ship was withdrawn from service for being too costly.
At this point in the story, we must introduce a charity called the: Paddle Steamer Preservation Society. Set up in 1959, the charity’s focus, as you may be able to guess, was to preserve paddle steamers. The charity had already acquired the Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle in 1967 and was in conversations to become the Waverley’s new owner.
Conversations were finalized and in 1974, for the generous sum of £1, the Waverley was gifted to the preservation society. Although the charity wasn’t sure if Waverley would ever sail again, they appealed for funds to restore the ship. After upgrades and restoration, Waverley Excursion started operating trips onboard the Waverley down the River Clyde in her historically preserved state. She was immediately proved popular with her guests.
Since then, Waverley has proved a popular ship for summer excursions, although based out of Glasgow on the River Clyde, the PS Waverley makes annual trips around the United Kingdom, this unique way of operating has allowed Waverley to stay operational for all this time and she continues her annual round-U.K. trips.
In her more recent history, the Waverley has undergone £7 million complete overhauls, met up with other historic steam vessels such as the SS Shieldhall. In 2010, she visited the wreck site of her former namesake. Wreaths were laid at the site, with the flag being lowered to half mast and a single, solitary blast of the ship’s whistle, saluting the wreck that bears her name.
Waverley has had a long history already, but if she continues to operate well, she will continue to steam around the U.K. for many years to come.
Know Before You Go
Waverley operates out of multiple ports around the U.K. from around April/May to September/October. Make sure to check the schedule to find out if/when you can see her sailing.
It's worth booking well in advance to experience what it's like to travel on this iconic vessel. There are great views of the ship from the Mersey, the Bristol channel and Oban.
One particularly hair-raising excursion is through the gulf of Corryvreckan, but much more sedate runs down the Clyde are available.