THE charity which owns the Maid of the Loch says it plans to re-open the historic ship to visitors next month.

And the chairman of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company (LLSC) has praised the “magnificent” support shown by members of the public over the last few weeks to keep the restoration plans for the vessel afloat.

The Maid – the last paddle steamer ever built in Britain – has been closed to visitors throughout the coronavirus crisis, with all of the charity's paid staff furloughed and all work on restoring the vessel brought to a halt.

But the LLSC now hopes to welcome the first post-lockdown visitors back to the ship at her Balloch Pier berth in August – and is busy working on measures to ensure safety and compliance with physical distancing guidelines.

READ MORE: Maid of the Loch 'needs urgent financial help' to survive lockdown, charity warns

John Beveridge told the Advertiser that donations made to the charity during and since an online crowdfunder totalled £21,000.

He said: “In the four weeks of the campaign, donations have come in from all over the UK and abroad.

"It shows just how much support the Maid has and that people are determined to see her being successful.

“A huge thank you to everyone who helped reach this marvellous total.

READ MORE: Maid of the Loch's engines fired up for the first time in four decades

"This will enable us to concentrate on re-opening the Maid in August and to earn some money before the end of the season.”

The Maid hasn't sailed since 1981, when her programme of Loch Lomond cruises was cancelled amid falling passenger numbers.

As part of the restoration project, the ship's engines were fired up last October for the first time in 38 years.

To keep her in the public eye, the LLSC launched a "virtual cruise" initiative during lockdown, giving members of the public a chance to buy a ticket and view an online gallery showing just what a cruise on board the ship would have been like to a passenger in her early days in service.

READ MORE: Maid of the Loch aims for sell-out 'cruise' to mark 67 years since ship first sailed

Built at the Clydeside yard of A. & J. Inglis in Pointhouse, Glasgow – the same birthplace as the world-famous PS Waverley – the Maid entered service in May 1953.

Because of the nine bridges and two weirs on the River Leven, which links the Clyde and Loch Lomond, the ship had to be transported in pieces from Glasgow to Balloch and rebuilt on the lochside before her maiden voyage.

Mr Beveridge added: “We have a lot to do to comply with the Covid guidelines, from looking at a one way system round the ship, to what tearoom facilities can be offered.

“We need to make sure our volunteers and visitors will be, and will feel, safe.”

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