THE Maid of the Loch’s first visitors of 2020 were welcomed on board the historic ship at her Balloch Pier berth last week.

The famous paddle steamer has been closed off to visitors since the Covid-19 lockdown took effect five months ago.

But following the easing of restrictions, and the green light for museums and heritage attractions to re-open, the Maid’s first visitors stepped on board last Thursday morning.

More followed over the weekend, and our photographer Lesley Roberts snapped just a few of those who visited on Saturday, August 22.

John Beveridge, chair of the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, the charity that owns the Maid, said: “A huge thank you to our staff and volunteers who have been working so hard to prepare the ship for opening.

“The effect of the lockdown has hit us hard because we’ve been closed since last October and now face another winter with no income until Easter 2021.”

READ MORE: Waverley's operators launch new emergency fund-raising appeal

The Maid of the Loch underwent a £1.1 million refit last year, refurbishing two of the main public rooms in the style of her original 1950s design, and rebuilding her majestic steam engines.

“We had the engines in steam again this weekend, as this was very popular last year,” John continued.

“We had great feedback, and some visitors were even in tears at the sight of the paddles turning again after 39 years.”

The charity has faced many challenges in preparing to open again. To socially distance, there is a one-way system in operation, with barriers to guide visitors on board onto one gangway, and off by a second gangway.

A series of arrows and markers direct visitors to a “down” stairway, and a clockwise route round the main deck to the engines and toilets.

An “up” stair brings people back up to the promenade deck.

Staff and volunteers are always on hand to assist.

READ MORE: LiveArgyll confirms Helensburgh swimming pool re-opening date

John continued: “We have invested in protective equipment, signage, and strict cleaning routines. Our top priority is the safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors.

“Our new café is takeaway only, and seating indoors and on deck is the required two metres apart.

“This means we limit numbers on board to around 90.

“Having said all that, we have been working just as hard to provide new activities and displays.

“A film show, three new games and tasks for children, and the wheelhouse open for the first time means there is something new for everyone.”

Maid of the Loch is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, 11am until 5pm, until the end of October (closed Mondays and Tuesdays).

Click here for more Helensburgh and Lomond headlines