The Firth of Clyde encloses the largest and deepest coastal waters in the British Isles. It is sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the Kintyre peninsula which encloses the outer firth in Argyll and Ayrshire, Scotland. The Kilbrannan Sound is a large arm of the Firth of Clyde, separating the Kintyre Peninsula from the Isle of Arran. Within the Firth of Clyde is another major island, the Isle of Bute. The Firth's climate enjoys the benefit of the Gulf Stream from America and no visit to Glasgow would be complete without a trip ‘doon the watter’
The Clyde formed an important sea route and from the 16th century onwards, the Clyde became the conduit for commerce and industry, including herring, timber, wine, sugar, tobacco, textiles, iron and steel, coal, oil, chemicals, distilling and brewing, ships, locomotives, vehicles and other manufactured products. Industrialization brought wealth to the middle classes and yachting became popular on the Clyde.
The Working Class enjoyed day trips on the Clyde and from 1812 the first commercial steamboat service in Europe started and Henry Bell's Comet ran a passenger service between Glasgow and Greenock. It later expanded from Glasgow’s Broomielaw Wharves on the north bank or from Clyde Place Quay on the south bank to Campbeltown and Inveraray.
Year after year thousands of Glaswegians boarded steamers to go 'doon the watter' for a day trip or seaside holiday from the Broomielaw. After the opening of the George V Bridge in 1928, the river steamers moved to the south bank. On board people clambered to watch the engines cranking below deck and down the river to observe a succession of Victorian resorts along the shore. Initially the wealthy lived in sandstone villas like Kilcreggan, Blairmore and Innellan and commuted daily to the city then during the summer months local residents let out rooms, and boarding houses developed in Gourock, Helensburgh, Dunoon, Rothesay, Largs and Ayr. Holiday makers flocked to the Clyde coast.
Within ten years there were nearly fifty steamers on the Firth of Clyde, sailing as far as Largs, Campbeltown and Inveraray. Competition was fierce and local laws were introduced to prevent improper competition and rivalry. By 1900 there were over 300 Clyde Steamers operating. The Clyde fleet of paddle-steamers included the Duchess of Hamilton, the Glen Sannox, the Mercury the Marmion and PS Waverley. Most were made by Clyde shipbuilders which stood testimony to the great Clyde ship-building culture.
Doon the watter trips remained popular with Glasgow folks until the early 1960s when new forms of travel and package holidays almost brought the era of Clyde steamboats to a close.
By far the best know steamer from the fleet was The PS Waverley, built in 1946. She sailed from Craigendoran on the Firth of Clyde to Arrochar on Loch Long until 1973. The PS Waverley remains the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world and regularly makes passenger excursions from various British ports.