Loch Lomond is the largest expanse of freshwater in the British Isles. The loch is 22½ miles long, its greatest breadth near the southern extremity is about 5 miles and its greatest depth 623 feet. The River Falloch enters Loch Lomond from Glen Falloch at the head of the loch and the River Endrick near Balmaha in the south-east. At Balloch which is situated on the southern shore, the River Leven connects the loch to the Firth of Clyde. The Loch Lomond steamers apart from the second-hand P.S. Princess Patricia and P.S. Queen Mary, were built at various shipyards on the upper and lower Clyde and, with the exception of P.S. Maid of the Loch which was dismantled and re-assembled because of its large size, were either sailed or hauled up the River Leven to enter the loch.
The first steamer appeared on Loch Lomond in 1818 just a few years after Henry Bell’s pioneering steamship The Comet was launched in 1812. David Napier inspired by Bell’s Comet built the Marion, a 60 ft. wooden steamer, and plied the loch carrying tourists. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs were made popular by the works of Sir Walter Scott such as his novel Rob Roy and his narrative poem Lady of the Lake published in 1810. A few years later a group of businessmen established The Loch Lomond Steam Boat Company buying a rival steamer, The Lady of the Lake. Competition was fierce with a succession of companies being formed and new and bigger steamers capitalising on the newly emerging tourist trade. With the arrival of the railways in Balloch in July 1850, the steamers connected with the passenger trains making Loch Lomond accessible for many people.
Cruising remained popular and The Loch Lomond Steam Boat Company was eventually taken over by the North British Steam Packet Company. Through a succession of acquisitions and nationalisation of the railways, the last steamer, Maid of the Loch, transferred to Caledonian MacBrayne and was withdrawn from service in 1981. Maid of the Loch, the last conventional paddle steamer to be built in Great Britain has been in the ownership of The Loch Lomond Steamship Company, a registered charity, since 1996 and is undergoing renovation with the aim of returning the Maid to steam operation in 2013.