In the last two posts we have seen snapshots of what Balmoral was doing in her Red Funnel days based at Southampton in 1956 and 1966. Today, let’s fast forward another decade to 1976 by which time she was the only vessel running that season on the Bristol Channel for P & A Campbell.
As we have seen in these posts the British weather has ever been variable and seriously impacted the trade of the excursion paddle steamers over the decades. Some summers were wonderful. Some weren’t with the majority a mixture of the two. I remember one seasoned paddle steamer manager telling me back in the 1970s that as a rule of thumb he worked on the basis that on average at least 13 days would be lost each season to the weather. Sometimes it was much more. Sometimes it was much less. But that was the average.
1976 was one of the really good ones with a spectacular heat wave in July providing endless days of baking sunshine and light airs. Temperatures rocketed with a high of 35.9 degrees Centigrade being recorded at Cheltenham on 3rd July. I was living in London at the time and remember how oppressive the heat was and that on reaching home in the evening my instinct every day was to run a cold bath to try to cool down.
So what was Balmoral rostered to do in this lovely summer of 1976?
Sunday 8th August 1976: Leave Swansea (9.20am) for Mumbles (9.40am), Ilfracombe (11.45am) and Lundy (1.30pm – 4.30pm) returning to Ilfracombe (6.20pm) for Mumbles (8.20pm) and Swansea (8.40pm). After that she had to position herself to be ready to start the following day’s trip from Penarth.
Monday 9th August: Leave Penarth (9.30am) for Weston (10.25am with a coach tour offered from Weston to Wells Cathedral) for Ilfracombe (1.40pm) and cruise to Bull Point returning to Ilfracombe (4.15pm), Weston (7.15pm) and Penarth (8.5pm). After that she had to position herself to be ready to start the following day’s trips from Swansea.
Tuesday 10th August: Leave Swansea (9.15am) for Mumbles (9.35am), Ilfracombe (11.45am) and Lundy (1.30pm – 4.50pm) returning to Ilfracombe (6.45pm), Mumbles ( 8.45pm) and Swansea (9.5pm).
Wednesday 11th August: Leave Swansea (9.15am) for Mumbles (9.35am), Ilfracombe (11.45am) and Lynmouth (12.45pm) before returning to Ilfracombe (2pm – 2.30pm) and setting out for an afternoon cruise to Porlock Bay calling at Lynmouth (4.45pm) and then back to Ilfracombe (6pm – 6.20pm) for Mumbles (8.20pm) and Swansea (8.40pm).
Thursday 12th August: Leave Swansea (9.15am) for Mumbles (9.35am), Ilfracombe (11.45 – 12.20pm) and Lundy (2pm – 4.50pm) for Ilfracombe (6.45pm) Mumbles (8.45pm) and Swansea (9.5pm). After that she had to position herself to be ready to start the following day’s sailings from Penarth.
Friday 13th August: Leave Penarth (9am) for Weston (9.50am) for Penarth (10.45am) for Weston (11.35am with the offer of a coach tour in the afternoon from Weston to Bristol Zoo) for Ilfracombe (2.35pm – 3pm) for an afternoon cruise “Along the North Devon Coast passing Hillsborough Hill, Hele Bay, Watermouth Castle and harbour, Combe Martin, Hangman Hills, Heddonsmouth and towards Wooda Bay” before returning to Ilfracombe (4.15pm – 4.30pm) for Weston (7.30pm) for Penarth (8.30pm) for Weston (9pm) where the day ended.
Saturday 14th August: Leave Penarth (9.10am) for Weston (10.5am) for Ilfracombe (1.5pm – 1.20pm) for a non landing “Afternoon Cruise to Lundy Island Roads” returning to Ilfracombe (5.15pm) for Weston (8.15pm) and Penarth ( 9.5pm).
Sunday 15th August: Leave Penarth (9.10am) for Weston (10am with the offer of a coach tour to Lyme Regis, Beer and Sidmouth) for Ilfracombe (1.20pm with the offer of a coach tour to Clovelly and Westward Ho) for Lundy (3.10pm – 5.10pm) before returning to Ilfracombe (6.55pm) for Weston ( 9.55pm) and Penarth (10.45pm).
Monday 16th August: Leave Penarth (9am) for Weston (9.50am) for Penarth (10.45am with the offer of a coach tour of “The Welsh Mountains including Pontypridd, Porth, Rhigos Mountina, Vale of Neath, Bridgend and Porthcawl”) for Weston (11.35am) for Mumbles (2.40pm) and a cruise along the Gower Coast returning to Mumbles (4.30pm), Weston (7.45pm) for Penarth ( 8.45pm) and back to Weston (9.45pm) where the day ended. After that she had to position herself to be ready to start the following day’s trips from Swansea.
And so it was in other weeks with the basic building blocks of the timetable shifted around onto different days to suit the tides. It was a masterly schedule trying to squeeze trip options which a decade earlier had been offered by three ships into the timetable of just one.
In this snapshot Balmoral ran from Swansea on four days and from Penarth on five. She ran to Lundy on four days landing on three of them. Then there were cruises, including along the Devon Coast as well as to Lundy, from Ilfracombe on eight of the nine days with the only day Ilfracombe didn’t feature somewhere in the schedule this week being on Monday 16th when Balmoral was rostered for a cruise along the Welsh Coast from Penarth, Weston and Mumbles instead. In other weeks there were other options also available including a double run across from Swansea to Ilfracombe enabling a sailing from Devon to Mumbles and Porthcawl. And trips from Swansea and Mumbles to Ilfracombe and on to land at Clovelly.
1976 was also the year in which Tony McGinnity joined the board of P & A Campbell. Regular readers of these posts will remember him as a founder member of the PSPS who worked tirelessly for the cause of paddle steamers in the 1960s. He was in the forefront of attempts to save Alumchine, Medway Queen and Kingswear Castle. He bought and ran Consul in 1963 and 1964. And through the agency he set up in Weymouth he handled the sales of various other famous paddle steamer names as they came on the market as the 1960s progressed. And it was Tony who organised the charter of Ryde to come to London from Portsmouth as “Gilbey’s Floating Gin Palace” in 1968. The following year, 1977, he became joint managing director of P & A Campbell with Clifton Smith-Cox.
Kingswear Castle returned to service in 2023 after the first part of a major rebuild which is designed to set her up for the next 25 years running on the River Dart. The Paddle Steamer Kingswear Castle Trust is now fund raising for the second phase of the rebuild. You can read more about the rebuilds and how you can help if you can here.
This article was first published on 6th August 2021.