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The Last Run

By Neil Munro

I WENT down to Gourock the other day to take steamer to Lochgoilhead, and experienced great vexation. The steamer waiting for us at the pier was the Chevalier, a worthy vessel for which I have profound respect and veneration, but not a vessel one associates with going to Lochgoilhead.

"This is no' my boat; I ken by the biggin' o't," I said to the mate at the gangway. "What ails the 'Edinburgh'?" "She's off!" said he, quite callously.

"Oh yes," I said; "the vessel overhauled and the boiler scaled, and two fresh lengths of waxcloth in the fore-saloon. I hope she'll be ready for Hogmanay."

He was not so callous after all, for he said with genuine feeling, "No; not this time! She's off for good, I doubt. You'll maybe never see the 'Edinburgh' again."

"What way on earth is she off for good?" I asked, astonished. "Her paddles were going fine when I saw her last; the smell of her soup was as potent as ever; she looked as if she would easily outlast my time."

"By Jove!" said he, "it was time for her! I think you'll admit she earned her rest."

Upon this I went aft on the Chevalier, and sprinkled the deck with tears.

Sent to bed

Here was a great historical landmark sent to bed, and not a word about it in the papers! The Edinburgh Castle was no ordinary boat; she was a national institution, as firmly rooted in the affections of the Firth of Clyde as are the Gantocks.

Since ever I remember she was the most conspicuous feature of Loch Long and Loch Goil; generations of children grew up to man and womanhood in Kilcreggan, Cove, Blairmore, Ardentinny, Carrick, Douglas, and Lochgoilhead, to whom the "Edinburgh" was as beneficent and indispensable as the morning milk. All that was stirring and memorable was associated with her in some way or other.

She brought the papers, and the post, and Glasgow loaves; paraffin oil for winter nights; the Findon haddies and the sausages for Sunday's breakfast; orchestras for the balls, guests for wedding parties, the Summer Girl and "nuts" of the Y.M. more-or-less C.A.

Upon her was made one's first delirious trip to Glasgow; our years of what the Language calls "amaideachd" and "goraiche" had a thousand links with Captain Barr and Archie Muir; with those loud thudding engines, that small galley, those odorous lamps, and windy decks, Fitzgerald's fiddle, or the old blind player's concertina.

She figures in our memories of breathless summer mornings, with Loch Goil a glass reflecting every mountain, and winter voyages through shattering ice from Carrick upwards; of stormy afternoons, in dusk, sheep huddles at the bows, the chink of tea-cups or of glasses, old friends warming round the stove.

Honourable old age

It says little for human gratitude that so old a friend as the "Edinburgh" should retire without some public recognition.

Loch Goil and Loch Long can never be the same again without her. It may be in the minds of her owners to give her less exacting work next summer, some casual job appropriate to honourable and dignified old age, a superannuation duty; but anywhere else than on Loch Long or on Loch Goil she will look an alien.

The retirement of a fine old steamer like that should be an occasion of demonstrative affection. There should have been a muster of all the oldest regular passengers, a valedictory banquet, speeches, flags, and instrumental music.

The piers should be covered with bunting, and the schools should have a holiday. It is scandalous that only the birth of a ship should call forth public sentiment, and the end of her career, unless it be calamitous, be treated with unconcern.

How poignantly sad the thought of that last call of the "Edinburgh" at Lochgoilhead, Douglas, Carrick Castle, Ardentinny, Blairmore, Cove, Kilcreggan!

There she was, looking smart as ever, and yet it was the last of her! How sad the sentiments of the men on shore who loosed the last hawsers. How melancholy her wake as she slipped for the last time down past the old shores!

Loquitur

If a steamboat has a soul (and Joseph Conrad thinks all vessels have), you may be sure it was a melancholy day for the Edinburgh Castle. Such a long time! So many things had happened! She knew everybody on the route.

She nudged the old piles of the piers and said, "Well, so long! I'm off! Gave you a pretty hard whack or two at times, but all in fun. Seems we're getting old, but bless you! I don't feel it! Never was more fit! Perhaps they'll put on one of these flash new boats with a tea-room; just fancy a tea-room! ... Well, well! ... I'm not sure what's going to happen to me: Did my best, and a boat can do no more ... Never drowned a man!"

Some talk about a pension, but you never know in these days ... I like the run. I liked the folk. Perhaps I had my failings, but we got on fine, and understood each other ... Only a few of us left now; I'm glad old Barr is not alive to see this day ... Greeting? Not at all. That's my exhaust. So-long!"

Where there was "life"

In the hotel at Banff in the Rocky Mountains some years ago a Highland waiter spoke to me. I had to look more closely at him to discover he was an old acquaintance, erstwhile a steward on the Edinburgh Castle.

"Why, what are you doing here, Geordie?" I asked him.

"Oh, puttin' bye the time," said he. "I went to South Africa and worked a while, and then came here for a change."

"And how do you like it?" I asked.

"It's no' so bad at all," said he; "but man! I miss the 'Edinburgh' and Lochgoilhead, it's yonder ye saw life!"

For many long years the "Edinburgh" had a fiddler called Fitzgerald, who was not exactly Kreisler, but whose rendering of Nannie wilt thou gang wi' me? and bagpipe imitations was quite tolerable if it was Hogmanay, and you were going home.

His old clothes, and his fiddle seemed so essentially part of him that I was quite astounded one Sunday to meet him in Glasgow going to church with a frock-coat and a tall silk hat - the perfect gentleman; the day before I heard him fiddling to Lochgoilhead.

Fitzgerald is doubtless long since gone; he was succeeded by a blind old man who played the concertina, and seemed to know his regular patrons by smell.

When he disappeared, in deference perhaps to new musical ideals, we all felt that the Lochgoilhead route was getting a bit above itself.

So-long!

And now it's the ship herself! Sneaked off to dock and not a word about her!

Her fires are out; the bar is closed; there is no water left in the fountain with its motto "Waste not, want not"; the joint is off at the galley; the corned-beef's gone; the engine-room is silent; the lights are out, and the stove is cold; the hatch is locked; the ropes are coiled; the crew's gone home.

This article previously appeared in the magazine "Clyde Steamers" by kind permission of Mrs Lesley Bratton, Neil Munro's grand-daughter, a committee member of the Society.