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I travelled UK's waterways by paddle-steamer – & kids' tickets are just £1

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IT’S a crisp and sunny morning – the perfect climate for gliding along London’s waterways.

As we steam beneath Tower Bridge, motorists and tourists wave down and smile, with any annoyance at their journey being held up having melted away.

Built in 1946, the steamer spent the first 27 years of her life running up and down the Firth of Clyde

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Built in 1946, the steamer spent the first 27 years of her life running up and down the Firth of ClydeCredit: Supplied
As we steam beneath Tower Bridge, motorists and tourists wave down and smile, with any annoyance at their journey being held up having melted away

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As we steam beneath Tower Bridge, motorists and tourists wave down and smile, with any annoyance at their journey being held up having melted awayCredit: Supplied

For this is Waverley, the last remaining ocean-going paddle steamer in the world and a sight to behold with its huge red, white and black stacks protruding upwards from the deck.

Waverley emits a long, deep wail followed by a couple of shorter blasts on the horn, then we continue off along the Thames, steam billowing behind us.

Sheer joy

I had never really understood the romance of taking a trip along this country’s various waterways – until this moment.

The sheer joy at travelling on the last boat of its kind, which has lived and breathed history, is truly something special.

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Built in 1946, the steamer spent the first 27 years of her life running up and down the Firth of Clyde.

 But at the end of the 1973 season, she was deemed too expensive to operate by then-owners CalMac. Thankfully, however, the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society was able to buy her for £1, saving the vessel for future generations.

And it seems as though Waverley’s fortunes are once again turning. Last year was the ship’s most successful for two decades, with passenger numbers up 55 per cent compared with 2022.

This year’s season will build on this success, with the ship calling at ports including Fishguard in Wales and Plymouth for the first time in decades.

Venture down to the engine room

What really makes Waverley stand out from any other vessel like this, though, is the story she has to tell – and while you’re on board the whole boat is free of red tape.

 Passengers are able to venture down to the engine room at will. I spent a good ten minutes listening to the beats of the paddles working hard in the Thames.

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You can quiz the friendly volunteers who work hard to keep everything ticking over.

The average return fare for an adult is £50 – a bargain when you factor in that the daily operating costs for the ship stands at around £20,000

The main part of the summer season – from June 28 to August 25 – will be spent operating along the paddle steamer’s former stamping ground of the Clyde Coast.

The average return fare for an adult is £50 – a bargain when you factor in that the daily operating costs for the ship stands at around £20,000.

And for the first time, child fares are capped at just £1.

You can quiz the friendly volunteers who work hard to keep everything ticking over

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You can quiz the friendly volunteers who work hard to keep everything ticking overCredit: Supplied
Passengers are able to venture down to the engine room at will

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Passengers are able to venture down to the engine room at willCredit: Supplied

 Paul Semple, the ship’s general manager, told The Sun: “In the 50th anniversary year that Waverley was gifted to us for £1, it seems right to offer that to children.

“I’m here as general manager because I sailed as a child and I can remember travelling aboard Waverley on a family day out.

“Now the next generation needs to be sailing with us and making memories.”

WHERE TO TRAVEL WITH WAVERLEY

WAVERLEY will operate from May 17 until October 20 in several areas of the UK:

  • Glasgow and Clyde Coast;
  • Oban and Inner Hebrides;
  • Warrenpoint;
  • Fishguard;
  • Bristol Channel;
  • North Wales and The Mersey;
  • Glasgow and Clyde Coast;
  • South West including Plymouth;
  • South Coast and Isle of Wight;
  • London and Thames Estuary.

For more details see waverleyexcursions.co.uk.

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