Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cruising on the Balmoral

One of the many discoveries we have made since coming to live in Anglesey is that each year we receive a visit from MV Balmoral, a restored excursion steamer, which offers a number of different cruises in the area. Last year I saw the vessel approaching Menai Bridge Pier and was impressed with its stately passage along the Menai Strait. I determined to sail on her this year.

We slowly pulled away from the landing stage and immediately turned to pass beneath the two bridges. It was fascinating to do this as we had a view of the bridges not normally seen. From the deck the mast seemed to just slip beneath the steel arch of the Britannia Bridge. We passed an island in the Strait which had a house on it and the photo shows this. You can see that we had some very heavy clouds to accompany us.

As we sailed up the Strait it was fascinating to see both sides from a new angle. Beaumaris looks very attractive from this angle. Its castle looks very squat too. We continued past Anglesey turning to port to pass Puffin Island on its west side. I discovered that there are some ruined buildings on the far side of Puffin Island, invisible from Black Point which is a favourite place of ours. Now we were into open water as we sailed along the North Wales coast parallel to the A55. It is surprising how far the sands stretch from the mainland as the tide ebbs.

Eventually we reached the Great Orme and I was trying to guess which cave had been shown on the BBC programme, Coast. As we sailed past we saw the vintage coach taking passengers along the road that encircles the Great Orme. I remembered a day some years ago when I too drove along that road with a late work colleague, Tom Grinter. The Balmoral turned when it reached Little Orme and we began to sail back towards Anglesey.

The ship itself is lovingly maintained and cared for. Each year she receives much attention during the winter months to prepare for the next sailing season. Originally built in 1949 she was designed for excursion work which was then very popular with holidaymakers. Her final days were spent on excursions around the Bristol Channel. She was rescued by a group of enthusiasts who had already bought the Waverley, sole surviving paddle steamer languishing as a failed floating restaurant. Both ships have been lovingly restored and are are of a similar age. The Waverley was bought for just one pound! A lot of Heritage Lottery Fund money has ensured the survival of these two ships. Like the restoration of steam locomotives, they have to be able to do their original job in order to be truly appreciated.

Long may MV Balmoral keep sailing and we look forward to seeing her again next year when we hope to sail in her around the entire island.


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