In a classic example of what happens if you farm copy off the shelf without checking the validity of its currency, Saturday’s Herald magazine carried a feature by Charles Fletcher, Twenty’s Plenty, that can only pick the scab off Helensburgh’s recent sores.
The article – a great idea – focuses on how the SPT £20 Daytripper ticket can be used, with good advance planning on the routes and timetables, to deliver a rich and varied day out, getting you to places and by means not immediately obvious.
The writer homed in, as we had done last year, on the untrumpeted Kilcreggan ferry, which is within SPT’s portfolio – and like us, was drawn to the full diet of the Helensburgh leg.
This has not existed since 1st April 2012.
Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) changed both the service and the contractor for the former ferry between Kilcreggan and Gourock – which also linked to and from Helensburgh.
Without consultation or warning, SPT axed the Helensburgh leg, which had never been marketed. As we had shown when we reported on the experience of the route in early September 2011, this was a wonderfully scenic route providing a useful link between Helensburg and the southern tip of the Rosneath peninsula – and on to Gourock on the east Clyde, with its railhead access to Glasgow.
Mr Fletcher starts from Gourock and says the Seabus: ‘must be the happiest of transports. People get off with a smile, people step on with a smile and it remains thus…’. He describes the route, with the views south to the Cloch Light, west to the Holy Loch and east to the Erskine Bridge. He is enchanted by Kilcreggan – and who could not be. He takes tie out there, love the ambiance and enjoys the food at the lovely little cafe across the road from what must be the most picturesque pier in Scotland.
He boards Seabus again and sets off for Helenburgh, finds ‘Codona’s fair in full belt on the waterfront’, reminds himself – and us – that Helensburgh is as much the home of macaroon ice cream as it is of John Logie Baird. He has coffee in the Commodore, is assumed to be ‘the polis’ because of his shiny shoes and, on his way to the station at Helensburgh Central, notes the enticement of an establishment offering ‘a Turkish haircut’. (We need to know more.)
Then he takes the train back to Glasgow.
What he did not know then and The Herald does not know yet, is that the opportunity he speaks of gone.
From 1st April 2012 the Helensburgh part of the route ceased, leaving a a new contractor to run the route only between Kilcreggan and Gourock.
This has been a noisy controversy for many reasons and it is hard luck for the editorial team of The Herald that the feature promises readers a travel opportunity that cannot now wholly be delivered.
What this does do, though, is deliver evidence of the essential attractiveness and utility of a route that had all the capacity to grow, had it been marketed. This has been a failure of competence, business nous and imagination by SPT’s management. It has left a town in need of every resource it has – bereft of one that added significantly to its connections and its repertoire for visitors and residents alike.
This ferry route was such an appropriate resource for a gracious waterfront town.
So we salute Charles Fletcher’s response to the delights of this experience and mourn the fact that what he tried to do for it came too late.
But the ferry route form Gourock to Kilcreggan and back is still accessible to the SPT Daytripper ticket, those views are still as lovely and Kilcreggan always was the star of the show.
But Helensburgh, while it was connected to it, not only had a reach out to Inverclyde, it benefited from the stardust of Kilcreggan.
The possibility was also there that, if its inclusion on the timetable continued and was actually marketed – a novel notion, Helensburgh itself, in its intent to regenerate, would have had a lot to offer to visitors from the seaways and would have stepped up in spirits with the sheer jollity of the route.