THE Fair Fortnight was a Glasgow institution, when factories closed down and families headed for the seaside.

Rarely observed with quite as much vigour nowadays, for many Glaswegians of a certain vintage it still evokes memories of picnics on the sand, paddling in the sea, and dodging the showers.

Glasgow Times: Avoiding the showers, 1965Avoiding the showers, 1965 (Image: Newsquest)

Now, a new exhibition celebrates the rise of these Clyde seaside resorts and the golden era of steamboat travel “doon the watter”.

Dream Destinations charts the popularity of sailing to Largs, Ayr, Millport, Rothesay and beyond for a day trip or short break (now called a staycation, of course) during the Victorian era.

Glasgow Times: One of the vintage posters on display.One of the vintage posters on display. (Image: Scottish Maritime Museum)

It’s being staged, appropriately enough, in a seaside hotspot which has long been a favourite of Glasgow families.

The Scottish Maritime Museum’s Linthouse building on Irvine Harbourside will play host to the display until October 1.

The exhibition also delves into the rivalry between railway and steamship companies as they competed for tourist income.

Glasgow Times: A young holidaymaker at Glasgow Central, c1930sA young holidaymaker at Glasgow Central, c1930s (Image: Newsquest)

Highlights include scenic landscapes captured by the Scottish Colourists, railway posters and photographs drawn from the museum’s national art collection.

At first, only the wealthy could afford to travel for pleasure. With the introduction of steamship and rail services at affordable prices, the western coast of Scotland became a dream destination within reach of those wanting to escape the city and their daily routine.

In Glasgow, workers escaped the factories and shipyards for a day on a Clyde steamer.

Glasgow Times: The Clyde Coast travel poster by Alasdair MacFarlane c.1956The Clyde Coast travel poster by Alasdair MacFarlane c.1956 (Image: Scottish Maritime Museum)

Though the resorts, boats and trains could be overcrowded, it was a refreshing alternative to summer in the city and it became especially popular during the Glasgow Fair Weekend.

The new seaside resorts offered holidaymakers outdoor swimming pools, cinemas, amusements, dance halls and more.

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On board the trains and boats, the rail and steam companies worked hard to ensure the journey was as exciting as the destination, with well-stocked bars and silver service catering and, on the steamships, live bands and games. 

At first, the railway and steamship companies worked together. Train lines were extended with many terminating near local ports or famous lochs, making it easier for travellers to depart the steam trains for steamboats, taking them on to their holiday destination.   

Glasgow Times: Crowds of holidaymakers in Glasgow Central Station c1930sCrowds of holidaymakers in Glasgow Central Station c1930s (Image: Newsquest)

Glasgow and Greenock Railway was one of these companies, opening a new line along the south bank of the Clyde to meet up with sailings.

The trains terminated at Greenock’s Cathcart Street Station, located only a few minutes’ walk from the town’s Steamboat Quay.

Co-operation sometimes stalled and, in some cases, the rail companies and steamship services competed.

Frustrated by having to rely on independent steamboat operators, the Caledonian Railway Company decided instead to buy steamers of their own and create the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.

This became the Clyde’s most popular steamer company until steamships fell out of regular use with the arrival of turbine-driven vessels and, eventually, ferries.

Eva Bukowska, exhibitions and events officer at the Scottish Maritime Museum, explains: “As more and more of us choose to holiday at home and explore the beautiful islands and mainland of Scotland, we thought it was the perfect time to display our fabulous collection of travel posters and paintings and explore the attractions of ‘going doon the watter’.

“It wasn’t always plain sailing and our exhibition uncovers the changing relationship between the railway and steamship companies as travel, once only accessible to the wealthy, came within reach for everyone.

“It is a fascinating story which visitors of all ages will enjoy.”


Send us your memories of this famous Glasgow holiday. Nowadays, it is far less strictly adhered to, but many still have memories of trips “doon the watter” to Rothesay and Millport, or the shows arriving at Glasgow Green.

Send your stories and photos to or write to Ann Fotheringham, Glasgow Times, 125 Fullarton Drive, Glasgow, G32 8FG.
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