Dunoon is a highlands resort town on the Cowal Peninsula looking out across Holy Loch from the Firth of Clyde in the Argyll and Bute Council Area.
The first Dunoon Pier appeared in 1835. The pier was enlarged and a new waiting room constructed in 1867 to cater for the growth of paddle-steamer traffic and this was further improved with a larger 400 foot jetty in 1881. The pier was again rebuilt in 1895 resulting in the two-berth structure broadly as it exists today, with the exception of the modern roll-on/roll-off facilities for vehicles which was added in 2004/5.
The pier entrance building is very striking with red-tiled roofs and strongly detailed timber in chocolate, cream and yellow. A promenade balcony erected in 1937 has not been renewed, though the much-altered entrance buildings from the Pier Esplanade do remain.
Overlooking the pier, is a large statue to Robert Burns’ love Highland Mary, also known as Bonny Mary O’ Argyll, which is located on Castle Hill, just below the remains of the 12th century Dunoon Castle.
Fleets of paddle steamers brought holidaymakers from Glasgow to Dunoon and many other piers right up to the late 1960s and the pier is still visited by the last sea-going paddle steamer in the world, P.S.Waverley. A regular car and passenger ferry service to Gourock Pier across the loch still operates, run by Caledonian MacBrayne.
Starting in Spring 2004, a project to build a new breakwater just south of the main pier was commenced. Completed a year later, this included the installation of a new linkspan alongside the breakwater to enable the operation of roll-on roll-off vehicle ferries in addition to the existing side loading vessels. It also provided a measure of protection to the existing pier. The Principal Civil Engineering Contractor was Edmund Nuttall; they constructed the breakwater. MacGregor (SWE) were appointed to design and build the linkspan. However, a tendering competition to serve the new linkspan between Caledonian MacBrayne and the other local ferry operator Western Ferries failed when both parties withdrew from the tendering process. At the time of writing, the new linkspan remains unused and the breakwater itself is used only by local fishermen and the occasional berthing of the Waverley.
In June 2009, the Waverley was actually grounded and had to be taken out of service after it struck Dunoon Pier in what was described by the Waverley website as ‘landing heavily’. Both the steamer and the pier were damaged and several passengers suffered minor injuries.
By early 2010, the condition of the pier buildings had deteriorated badly and there was a general assumption that they would be demolished. Indeed, at a public meeting early in 2008 to discuss the options for Dunoon’s regeneration under the CHORD project,none of the options included retention of the pier, the proposals for Dunoon having included reclamation of land on the waterfront and the creation of an ‘iconic building’, perhaps a hotel or conference centre.
However, in May 2010, local resident and Argyll and Bute councillor, Ron Simon, raised the proposal that Dunoon Pier had the potential to become a major attraction for the town, rather than an expensive liability. It soon became clear that the majority view in the local community was that the iconic pier should be restored to become such a major attraction for locals and visitors to the town.
As of the end of June 2011 the Gourock – Dunoon vehicle and passenger ferry service no longer used the Victorian pier and it therefore had no specific transport function. However, a strategy document drafted in November 2011 reported that it had become clear from focus group and public consultation feedback that the historical significance of the pier and the potential benefits it could provide for Dunoon waterfont had generated a strong desire for it to be retained and restored.
Argyll and Bute Council thus became committed to the restoration of the pier and a series of detailed surveys were undertaken.