|The final British 'classic' cross-channel railway passenger ship, the Avalon of the Harwich-Hook of Holland route perhaps laid claim to being the most beautiful and powerful-looking of them all. Yet she was almost outdated when she was built - replacing the old Duke of York of 1935, she entered service just seven years before the introduction of the first Harwich car ferry, the St George of 1968. It is intriguing therefore that this last traditional passenger ship was actually named by the arch-moderniser of the railways, Dr Richard Beeching, in a ceremony at Harwich on July 25th 1961. Whether she should ever have been built is debatable, at least in the form of a pure passenger ship. British Railways did however build into the ship's design one alternative function which she fulfilled during the off-peak season - that of part-time cruise ship. Consequently, the Avalon was fitted out to an unusually high standard and throughout her Harwich career short cruises to various destinations around Europe and beyond were offered - Portugal, Spain, Morrocco, Scandinavia being typical destinations in addition to around-Britain sailings.
Yet the Avalon's destiny was ultimately, inevitably, to lie as a vehicle ferry; the introduction of the second British car ferry at Harwich, the St Edmund of 1974, ended her mainline role at that port. With BR now desperate for additional car-carrying capacity around the UK, she was sent to Swan Hunters on the Tyne for the conversion which stripped out her two lower decks (mainly comprising cabins) for use as car garages. With a capacity for 210 cars loaded via a stern door, her new career would be on the Irish Sea, starting on the Fishguard-Rosslare run in July 1975. In 1979 she was replaced by the chartered Stena Normandica and moved north to Holyhead for the Dun Laoghaire run (on which route she had previously relieved on occasion since the conversion). The end was near however - at Holyhead she was largely a reserve ship and in September 1980 she was sold for scrap, assuming the name Valon.
A career of under 20 years was a sad reflection on a ship that was badly conceived - not only a passenger ferry that should have been a car ferry, but a steamer that should have been diesel-driven. The former was resolved (partly) by the 1974/75 conversion. The steam power though was perhaps why she did not see further service beyond Sealink - like several of her fleetmates with similar propulsion, there was simply no market for these ships in the 1980s. Uneconomical for their existing owners, fine ships like the Avalon, Earl Leofric, Earl Siward, Caledonian Princess, Maid of Kent, Caesarea and Sarnia failed to find any significant sea-going careers after they were sold out of the railway fleets. The best that could be hoped for a fortunate couple was static use as nightclub/restaurants. Avalon was not one of the lucky ones and in January 1981 she arrived on the beaches at Gadani in Pakistan to be broken up.