The Isle of Bute lies off western Scotland, one of a handful of islands in the mouth of the River Clyde, north of the well-known Isle of Arran, and almost touching those fingers of Argyll that jut out into the Atlantic. I came across Bute in an article in the Sunday Independent about the marriage of Stella, daughter of Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles fame. My road atlas showed me there was a railway between Wemyss Bay, (where the Bute ferry sets sail,) and Prestwick Airport, home of the cheap cheapo RyanAir, (God Bless Them!) So with tickets costing pennies my wife and I and two kids flew to Ayrshire. Prestwick Airport is a dream compared with London Airports...you just pick up your gear, up an escalator and onto the train! And good ol' RyanAir has a deal that your train fare is half-price! More good news at Wemyss Bay: two spanking new luxury ferries leaving every 45 minutes with a fare of just over a fiver. The 35 minute crossing had simply astounding views of islands and water, old lighthouses and pretty stone houses along the waterfront of Bute.
We landed at Rothesay Habour, direct in the centre of Rothesay town, a huddle of old shops and offices around the walls of an ancient castle. Honour and the tourist office dictated we visit the castle, the museum, the Victorian lavatories and eat greasy fish and chips. It was interesting to see a large painted sign on the chippie claiming to be the best in Scotland, or Britain or the world, and it really doesn't say much about the standard of the rest of them! Still that will teach me I guess; perhaps fish and chips tastes better when you're 16? My second mistake was the "boutique" hotel the tourist office sent us to. I'm pretty sure the boutique is IKEA and having spent all their energy on making the furniture there's no energy left for the civil welcoming for the guests! Enough complaining! We slept, left without their industrial sausage and egg, and walked out of Rothesay north along a coastal road lined with fine stone buildings looking out across the water to the Argyll hills.
Three miles meandering brought us to a tiny fishing and yacht habour, Port Bannatyne. Right in the centre by a stone-pier where the seafood is landed, stands a traditionanal stone-built village inn, The Port Royal Hotel, with a sign proclaiming "RUSSIAN TAVERN". What a find. A Russian family had taken over this fishermen's pub and turned it into a remarkable hostelry, rivalling a London gastropub for good food, real ales and cosy comfort. Here we ate real fresh seafood, relaxed over a pint or two and discovered they had four very economical guestrooms. We booked in! The views were amazing, the company delightful and after a good walk up the neighbouring hills and back, we ate dinner: langoustines, Hare Goulash and baked pheasant. What a meal and what a place!
After breakfast we took a little bus from outside the tavern back to Rothesay and south along the coast road about 8 miles to Mount Stuart House. Another hidden Gem! In amongst woodland and gardens is a Victorian Gothic masterpiece which Hollywood should have discovered years ago for some Tale of Mystery. It was here that Stella McCartney was married in the Italian marble chapel, just left, right and left again...along a panelled cloister...just round the corner...across a grand hall..ah there it is!! My words cannot do this justice so here I'll put their website for you to marvel at in private: http://www.mountstuart.com/
From Mount Stuart we wandered further south along the one road to Kilchattan Bay. A pony-riding stable, and a friendly horsey lady were to make my kid's day. They went horsing down an empty sandy beach allowing my wife and I to surprise the couple running a well-detached Victorian hotel overlooking the sea. A tinkling bell as we entered, faded tartan carpets leading to a bar straight from the 50s or 40s. I fully expected Peter Sellers with one of his character voices to serve us, but it was just a hard-worked young couple. They told us that until last year the snooker table had been under a large canopy advertising KitKat cigarettes....now that is 1940s! Wonderful views and we were able to watch the equine progress of our kids. In the hills from Kilchattan Bay is an Iron Age fortified settlement and the ruins of the 6th century St. Blanes Chapel. A fine walk with atmospheric remains to inspect. Inspect we did with rumbling stomachs,and down the hills to carch the bus back to the Famous Russian Tavern. Beef Strogonoff tonight and probably one too many pints of Real Ale poured directly from the casks on the bar, listening to a young man playing Oscar Petersen style at the tavern piano. Slept like four logs. Next day we took the open-decked tour bus to the west of the island and were dropped off at Scalpsie Bay. Well, two fields away from Scalpsie Bay as this great bite of sandy cove has no road, very few visitors but over 200 seals lying about pretending to look like rocks, The Russians had told us they came here to pick blackberries in September and sure enough between sand and field was a magnificent stand of brambles waiting for autumn! The view beyond the sea is the mountains of Arran, a sight that remains embedded in my retina. After annoying the seals to our content, we walked inland following winding lanes through woodland and fields to Loch Fad, where rowboats are for hire, and anglers pull out perch and pike and trout. Not for us. We took to the hikers' trail, The West Island Way, and through moor and bog and forest came back to Port Bannatyne and our Russian hosts. An evening of tales and repartie while we had another distinguished meal, their Beef Strogonoff served with latkes, red cabbage and sauerkrout.
Early next morning, after breakfast, we boarded a minibus outside the tavern which took us to the very north of the island, where a minor shuttle ferry goes over the water for ten minutes to the Argyll mainland. The bus climbed high above the coast giving splendid views of highlands and islands. An hour along a single track road eventually brought us to the town of Dunoon, which once rivalled Blackpool as a seaside resort for Glaswegians. Taking the route they would have taken home, we used the ferry across to Gourock, another Victorian bucket-and-spade strand. We walked up the prom and had ice-cream,... why not? Then the train back to Prestwick Airport, dear RyanAir and London in one hour. So that was The Isle of Bute in a long weekend. I've written this up because I find it astounding that somewhere so close to Glasgow is completely undeveloped by tourism, industry or retirement homes, and living in another age completely. Hope that's of help to someone!
General Travel Advice: http://traveldirectory.org.uk
Russian Tavern: http://butehotel.com
Tourist Information details: http://www.scotland.org.uk/guide/Isle_of_Bute_Guide
Posted by Susan Kensington at 03:52 0 comments
Revision as of 21:18, 21 January 2009
The Isle of Bute is an island in the Firth of Clyde, off the west coast of Scotland.
There are 2 ferry routes to Bute from the Scottish mainland.
Caledonian MacBrayne ferries run from Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde, to Rothesay, the only town on the island, and from Colintraive on the Cowal Peninsula, to Rhubodach in the north of the island.
In summer the paddle steamer Waverley calls at Rothesay on excursions.
First Scotrail trains run from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay, and connect with the ferries. Rail/ferry through tickets are available.
Wemyss Bay is just a few miles from the western end of the M8 motorway, via the A8 and A78, and so is easily accessible from the UK motorway network. Both of the ferry routes carry vehicles.
Wemyss Bay is within easy reach of both Glasgow International and Glasgow Prestwick airports.
Bute Airfield can be used by private light aircraft.
The only town on the island is Rothesay, and it is here that the majority of visitors arrive, on the ferry from Wemyss Bay. Rothesay is located mid-way along the east coast of the island.
Other villages on the island include:
West Coast Motors run bus services on the island. Tel: 01586 552319.
Cycling is the perfect way to explore the island. Cycle hire is available from The Bike Shed, located just a short distance along the shoreline from the ferry terminal in Rothesay. Tel: 01700 505515.
The Kyles of Bute, the narrow straits that separate the northern end of the island from the Cowal Pensinsula, are a designated National Scenic Area.
Mount Stuart House, Kerrycroy, Isle of Bute (south on the coast road from the ferry some 6 miles), ☎ 01700 503877, . 11 to 5pm Sunday to Friday, 10 to 2.30 on Saturdays. Everyday at Easter weekend, then from 1st May to 30th Sept.. Britain's most spectacular Victorian Gothic House set in parkland of 200 acres, planted with species brought from all over the world. There is a shuttle bus from the ferry port at Rothesay, and service buses to Kerrycroy and Kilchattan Bay.
Putting and golf.
BBQ if its not raining.
Port Bannatyne Petanque Club, Recreation Ground, Port Bannatyne (North along the coastroad 3 miles from the ferry). Boules and mesaures may be hired from the Post Office, or the Anchor Tavern.
Loch Fad Fishing, Loch Fad, Isle of Bute (West from the ferry along High Street skirting the castle, after a mile there is a track to the right of the road), ☎ 01700 504871, . The deep loch is stocked with trout. Pike, perch and roach may be fished. Boats and rods may be hired£16 day permit.
Rothesay Castle, Rothesay (In the heart of Rothesay), ☎ 01700 502691. Open all year. Oct to Mar closed Thurs pm and Fridays.. A compound castle adding to a very early fortification and increased in structure by the Vikings. To the rear of the castle is Bute Museum.
Port Bannatyne Golf Club, Mains Road, Port Bannatyne, ☎ 01700 504270, . 13 holes, club house, fantastic views, friendly club, kit for hire.
Ascog Hall Fernery, Ascog Hall, Ascog, Bute (South along the coast road 4 miles), ☎ 01700 504555, . Mid April until Mid October 10 to 5. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. A veritable tropical jungle in a Victorian glasshouse. Bus to Mount Stuart stops off here.
Rothesay Victorian Lavatories, Ferry terminal, Rothesay, ☎ 01700 505146. Open all year. A shrine to Victorian ablutions...you simply have to do it here!10 pence!.
Loch Fad Freshwater Fishing, Loch Fad, Isle of Bute (West from Rothesay, up High Street alongside the Castle, then a mile west and take track to the right hand side of the road.), ☎ 01700 504871, . Deep loch stocked with trout. Pike, perch, and roach are fished. Rods and rowing boats are available for hire.£16 per day. Concessions.
Bute Museum, Rothesay, Isle of Bute (outside the castle walls to the west, ie furthest away from the ferry), ☎ 0700 505067. Open all year. Oct - Mar Tues to Sun 1430 to 1630. £1.20.
The Russian Tavern at The Port Royal Hotel (Port Bannatyne, Rothesay), 37 Marine Road (North along the coast road from Rothesay some 3 miles. Right on the seafront), ☎ 01700 505073, . 12.00-23.00. Not a theme-bar but an authentic Russian Restaurant serving excellent cuisine. Chris Evans on his BBC Radio Two programme recommended this little spot for free-ranged highland cattle beef that had a special flavour from eating the seaweed. Fishing boats land their catch just outside, so the seafood is not just fresh, but live! The langoustines (crayfish) are a delight, and a large platter served with freshly baked bread and home mayonaisse costs only £12! Certainly a place to try when visiting Bute.Medium.
The Port Royal Hotel, Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute (North along coast road from the ferry 3 miles), ☎ 01700 505073, . checkin: 12 midday; checkout: 12 miday. Seashore village inn offering budget B&B in four guestrooms, and in The Russian Tavern serving all day freshly landed seafood and a la carte Russian dishes. Real ales are served direct from the barrel and there is a wide selection of Russian beers, wines and vodkas.£64 double.