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Isle of Bute

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The Isle of Bute[1] is an island in the Firth of Clyde, off the west coast of Scotland.

Get in

By Sea

There are 2 ferry routes to Bute from the Scottish mainland.

Caledonian MacBrayne[2] 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[3] calls at Rothesay on excursions.

By Rail

First Scotrail[4] trains run from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay, and connect with the ferries. Rail/ferry through tickets are available.

By Car

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.

By Air

Wemyss Bay is within easy reach of both Glasgow International and Glasgow Prestwick airports.

Bute Airfield can be used by private light aircraft.

Orientation

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:

  • Ascog
  • Ardbeg
  • Kerrycroy
  • Kilchattan Bay
  • Kingarth
  • Port Bannatyne
  • Straad
  • Rhubodach

Get around

By Bus

West Coast Motors[5] run bus services on the island. Tel: 01586 552319.

By Bike

Cycling is the perfect way to explore the island. Cycle hire is available from The Bike Shed[6], located just a short distance along the shoreline from the ferry terminal in Rothesay. Tel: 01700 505515.

See

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, [7]. 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.


Do

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, [8]. 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, [9]. 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, [10]. 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!.


Buy

  • Loch Fad Freshwater Fishing, Loch Fad, Isle of Bute (West from Rothesay, up High Street alongsid the Castle, then a mile west and take track to the right hand side of the road.), 01700 504871, [11]. 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, othesay, 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.


Eat

Drink

Sleep

  • Russian Tavern at The Port Royal Hotel, Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute (North along coast road from the ferry 3 miles), 01700 505073, [12]. checkin: 12 midday; checkout: 12 miday. Seashore village inn ofering 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.

Contact

Visiting the Isle of Bute =

From the little port of Wemyss Bay, (pronounced "weems") proud new ferries sail across to Bute in just thirty-five minutes, a half hour of dramatic scenery peering across the sea to islands and mountains. The ship ties up in Rothesay, a huddle of old-time bakers, butchers and grocers around the grey stone walls of the 9th century castle. Right by the ferry terminal is a long low building housing a shrine to Victorian ablutions, all marble urinals, porcelain Water-Closets and cast-iron flushing cisterns. Here you can relieve yourself in glorious imperial splendour! Outside, along the seafront, well kept gardens divide town from beach for the veterans to stretch their legs and sniff the blooms. Fountains sparkle among palm trees, quite a surprise at this latitude, but evidence that the warm waters of the Gulf Stream still lick the west coast of Scotland.

Behind the promenade park, a line of freshly painted villas, the same vintage as the public toilets, display their home-painted signs declaring "B&B" and "Guesthouse." Hanging baskets of flowers and tubs of shrubs dress the columns of each doorway where Mrs. McClusky or James Cameron fuss over the new arrivals that have come over from the mainland for the weekend. Tea needs to be drunk, and a game of golf before dinner, just up the hill from Rothesay.

Saturday night in Rothesay is not over until the visitor has slipped into a narrow bar on the main square that lies just in front of the ferry harbour. It's difficult to move along those already sitting at the bar, but the entertainment is about to begin, and the action takes place at the far end. Finally a beer is procured, a niche is leant into, and the performance starts. A heavily painted lady sits on a stool pressing a microphone onto her lower lip. From the loudspeaker a full orchestra that would do credit to Frank Sinatra, fills the room. The lady sings, and is joined by a heavenly choir from the depths of the electronic machine. There is not a dry eye in the place. Some leave to use the Victorian toilet. It needs only the Marx Brothers to crash in! They probably did, after I left.

The seagulls wheel as the scarlet painted open-top double-decker bus departs from the town square at 11 a.m., slowly passing the line of boarding houses into the green country beyond. The excited families are on a circular tour of the island, and the driver is demanding their attention to right, then to left, so that not a church spire or a basking seal can escape the massed ranks of digital photography.

At twenty miles per hour they cruise into Port Bannatyne, a yacht and fishing harbour where, ever so slowly, a new marina is being built. It took eleven years in the planning stage, and now the construction of a new pier has brought the project to it's fourteen birthday, at which not a single pontoon or yacht is yet feeling the benefit. Things go slowly here, stranger. Right by the fishermen's pier there's a stone-built village inn, run by a Russian family as a Russian Tavern, with beer poured from casks up on the bar, a piano, games of chess and cards, and a family atmosphere where good grog and vittals are taken for granted. Upstairs they have four guestrooms for tired sailors, homeless hikers or those who accidently pass this way.

The bus pulls up the hill from the unfinished marina, past Kames Castle, a fortified Keep a thousand years old, previous home to the landed Bannatyne family that built the village back in 1810 A.D out of local stone and slate. The village remains much as it was then. Now on, through ancient farmyards and tiny fields where the cattle graze around prehistoric Standing Stones, even now aligned to points on the horizon where the sun will rise on midsummer's day. Ettrick Bay comes into view: a bight of sand a mile long with not a sunbed or parasol in sight. A family could play all day here and not see another soul.

Ettrick Bay is on the west of this island, and from here across the water the mountains of Arran rise straight from the sea into the heavens. The journey takes the bus riders south along the west coast, past forest, St. Ninian's Bay full of cockles and razor clams, and onto Scalpsie Bay. The Bay itself can only be reached by crossing two fields full of baby lambs, and breaking through a hedge of blackberry brambles onto the sand. The young and fit jump into the sea here, not to ride the waves, but to swim with the seals, as Scalpsie is home to over two hundred of the creatures, almost as tame as dogs.

Towards the south of the island the bus will drop off the discerning visitor to walk around and marvel at one of the finest historic houses in Scotland, Mount Stuart House. It was here that the daughter of Paul McCartney of Beatles fame was married in the marble chapel, part of the building. The Victorian Marquis of Bute was one of the wealthiest men in the British Empire and spared no cost to bring about this magnificent Gothic masterpiece. As a Catholic and a Mystic, his house echoes to his beliefs and faiths, from marble chapel to stained-glass windows depicting the position of the stars at the time of his birth. Around the house, two hundred acres of parkland display mature trees brought here from all parts of the world.

A couple of miles from Mount Stuart, where the island tapers off to its southern point, is the village of Kilchattan Bay. Just a string of white-washed cottages along the sandy beach where girls on ponies bounce about cantering, or jogging, or both. Standing back from the lane is another glorious Victorian folly, St. Blanes Hotel. Inside the fancy facade, a faded tartan carpet leads into a bar area dominated by a billards table. Despite the fabulous views through the twelve feet high sash windows, locals crawl around the table hitting ball against ball oblivious of their unique location. Outside, at the end of the village lane, a track takes the adventurer towards the rocky outcrops of the south, and on its western flank the ruins of the 6th Century St. Blanes Chapel, where gravestones cut with runes mark the resting places of Viking Christians.

From southern tip to the highlands in the north, and a return hairpin bend to the village of Port Bannatyne, runs a hikers' trail, The West Island Way. Some fifteen miles or so, The Way takes the pilgrim through pasture and forest, past Loch Fad where anglers hire a boat to fish the pike, perch and trout, and up onto moor and bog. The ospreys dive the loch to take their share of the fish, buzzards soar in the clear air, and tiny wrens twitter in the hedgerow. Onto the highlands, where the going gets tough, heather grabs at the feet, and the midges and mosquitoes make their presence felt. Up here is where Richard Attenborough the film director, that's Lord Attenborough to you and me, has his domain, with a fine farm and barns converted into guestrooms for the acting elite. Here too, the deer have their home raiding the sweet grass of the low lands early each morning. Wild goats, large hares and mythological creatures too, prefer this neck of the woods.

The dolphins and porpoises jump as the ferry takes the revitalized stranger back to the Scottish mainland. Bute has the ability to recharge the frazzled urban dweller with its unadorned pure nature and old-fashioned ways of the few permanent residents. It provides no amusement parks or watersports centres, no football stadiums or theatres. It has no package-holiday hotels or retirement estates, few modern facilities of any kind, yet it's attraction and beauty remain today as they were for the Viking, and long before, the prehistoric men who raised the spooky Standing Stones.

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