if you want a relaxing and historic island , so Bute is your perfect choice in Scotland


The island of Bute is the second largest of the islands in the Firth of Clyde, and used to be part of the small county of the same name, which also took in Arran and the Cumbraes. It is about 15 miles long by five miles wide, and though it now comes under Argyll, the Highland Boundary Fault passes right through the island’s capital, Rothesay, and the 175-acre Loch Fad in the heart of the island. This means that the larger northern part is in the Highlands while the smaller southern part is in the Lowlands. 

The scenery reflects this, with the north being rugged, while the south is pastoral, with many small farms and settlements. There are two ferries connecting Bute to the mainland. The main one is from Wemyss Bay in Renfrewshire to Rothesay, while another, smaller one, runs between Ardentraive on the Cowal Peninsula and Rhubodach on the north east tip of the island. The latter crossing takes only about five minutes, with the distance being just a third of a mile.

 At one time cattle, instead of being transported between Bute and the mainland, were made to swim the crossing. The main town Rothesay, is an ancient royal burgh that was given its charter in 1401. It is one of the most famous holiday resorts on the Firth of Clyde, and at one time attracted thousands of Glasgow tourists during the Glasgow Fair, which is always the last two weeks in July. Fine Victorian mansions line the front, built to take Glasgow merchants who would descend on the town, along with family and servants. There were also more modest B&Bs and guest houses that took in the working classes for what was their one and only holiday of the year. It eventually earned the nickname of Scotland’s Madeira, not just because it was on an island, but because palm trees flourish here due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The gentleness of the climate can best be appreciated at Ardencraig Gardens in Ardencraig Lane, which were bought by Rothesay Town Council in 1970. They formed part of the original gardens designed by Percy Cane for the owners of Ardencraig House. Every summer it shimmers with colour, and is a popular spot with holidaymakers. 

Another popular spot is Canada Hill, to the south of the town, where there are spectacular views of the Firth of Clyde. From here, people used to watch ships sailing down the Clyde taking Scottish emigrants to a new life in North America, hence its name. On the sea front is a memorial to people who left Rothesay but never returned - the six hundred Bute bowmen who fought alongside William Wallace at the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. Rothesay Castle (Historic Scotland) is one of the oldest in Scotland. It is a royal castle with an unusual circular curtain wall and a waterfilled moat, and was probably built in the 13th century by Walter, third steward of the royal household.

 Not long after, the Vikings besieged it. King Haakon of Norway took it in 1263, but was later defeated at the Battle of Largs. The Treaty of Perth, signed in 1266, gave Scotland the Inner Hebrides and the island of Bute, and it became a favourite residence of the first Stuart king, Robert II, and his son, Robert III, who may have died there. The courtyard contains the remains of a royal chapel, dedicated to St Michael the Archangel. It was Robert III who created the dukedom of Rothesay (the first such dukedom in Scotland), and conferred it on his eldest son. Ever since, all royal heirs bear the title, with Prince Charles being the present duke.

 The whole building was in a ruinous state until 1816, when it was partly rebuilt by the 2nd Marquis of Bute. In Stuart Street, close to the castle, is the Bute Museum, which has displays and artefacts about Rothesay, the Firth of Clyde and the island of Bute itself. The ruins of the Church of St Mary (Historic Scotland), on the southern outskirts of the town, is next to the present High Kirk built in 1796. It dates mainly from the 13th and 14th centuries and has two canopied tombs. 

One contains the effigy of a woman and child, and the other the effigy of a man. There is also the grave slab of an unknown Norman knight on the floor. The church has been recently re-roofed to protect them. The Isle of Bute Discovery Centre is housed in the town’s Winter Garden (built in 1924) on the front. It features an exhibition highlighting life on the island through interactive displays and plasma screens, as well as a cinema/theatre. Rothesay has more unusual attractions, such as the ornately designed mens Victorian Toilets at the end of the pier, which date from 1899. 

They still work perfectly, and were recently voted the second best place in the world to spend a penny. If you want the best place, you’ll have to go to Hong Kong. Women can view the toilets at quiet times. Scotland’s first long distance island footpath, the 30-mile West Island Way, starts at Kilchattan Bay and finishes at Port Bannatyne. Full details of the trail are available from the Isle of Bute Discovery Centre in Rothesay. Close to Kilchattan Bay, at Kingarth, is St Blane’s Chapel. 

The ruins of this Norman structure sit within what was a Celtic monastery, founded by St Blane in the sixth century (see also Dunblane). The whole area shows how such a monastery would have been laid out. The rath, or cashel, a low wall surrounding the monastery, can still be seen, as can the foundations of various beehive cells in which the monks lived. There are two old graveyards - one for men and one for women. Close by is the Dunagoil Vitrified Fort 

which dates from the Iron Age. Vitrified forts are so called because at one time they were exposed to great heat, turning the surface of the stone used in their construction to a glasslike substance. There are lots of other religious sites on Bute, some dating from the Dark Ages. At Straad (a name that tells you that the island once belonged to the Vikings) there are the scant remains of St Ninian’s Chapel, which may go back at least 1500 years, and at Kilmichael there are the ruins of the old St Macaille Chapel. Mount Stuart House, near the lovely village of Kerrycroy, is the ancestral home of the Marquis of Bute. In 1877 a fire destroyed most of the old house, built during the reign of Queen Anne, and the third Marquis employed Robert Rowand Anderson to design the present Victorian Gothic one. It is an immense house, full of treasures, and reflects the history and importance of the family who owned it. When built, 

it was full of technological wonders. It was the first house in Scotland to be lit by electricity, and the first private house to have a heated indoor swimming pool. Surrounding the house are 300 acres of delightful gardens. The house achieved international fame in 2003 when designer Stella McCartney, daughter of Sir Paul, got married here. Near Port Bannatyne, north of Rothesay, is Kames Castle, dating from the 14th century. Neither it nor its beautiful gardens are open to the public, 

but they can be viewed from the road. One place, which can be visited, however, is Ascog Hall Fernery and Garden, three miles south of Rothesay. It was built about 1870, and has a sunken fern house with over 80 sub-tropical fern species. It was awarded the first ever Scottish prize by the Historic Gardens Foundation, which promotes historic gardens and parks throughout the world. Off the west coast of Bute is the small privately owned island of Inchmarnock, no more than two miles long by half a mile wide. Its name means Marnock’s island, the Marnock in question being a Celtic saint whose name is also found in other Scottish place names such as Kilmarnock. There are the ruins of an ancient chapel here

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