Rothesay Travel Blog

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Isle of Bute empty seashore, wild terrain and staggering views.

The Isle of Bute first came to our attention in Press articles about the marriage of Stella, the daughter of Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles fame. I'd never before heard of Bute, although I had heard of Rothesay and thought it was on the mainland. A decent map showed me that Rothesay is a small town on an island out from the mouth of the River Clyde, north of the well-known Isle of Arran, and just south of the fingers of land that jut out into the Atlantic as Argyll. An ideal trip I thought knowing that RyanAir fly cheaply into Glasgow Prestwick Airport, and that there's a rail link between the airport and Wemyss Bay, the ferry port for the island.

Isle of Bute beaches have more seals than people.

On arrival at Prestwick I was pleasantly surprised to find that RyanAir had a deal where our rail tickets were half price if we showed our aircraft boarding cards. Again a fine surprise to find the ferries to Bute were every 40 minutes or so, and were in fact two brand new luxury ships complete with bar, panorama lounges and sun decks. Rothesay itself is really quite small, a huddle of old shops and a supermarket around an ancient castle. This is one of the visitor sights, along with the Victorian toilets on the seafront and the town museum. But the true splendour of Bute is when you leave Rothesay and walk up into the hills or along the coastline...the views are unforgettable..water, mountain, farmland and forest...long empty beaches and wild terrain.

Our first night was in a Rothesay "boutique" hotel.

Isle of Bute view over Kames Bay
Scots are not very good at this sort of thing, the boutique was probably IKEA, and the welcome was distinctly mean spirited. We left without breakfast, avoided the tourist office that had sent us there, and sought out a village inn in the north of the island I had noticed on the Internet. It's right on the seashore at Port Bannatyne, about 3 miles north of Rothesay. Run by a Russian family, The Port Royal Hotel is one of those little gems you only find if you're determined to seek out the unusual. The price was right, the attitude as warm as their fresh bread, and the little Russian Tavern would hold its own against any London gastropub. Behind the hotel (just four guest rooms) wild deer and hares grazed on the golf course, while on the beach in front of the Tavern seals, oyster catchers and curlews shared rocks by the yacht bay, and on the horizon the highland hills rose up from the water.
The very unusual Russian Tavern at Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute. It rivals a London gastropub, but with four guestrooms.
Truly a film set. Dinner was Hare Goulash, freshly landed langoustines, and baked pheasant washed down by local real ales poured directly from beer casks on the bar.

Mount Stuart House is not so much a Stately Home but a magnificent Victorian folly, Gothic in style, rambling in nature and set in 20 acres of very mature gardens of exotic species from all parts of the Empire. This was where Stella McCaertney was married as they have their very own marble chapel...don't we all? Take a look at their website as my words cannot do it justice. It's situated at the south of the island, about 8 miles from The Russian Tavern, but there was a little bus direct and after our visit it was only a short walk to Kilchattan Bay, a tiny village with a magnificent Victorian guesthouse, faded in that Peter Sellers kind of way (in fact I was expecting to be served by him.

Isle of Bute, Scotland: Inside the Famous Russian Tavern at Port Bannatyne.
) Inside the tartan carpets led to a 1950s bar complete with onion rings and chicken-in-the-basket. I was told that until last year the pool table had been covered with a huge advert from KitKat cigarettes. A novel experience. In the hills we made our way to the 6th Century St. Blanes Chapel, now a ruin but still a very atmospheric location.

On the west of the island the open-top tour bus dropped us at Scalpsie Bay, a big bite of sandy cove with fantastic views of the mountains on the Isle of Arran, to the south. Over 200 seals lie around one end of the beach; at first we thought they were rocks, they are so well disguised. They didn't mind their photos taken, but slid into the sea as we came too close for their nerves. Inland from the beach the little lanes led us to a long freshwater loch where we could have caught (I'm totally certain,) huge pike, perch and trout.

Freshly landed langoustines served at The Russian Tavern, Isle of Bute
There were little boats for hire, but our path led us north along the hikers' trail The West Island Way, through moor and woods, meadows and a bog or two! Back for piano and good food in the tavern and a well deserved night's sleep.

The next morning we took a little bus to the very north of the island and onto a minor shuttle ferry across the water into the mainland of Argyll. The bus climbed high up with spectacular views across water and highlands, along a single track road, an hour later reaching the little town of Dunoon. Not so dissimilar to Rothesay, Dunoon has felt the economic chill of the closure at the American Submarine Base at Holy Loch. From Dunoon we took a little ferry over to Gouroch, a very pleasant Victorian seaside town not unlike Hastings or Ramsgate in Kent. From there the train took us, at half-price, back to RyanAir at Prestwick Airport and our flight back home. A very enjoyable and original long weekend trip which I've been glad to share with you, just as I have followed some of the tips and trips I read about on TravBuddy. 

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Isle of Bute empty seashore, wild …
Isle of Bute empty seashore, wild…
Isle of Bute beaches have more sea…
Isle of Bute beaches have more se…
Isle of Bute view over Kames Bay
Isle of Bute view over Kames Bay
The very unusual Russian Tavern at…
The very unusual Russian Tavern a…
Isle of Bute, Scotland: Inside the…
Isle of Bute, Scotland: Inside th…
Freshly landed langoustines served…
Freshly landed langoustines serve…
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photo by: RadioTimes