The Isle of Bute is the closest of the Scottish Isles to Glasgow – a short train and ferry ride away. The Isle of Bute has a history of human settlement dating back thousands of years reaching its zenith as a popular seaside resort in the Victorian era. Photos from that time show thousands congregating on the seaside promenade of the isle’s major town, Rothesay. Time and I suspect cheap flights to Mediterranean seaside resorts, have been less than kind to the Isle of Bute. Its population is now under 7000 and many of its shopfronts and hotels have an air of worn out charm. It does, however, have a long distance way of 48 km which travels the length of the Island – the West Island Way. By basing yourself in Rothesay and using local buses the West Island Way can be walked as two separate days of a bit over 20km each. Our plan to walk the length of the Isle, however, came unstuck with the weather. While we were there the rain, sleat and snow was only occasionally interrupted by short bursts of sunshine (which makes you wonder how Bute could ever be described as a seaside resort). Being more used to hiking in the warmer climes of Australia and New Zealand we opted to cut short our walks to about 10km each with the hope of getting the timing right so we didn’t get too wet (it worked on the first day but not the second).
Day 1. We caught the bus from Rothesay to Kilchattan Bay towards the southern end of the Isle and the start of the West Island Way. Following the rocky coast we passed the Rubh’ an Eun lighthouse, rounded Glencallum Bay and the most southerly point of the Isle of Bute with views across to the Isle of Arran, before heading back inland. From there we passed a loch and negotiated our way through cows past a farm until we eventually reached the ruins of St Blane’s church. Originally the site of a monastery from prior to AD574 until the time of the Viking raids in AD 790 (there is a plaque marking the line between the civilisation of the monastery and the surrounding pagan world), the ruins are of a later church built in the 12th century and abandoned sometime in the 17th century. Now the only inhabitants are bleating sheep. From there we passed the ruins of two townships. They were marked with a sign which attempted to identify which mounds would have been buildings, but even with the sign I couldn’t work it out. A short hike over the hill (157m above sea level) and we were back at Kilchattan Bay where we returned to our starting point to catch the bus back to Rothesay.
Day 2. We caught the bus from Rothesay to the tearooms at Ettrick Bay on the Western side of the Isle. The wind was howling in from the sea and the skies looked ominously black. In the hope that we could beat the weather we set off from Ettrick Bay at a brisk pace along the Tramway Walk which heads west/east and bisects the Isle. The Tramway Walk is a paved way which follows the path of an old electric tram line which used to run from Port Bannatyne on the east coast to Ettrick Bay between 1905 and 1932. It passes a stone circle and the ruins of St Colmac’c church. However, as it started sleeting, we pressed on to the Port of Bannatyne and from there down the coast to Rothesay. It would have been preferable to have done the full circuit of the West Island Way but in the conditions it was just not feasible, particularly given that the Northern end crosses moor tops which would have copped the full blast of the weather.
Getting there and away. From Glasgow we caught a train to Wemyss Bay (about an hour) and from there a ferry to Rothesay (about half an hour). We returned the same way.
Accommodation. We stayed at the Victoria Hotel which was basic, but the staff were friendly and helpful.
Other sites on the island. The top 5 things to do on the Isle of Bute are: (a) the ruins of Rothesay Castle (13th century) – in the middle of town and easily visited; (b) Mount Stuart – a 19th century Gothic Revival building; (c) St Blanes church (see photo above); (d) Dunagoil Fort; and the Tramway (see photo above). We didn’t bother with either the Fort (having had our fill of forts on the Cotswold Way) or Mount Stuart (it cost money and we are getting fussy – 19th century just wasn’t old enough).