Glasgow residents have a long-standing tradition of taking day trips “doon the watter”; visiting seaside towns in Ayrshire and Argyll, or one of the islands in the Firth of Clyde. Perhaps the most popular of these easily accessible locales is the Isle of Bute.
Getting to Bute is even easier now than it was in decades past. CalMac ferries and Scotrail have teamed up to offer “Rail & Sail” tickets which will take you from the grubby platforms of Glasgow Central across the water to beautiful Bute in around two hours for the altogether reasonable price of £20 for a return. An added bonus is that you get to alight at Wemyss Bay railway station, one of the most architecturally stunning stations in the UK, and a category A listed building. Alternatively, you can drive to Wemyss Bay to catch the ferry, which is especially handy if you’re planning on bringing bikes or a particularly bulky picnic hamper.
Stepping off the ferry on Bute you’ll find yourself in the largest town on the island – Rothesay. This is a quaint little town, with a very kitsch and sleepy feel. In winter you’d be lucky to bump into anyone besides the odd postman or angler. However, in summer the town, and indeed the whole island, transforms. It is full to the gunwales with day-trippers, cyclists, ramblers and all manner of jolly folks. Every season has its appeal (summer = ice cream and sunshine; winter = hot chocolate and stubborn fog), so bear that in mind when planning a trip, just as you would anywhere in the world!
First port of call after arriving ought to be some sustenance to set you up for a day of exploration. Harry Haw’s (25 High Street, Rothesay) is the pick of the bunch for hearty pub-grub and a pint of something cold; reasonably priced with a welcoming atmosphere.
What you do next will depend on what mode of transport you have available: by car or by bike it is easy to explore the island in its entirety, but by foot or bus you’re a little more restricted, and may need to stay closer to Rothesay. Either way, there’s a plethora of wildlife, beaches and castles (it is Scotland, after all) to keep you entertained.
Beaches are 10 a penny on Bute, but one of the most idyllic is Scalpsie Bay to the West. An unspoiled stretch of sheltered sand, without any buildings or roads to interrupt the enjoyment. It is perfect for a picnic, for beachcombing or for a brisk swim if you’re feeling hardy. Plus, the beach is home to a few hundred grey seals, famed for their inquisitive nature, who might even join you for a dip.
One of the most magnetic draws on Bute is the splendour of Mount Stuart House – a breathtakingly stunning piece of Victorian Gothic architecture (think Glasgow University Bell Tower and Kelvingrove Art Gallery got together and had a beautiful baby). Stella McCartney celebrated her wedding here, so if it’s good enough for her, then it’s worth a visit for us mere mortals. The building itself is captivating; and then it transpires that there are also 300 acres of manicured garden to explore, and a rich collection of art and objects inside the house to marvel at. With tickets £11 for students and a regular bus running from Rothesay to the house there is no excuse for missing out on this gem. Be sure to book at least a day ahead to secure your spot!
One thing to consider is planning your trip to coincide with one of Bute’s many festivals and events; the Bute Gin Festival in February, the Highland Games in August (you can even sign up as a competitor if you come along in a kilt) or the ButeFest music festival in July.
There’s something for everyone on Bute, at every time of the year. Being so accessible from Glasgow, you’d have to be daft not to give it a try. So, jump on the train, or get your mates together and make it into a road trip in the car and get doon the watter to this wee Isle in the Firth of Clyde.