Bute is only 15 miles long by 5 miles wide, yet has much to offer the visitor. Its main town, Rothesay, is a Victorian resort linked to the mainland by ferry from Wemyss Bay. What makes it particularly attractive is that it has not succumbed to the sense of faded splendour that so often afflicts such towns. As a result you get a feel for what its builders really had in mind.
Rothesay, also boasts, right in the heart of the town, its very own castle. This is unusual, being circular in plan and surrounded by a moat, and is well worth a visit. Other attractions include Victorian toilets, declared a national treasure; Bute Museum, whose collection includes exhibits covering the natural history, archaeology and geology of the island; and St Mary's Church.
A little down the coast from Rothesay is the attractive residential village of Ascog, complete with the Ascog Hall Fernery, while a little south again is Bute's premier visitor attraction, Mount Stuart. This is a fantasy Gothic house built by the 3rd Marquess of Bute and set in 300 acres of woodland and gardens. Completing a tour of the east side of Bute brings you to Kilchattan Bay, another village which shows its origins as a Victorian resort.
Close to the island's southern-most tip, in an attractive setting, are the substantial ruins of the medieval St Blane's Church. This was built in the 1200s on the site of an dark age monastery founded by St Catan, who was active in establishing Christianity on the island.
The west side of the Isle of Bute is in stark contrast to the very Victorian east side. Here you will find a much more typically Hebridean feel to the countryside, with lonely shorelines and windswept headlands.
Some four miles up the coast, beyond the fine sandy beach of Scalpsie Bay, is St Ninian's Point and the ruins of another 6th Century chapel. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty, a place to pause and take in the stunning views out to the uninhabited island of Inchmarnock, a place where, according to tradition, alcoholics were banished in the 1700s.
The Highland-Lowland dividing line passes through the middle of Bute, where the freshwater Loch Fad almost splits the island in two. The southern half is made up of farmland, typical of the Scottish Lowlands. The north, by contrast, is hilly and mostly uninhabited. The two highest peaks on the island are Windy Hill at 913ft and Torran Turach, a diminutive 745ft. Torran Turach repays the effort taken to climb it with spectacular views over the Kyles of Bute.
A tour around the island will eventually bring you to Ettrick Bay, the most popular of Bute's (admittedly not large) collection of beaches, which comes complete with a tea room and, when we were last there, a wrecked fishing vessel which has since been removed. From here the road crosses the island to rejoin the east coast at Port Bannatyne, from where a road leads north to the terminus for the short ferry crossing to the Cowal peninsula.
The Isle of Bute certainly rewards its visitors with variety; all of it easily accessible. There are traditional Highland Games on the last weekend in August and, for the musically inclined, Bute offers jazz and folk festivals.
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