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Published: April 16th 2008
ISLE OF BUTE beach
This is Etricht Bay on the Isle of Bute. Just us and the birds and the seals
The Isle of Bute lies off western Scotland, one of a handful of islands in the mouth of the River Clyde, north of the well-known Isle of Arran, and almost touching those fingers of Argyll that jut out into the Atlantic. I came across Bute in an article in the Sunday Independent about the marriage of Stella, daughter of Sir Paul McCartney of The Beatles fame. My road atlas showed me there was a railway between Wemyss Bay, (where the Bute ferry sets sail,) and Prestwick Airport, home of the cheap cheapo RyanAir, (God Bless Them!) So with tickets costing pennies my wife and I and two kids flew to Ayrshire.
Prestwick Airport is a dream compared with London Airports...you just pick up your gear, up an escalator and onto the train! And good ol' RyanAir has a deal that your train fare is half-price! More good news at Wemyss Bay: two spanking new luxury ferries leaving every 45 minutes with a fare of just over a fiver.
The 35 minute crossing had simply astounding views of islands and water, old lighthouses and pretty stone houses along the waterfront of Bute. We landed at Rothesay Habour, direct in the centre
Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute
This is a view from The Russian Tavern across the little yacht bay to the Argyll hills.s
of Rothesay town, a huddle of old shops and offices around the walls of an ancient castle.
Honour and the tourist office dictated we visit the castle, the museum, the Victorian lavatories and eat greasy fish and chips. It was interesting to see a large painted sign on the chippie claiming to be the best in Scotland, or Britain or the world, and it really doesn't say much about the standard of the rest of them! Still that will teach me I guess; perhaps fish and chips tastes better when you're 16? My second mistake was the "boutique" hotel the tourist office sent us to. I'm pretty sure the boutique is IKEA and having spent all their energy on making the furniture there's no energy left for the civil welcoming for the guests!
Enough complaining! We slept, left without their industrial sausage and egg, and walked out of Rothesay north along a coastal road lined with fine stone buildings looking out across the water to the Argyll hills. Three miles meandering brought us to a tiny fishing and yacht habour, Port Bannatyne. Right in the centre by a stone-pier where the seafood is landed, stands a traditional stone-built
Russian Tavern, Isle of Bute
On the seashore in the centre of Port Bannatyne is this traditional village inn, The Port Royal Hotel. Bought eight years ago by a Russian family it now houses a very unusual Russian Tavern with four economical guest rooms.
village inn, The Port Royal Hotel, with a sign proclaiming "RUSSIAN TAVERN". What a find. A Russian family had taken over this fishermen's pub and turned it into a remarkable hostelry, rivalling a London gastropub for good food, real ales and cosy comfort. Here we ate real fresh seafood, relaxed over a pint or two and discovered they had four very economical guestrooms. We booked in! The views were amazing, the company delightful and after a good walk up the neighbouring hills and back, we ate dinner: langoustines, Hare Goulash and baked pheasant. What a meal and what a place!
After breakfast we took a little bus from outside the tavern back to Rothesay and south along the coast road about 8 miles to Mount Stuart House. Another hidden Gem! In amongst woodland and gardens is a Victorian Gothic masterpiece which Hollywood should have discovered years ago for some Tale of Mystery.
It was here that Stella McCartney was married in the Italian marble chapel, just left, right and left again...along a panelled cloister...just round the corner...across a grand hall..ah there it is!! My words cannot do this justice so here I'll put their website for you to marvel
Freshly landed seafood in the Russian Tavern
The seafood is landed on the stone pier just infront of The Russian Tavern at Port Bannatyne.
at in private: http://www.mountstuart.com
From Mount Stuart we wandered further south along the one road to Kilchattan Bay. A pony-riding stable, and a friendly horsey lady were to make my kid's day. They went horsing down an empty sandy beach allowing my wife and I to surprise the couple running a well-detached Victorian hotel overlooking the sea.
A tinkling bell as we entered, faded tartan carpets leading to a bar straight from the 50s or 40s. I fully expected Peter Sellers with one of his character voices to serve us, but it was just a hard-worked young couple. They told us that until last year the snooker table had been under a large canopy advertising KitKat cigarettes....now that is 1940s! Wonderful views and we were able to watch the equine progress of our kids.
In the hills from Kilchattan Bay is an Iron Age fortified settlement and the ruins of the 6th century St. Blanes Chapel. A fine walk with atmospheric remains to inspect. Inspect we did with rumbling stomachs,and down the hills to carch the bus back to the Famous Russian Tavern. Beef Strogonoff tonight and probably one too many pints of Real Ale poured directly from
Russian Tavern, Isle of Bute
Inside the tavern at Port Bannatyne...a very unusual and hospitable hostelry run by Russians!
the casks on the bar, listening to a young man playing Oscar Petersen style at the tavern piano. Slept like four logs.
Next day we took the open-decked tour bus to the west of the island and were dropped off at Scalpsie Bay. Well, two fields away from Scalpsie Bay as this great bite of sandy cove has no road, very few visitors but over 200 seals lying about pretending to look like rocks, The Russians had told us they came here to pick blackberries in September and sure enough between sand and field was a magnificent stand of brambles waiting for autumn! The view beyond the sea is the mountains of Arran, a sight that remains embedded in my retina. After annoying the seals to our content, we walked inland following winding lanes through woodland and fields to Loch Fad, where rowboats are for hire, and anglers pull out perch and pike and trout. Not for us. We took to the hikers' trail, The West Island Way, and through moor and bog and forest came back to Port Bannatyne and our Russian hosts. An evening of tales and repartie
while we had another distinguished meal, their Beef Strogonoff
Isle of Bute Seals
On Scalpsie Bay over 200 seals pretend to look like rocks.
served with latkes, red cabbage and sauerkrout.
Early next morning, after breakfast, we boarded a minibus outside the tavern which took us to the very north of the island, where a minor shuttle ferry goes over the water for ten minutes to the Argyll mainland. The bus climbed high above the coast giving splendid views of highlands and islands. An hour along a single track road eventually brought us to the town of Dunoon, which once rivalled Blackpool as a seaside resort for Glaswegians. Taking the route they would have taken home, we used the ferry across to Gourock, another Victorian bucket-and-spade strand. We walked up the prom and had ice-cream,... why not? Then the train back to Prestwick Airport, dear RyanAir and London in one hour.
So that was The Isle of Bute in a long weekend. I've written this up because I find it astounding that somewhere so close to Glasgow is completely undeveloped by tourism, industry or retirement homes, and living in another age completely. Hope that's of help to someone!
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