There’s a new Scottish touring route in town, well five actually, collectively known as The Coig . The Coig, which means five in Gaelic, consists of The Cumbrae (10 miles), The Bute (22 miles), The Shiel (55 miles), The Arran (70 miles) and The Shire (138 miles).
I love a road trip, so was delighted when we were invited to check out The Bute. We’d have 48 hours to discover the best of Bute.
Bute is reached via a 35 minute ferry journey from Wemyss Bay in Inverclyde, or a 5 minute one from Colintraive in Argyll.
We caught a Friday morning sailing from Wemyss Bay, excited to be embarking on our first island escape of the year.
Day 1 on The Coig – The Bute
After a smooth crossing we arrived in the bustling harbour town of Rothesay. So, where to first? Consulting my ‘The Coig 5’ smartphone app, we decided to visit Kilchattan Bay for a walk on the beach.
The boy was delighted with our choice. With the exception of some oystercatchers and a passing dog walker, we had the place all to ourselves.
It was a lovely start to our island adventure.
A mill tour at Bute Fabrics
Beach fun over, it was time to return to Rothesay for a tour of Bute Fabrics.
There, we were welcomed by Managing Director John, who gave us some background information about the company. We learned the mill had been founded in 1947 by the 5th Marquess of Bute, to create jobs for local men returning from the war. Bute Fabrics is now owned by the 7th Marquess of Bute, who’s more commonly known as Johnny Dumfries.
Since 1947 Bute Fabrics have gone from strength to strength, winning high profile contracts and fans worldwide. One look at their beautiful fabrics and it’s easy to see why.
Their exquisite colour palate is inspired by Scotland. My sofa is crying out for a pair of Bute Fabrics cushions.
After hearing about the history of the company, we were introduced to Margaret Ann who took us on a guided tour of the mill.
It was fascinating to see a mass of coloured threads being transformed into a gorgeous piece of fabric.
On one loom a blue striped fabric was being woven.
From the other side of the loom, the pattern changed and was instantly recognisable.
It was tartan – Scotland’s most iconic fabric pattern.
After visiting the sample room, finishing room and meeting the talented design team behind Bute Fabrics, it was time to say goodbye.
But not before the boy flirted with the ladies.
Lunch with a view, Ettrick Bay Tea Room
We left Bute Fabrics reliably informed we’d find a nice lunch and a warm doggy welcome at the Ettrick Bay Tea Room.
We found both and a bonnie sea view too.
Lunch consisted of home-made soup and filled rolls for Mr G and I, and doggy ice cream for the boy.
Three happy customers left Ettrick Bay Tea Room.
Ritchie’s of Rothesay – smokehouse tour
Back in Rothesay, our last stop of the day was Ritchie’s of Rothesay for a smokehouse tour. Ritchie’s have been smoking fish since 1888. It’s rumoured Queen Victoria was a big fan of their kippers.
They still smoke kippers, but are now better known for their high-quality smoked salmon.
We met up with Manager Lyndsay, and dad Alister who smokes the fish. Alister would be taking us on a tour of the smokehouse, while the boy hung out with Lyndsay.
Donning Mr G’s arch nemesis (blue shoe covers), we entered the smokehouse. We watched as Alister expertly sliced a piece of salmon. No machines, just food skilfully prepared by hand.
Once sliced, the salmon was reassembled on the skin, then placed in a bag and vacuum sealed for freshness.
Our tour ended in the kiln which has been in use continuously since 1888. Inside the kiln, salmon is slowly smoked over whisky barrel shavings.
Alister lit the fires and we watched, hypnotised by the dancing flames.
We left the smokehouse hyper and reeking like a bonfire.
Reunited with the boy, we said goodbye to Lyndsay and Alister and were dragged straight into Bute Pets, where the hairy faced rascal was welcomed with a doggy sausage.
Any grudge he may have been harbouring after missing out on the smokehouse tour was forgotten. He left Bute Pets with a new toy and a helpful list of dog friendly places to visit on Bute.
Our Accommodation – Kennels, Mount Stuart
Our home for the weekend was a self-catering cottage on the 300 acre Mount Stuart Estate which is the ancestral seat of the Marquesses of Bute. The estate is located five miles from Rothesay.
Our cottage was called the Kennels, but it was far from being a dog house.
Outside, it was surrounded by beautiful countryside.
Inside, it was spacious with an open plan living/dining and kitchen area, two double bedrooms (one en suite) and a family bathroom.
It was cosy too with underfloor heating, which meant we could pad around barefoot.
The decor was bright and modern. And adding a cheery pop of colour were curtains, chairs and throws from Bute Fabrics.
It was the perfect bolthole for a peaceful break.
Tucking into local delicacies
Once we’d settled in our attention turned to food. We’d been given a hamper filled with local goodies and dinner prepared by the catering team at Mount Stuart.
Dinner was a delicious fish pie (filled with Ritchie’s fish – obvs). Mr G considers himself a fish pie connoisseur.
Best ever, was his verdict.
For dessert we had chocolate cake which I warmed in the microwave. It stuck to our teeth and ribs. It was heaven in a bowl.
After dinner, we spent a lazy night by the fire before toddling off to bed.
Day one on The Bute has been fantastic.
Day 2 on The Coig – The Bute
We woke early the next morning and tucked into porridge and Ritchie’s of Rothesay smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast.
It was a breakfast fit for a Marquess, which segments me nicely into our first itinerary stop of the day.
A tour of Mount Stuart
We arrived at Mount Stuart and were greeted by Jim. He’d be taking us on a tour of the ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute.
Nothing could’ve prepared me for setting foot inside the house. If you’ve ever wondered how many times you can utter the word “wow” in 90 minutes, the answer is lots.
After entering the house and climbing a grand set of stairs, we arrive in the Marble Hall.
The ceiling in the Marble Hall is painted with the constellations (complete with crystal stars). Beneath it are twelve stained glass windows depicting the signs of the zodiac and the four seasons. The colour of the glass beautifully transition from the icy blues of winter, to the russet hues of autumn.
I spotted Westies embroidered on the tapestries hanging in the hall and fell even more in love with Mount Stuart.
Jim’s commentary was fantastic and really brought the house to life. We learned the original house was a Georgian mansion, which was severely damaged by fire in 1877. From the ashes rose a magnificent, gothic palace.
With each passing generation the Stuarts of Bute acquired new titles (including that of Marquess), lands (in Wales and Scotland) and vast wealth.
It was that vast wealth that meant no expense was spared when the 3rd Marquess of Bute built the Mount Stuart we know today.
The house was the first in the UK to have a heated swimming pool and the first in Scotland with central heating, electricity and a telephone.
In each room we viewed the detailing was incredible. From marble pillars, carved with the flora and fauna found on the estate, to ornate door hinges, decorative ceilings and priceless artworks by the likes of Gainsborough, Raeburn, Titian and Tintoretto. Yet, despite the grandeur Mount Stuart feels homely and loved.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better
Jim saved the best till last.
The family chapel was a vision in marble, with lovely stained glass windows, an ornate mosaic floor like the one in the Sistine Chapel and a high domed ceiling that glowed red.
And just when I thought I couldn’t be any more awestruck, Jim asked us to don slippers and led us inside a private chapel. The Burgess chapel was built for the 3rd Marquess of Bute and was inspired by a visit he made to the Holy Land. I thought the slippers were to protect a wooden floor, so was shocked to discover the floor was a mirror. It took a leap of faith to step on it, but I did and what a beautiful, surreal room it was.
Coffee and Cake at the Courtyard Cafe
Tour over, Jim took us to the Courtyard Cafe where we found coffee and cake waiting for us. We shared a slice of carrot cake and a piece of polenta cake.
Even if stately homes aren’t your thing, it’s worth visiting Mount Stuart for cake alone – it’s deeeeeeelicious.
Cake eaten, we went for a wander in the grounds in a fruitless attempt to burn it off.
A walk to St Ninian’s Point
We returned to Ettrick Bay Tea Room for lunch, then headed to Sealladh Breagha Studios at Ballianlay to meet local artist Ruth Slater.
We’d be joining Ruth and her dog Lottie for a walk to St Ninian’s Bay.
After some macho bravado from the Wee White Dug, he made friends with Lottie and we set off on our walk.
Ruth shared the history of the island community where she lives. St Ninian’s Bay was once home to a thriving fishing community. Today, the bay feels quiet and remote, but it would once had been teeming with boats.
As we walked along the shore, cockle shells crunching underfoot, we were treated to a pretty rainbow and small pockets of light, which made the landscape glow.
At St Ninian’s Point we explored the ruins of an early Christian chapel, now little more than a pile of grass covered stones.
Reaching the end St Ninian’s Point we took in the view, then turned and retraced our steps back to Sealladh Breagha Studios, where we tucked into homemade cookies and coffee.
Ruth is a very talented artist, but she’s also a dab hand at home baking. Her tablet (a sugary Scottish sweetie) is to die for. You’ll find nowhere better to buy the tasty Scottish treat than the Pencil Box. A converted phone box outside Ruth’s gallery, that she’s transformed into a tiny honesty shop.
If you visit Bute DON’T drive past, or you’ll be missing out on a treat.
We said goodbye to Ruth and Lottie and left their lovely little corner of Bute with two boxes of tablet (it’s impossible to resist) and a small canvas print of a Westie (also impossible to resist).
Another relaxing night at Kennels, Mount Stuart
That evening we dined on haggis suppers, washed down with Isle of Bute Gorse Gin and tonic. It was another Scottish gin to add to our long list of favourites. The gorse used to make the gin comes from the Mount Stuart Estate.
Our second day on The Bute had been another belter.
Day 3 on The Coig – The Bute
Day three on Bute dawned and it was time to pack up and leave the Kennels, but not before we enjoyed another ‘Bute’iful breakfast. In our hamper of island goodies was a breakfast pack from local butcher MacQueens of Rothesay – perfect for a traditional Sunday fry up.
The black pudding was the best we’ve had on our travels – sorry Stornoway. The haggis was fab too, and the fruit pudding took me on a wonderful trip down memory lane to childhood and my wee nana’s fabulous Sunday fry ups.
The boy scored the sausage a bumper 11/10.
Our time on ‘The Bute’ had been fun-packed and fascinating. We’d loved every second, and being in no rush to leave we decided to explore some of the island’s historic sites before catching the ferry home.
Kingarth Stone Circle
First up was Kingarth Stone Circle, a short hop from where we’d started our island adventure on the beach at Kilchattan Bay.
Three stones remain of what was once a seven stone circle. It’s an atmospheric site and well worth visiting.
St Blane’s Church
Next, came my favourite historic site on the island. St Blane’s Church, has its origins in the 6th century, when Saint Catan founded a monastery where it now stands. The monastery later became home to his nephew Saint Blane, who may even be buried at the site.
The monastery was abandoned after Viking raids, but the site was later reoccupied in the 12th century when a parish church was built.
The church stands in a rocky hollow, on top of a small hill. It’s a beautiful, tranquil spot. The boy seemed as taken with at as I was. He wandered around exploring the ruins and carefully tiptoeing past medieval grave slabs.
If there’s one thing that sends me into full on history geek mode, it’s a medieval grave slab. So, you can imagine the jibbering wreck a cemetery full of them can turn me into.
There was a 10th century Viking hog back tombstone in the cemetery, but give me some Celtic knots any day of the week.
Dunagoil Vitrified Fort
A rainy ramble to the site of Dunagoil Vitrified Hillfort followed. Over the years archaeologists have unearthed ancient tools, pottery, jewellery and weapons at the site of the Iron Age fort.
Despite the rain lashing down on us, it was an interesting walk and the view from the top of the volcanic cliff where the fort once stood made getting drookit worthwhile.
Rothesay’s famous Victorian loos
And finally, no visit to Bute would be complete without taking a peek inside the gents loos in Rothesay. The well-preserved Victorian toilets look more like a museum exhibit than a public convenience.
And there we hopped on the ferry and said goodbye to Bute – a wonderful island, where a warm welcome awaits. But don’t just take my word for it, go find out for yourself.
Our accommodation and tours were provided on a complimentary basis however, all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……