The Isle of Bute (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Bhòid or An t-Eilean Bhòdach) is an island in the Firth of Clyde, off the west coast of Scotland. Rothesay is the main town, and administratively the island is part of Argyll and Bute in the Scottish Highlands. Indeed the Highland fault line runs through it, from Rothesay through freshwater Loch Fad and Loch Quien to Scalpsie Bay on the south coast. So most of the island, west of this line, is geologically Highland, but it's of no great height, and Bute is lowland in nature. For visitor purposes it's part of the "Costa Clyde" or "Glasgow Riviera", the string of little resorts stretching down the Clyde coast from Gourock through Ayr to Girvan. With only a short ferry crossing from Wemyss Bay on the mainland, it's popular with day trippers from Glasgow and never feels "away from it all". In 2021, Bute had a population of 6021.
The tourist office is next to Rothesay ferry pier, open daily 09:30-17:00.
- Beautiful Rothesay, your scenery is most grand, You cannot be surpassed in fair Scotland.
- Tis healthy for holiday makers to go there, For the benefit of their health, by inhaling the pure air.
- - William McGonagall, who else
1 Rothesay is the usual arrival point on Bute, via the Calmac ferry from Wemyss Bay 30 miles west of Glasgow. It takes 35 min, and sails at least hourly every day year-round 07:00-20:00. Return fares (until 31 March 2024) are £24.90 per car, £6.90 per adult passenger including driver, £3.50 per child. There's no booking on this route but you must be at the pier at least 20 min before sailiing.
With your own boat, you can berth either at Rothesay marina or the quieter Port Bannatyne.
2 Colintraive on the Cowal Peninsula is linked by ferry to Rhubodach, at the end of the road on the north of the island. You'd only come this way as part of a scenic tour of Argyll. The ferry runs daily year-round every 30 min 06:00-21:00 (Sunday from 08:30), taking barely five minutes, with no booking. Return fares until 31 March 2024 are £13.10 per car, £2.60 per adult passenger including driver, £1.40 per child aged 5-15. The sea channel is only 300 yards wide, so it's an expensive crossing in terms of £ per mile.
- - trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay,
- - road routes, the usual approach being westbound M8 > A8 > A78,
- - connections from Glasgow Airport (GLA IATA) or Prestwick (PIK IATA).
Bute Airfield is near Kilchattan Bay 5 miles south of Rothesay. It's a grass strip of 500 m, daylight hours only, no fuel. And you'll need to have ground transport arranged.
West Coast Motors run bus services on the island (☏ ). All bus routes pass along Rothesay Victoria Street near the ferry pier. Those most relevant to visitors are 90, 490 and 493, which follow the coast south past Ardencraig Gardens, Ascog Fernery and Mount Stuart to Kilchattan Bay. These run hourly year-round M-Sa.
Buses 90, 477, 479 and 490 run up the east coast via Port Bannatyne to Rhubodach ferry pier, for Colintraive on the Cowal peninsula. Bus 477 crosses to Colintraive by ferry and winds around Loch Riddon via Auchenbreck then south through Kames to Portvadie, for ferries to Tarbert in Argyll. Bus 479 also crosses to Colintraive and from Auchenbreck turns west to Dunoon, for ferries to Gourock thence trains to Glasgow. From Port Bannatyne, buses 90, 490 and 493 turn inland, to Ettrick Bay on Bute's west coast. Routes 488, 491, 492 and 493 loop around Rothesay town to various residential areas, the college, and local hospital.
Bicycle is an excellent way to explore the island, as the distances aren't great and it's not hilly. Bike hire is available from The Bike Shed near the ferry terminal in Rothesay, +44 1700 505515.
- Rothesay Castle, Castle Hill, Rothesay PA20 0DA, ☏ . Closed. A "compound" castle, unusual for Scotland, first built in Norman times. It has a circular curtain wall: four towers were later added, of which only the "Pigeon Tower" survives. In 1660 it was partially demolished by Cromwell’s forces after they had been temporarily garrisoned there, and then again 15 years later during the Monmouth Rebellion. From the 19th century the Marquesses of Bute made considerable efforts to restore it, or at least to their view of how it ought to have appeared if the Middle Ages had done things properly. The castle remains closed because (like other Historic Environment properties) the masonry is crumbling and they've no money for repairs.
- Bute Museum, 7 Stuart St, Rothesay PA20 0EP (just south of castle), ☏ . Apr-Sep M-Sa 10:30-15:30, Su 13:30-15:30; Oct Nov, Feb Mar Tu-Th Sa 13:30-15:30. Just two rooms, but packed with exhibits of local history. Adult £4.
- Serpentine Road slaloms down Canada Hill east side of town. There's a viewpoint near the top.
- 1 St Mary's Chapel is the ruin of a church from circa 1300.
- Ascog Hall Fernery alas has closed down.
- 2 Mount Stuart House, Kerrycroy PA20 9LR (Bus 90, 490 & 493), ☏ . Apr-Jun, Sep Oct Sa-W, Jul Aug daily, 11:30-16:30. A flamboyant Victorian Gothic House set in parkland planted with species from all over the world. The Crichton-Stuarts held extensive lands in Wales and elsewhere, and became even richer from developing industry around Cardiff. The 19th-century 3rd Marquess was a proto-Walt Disney who sought to recreate the Middle Ages to his own fun specifications, and restored Cardiff Castle and nearby Castle Coch. Mount Stuart was his next project. It's built in warm red sandstone, with a notable marble hall and chapel, and richly decorated. In 2016 a Shakespeare First folio, worth several million pounds, was discovered in the library - this can only be viewed by special appointment. The house is sometimes booked for private events so check ahead. Adult £16.50, conc £14, child £9.50.
- 3 Port Bannatyne is the second largest settlement on the island, though little more than ribbon development along the coast road and stony beach. The marina is sheltered - visitor berths are on Pontoon D, book your berth on +44 1700 503116.
- 4 Wester Kames Castle dates from 1700 but was almost completely rebuilt in Baronial style in 1897. It's a private residence, no tours.
- Kames Castle half a mile south is 16th century, similarly restored as a private residence.
- Kyles of Bute are the straits that separate the northern end of Bute from the Cowal Pensinsula. They're a designated National Scenic Area. You can see their eastern arm from the coast road to Rhubodach ferry pier.
- 5 St Colmac Cottage Stone Circle is 13 m in diameter with four standing stones and three stumps. Its age is uncertain. A second circle was blown up by the landowner circa 1810.
- 6 Ettrick Bay Beach is sandy, in a sheltered horseshoe bay on the west coast along A844. Butefest is held here.
- 7 Kilmichael Chapel is 7th century, well ruined but the stone slab at its east end is probably the altar. To get here follow the lane from Ettrick Bay up the coast to its dead-end at Glecknabae, then hike 1½ miles along the farm track. "St Michael's Grave" is a collapsed Neolithic burial chamber just south of the chapel. Cairnbaan Chambered Cairn is a better-preserved site reached by a detour into the woods halfway along that track.
- 8 Blackpark Stone Circle or "Kingarth" has three standing stones of an original seven. One is a strange puff-mushroom shape, or perhaps it's a doorknob for the underworld.
- Largizean Stones across the fields half a mile west are three aligned whinstones.
- 9 Kelspoke Castle is just a single gnarly stump, you only come for the views. It was probably an L-plan tower house of the 16th century. Here and there in the fields around, you notice traces of a disappeared medieval village.
- 10 St Blane's Church is an extensive ruin, mostly Norman. A monastery stood here 6th to 7th century but only scraps of this remain. After the Reformation of 1560 the priest refused either to become protestant or to quit the church and manse. The authorities left him alone in an almighty sulk while the place fell to rack and ruin around his ears. Near Kilchattan turn off A844 onto Plan Road south past the airfield; park up at the road end and walk along the track.
- Scalpsie Bay on the southwest coast is a haul-out point for Grey or Atlantic seals, Halichoerus grypus. The binomial means "hook nose sea pigs" for their distinctive broad nose - the common or harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) has a puppy-dog nose. Please don't disturb them in any way.
- Dunagoil is a vitrified Iron Age fort half a mile west of St Blane's, follow the footpath. Like several other forts of that era, it has at some point burnt so furiously that its stones fused into glass. The name means "hill of the foreigners", same as Donegal in Ireland, and it sits on a volcanic outcrop. Nearby are the scrappy remains of a smaller fort and a burial cist.
- Rubh' an Eun Lighthouse on the southeast corner of Bute is a minor light, which together with the light on Little Cumbrae indicates the channel for the Clydeside ports.
- 11 Inchmarnock is an island one mile west of Bute, still farmed but nowadays uninhabited. It has sea caves, a Bronze Age burial cist, and an early medieval monastery. St Marnock (d 625 AD) was the monk for whom Kilmarnock is named - it's not known if he ever stayed here, but the monastery was dedicated to him, and had a "writing school" teaching novices how to write elaborate script. The island is private but boat trips sometimes land by permission.
- Victorian Gents Lavatories, Ferry terminal, Rothesay, ☏ . M-Th 08:00-17:00, F-Su 08:00-19:00. Magnificent shrine to Victorian ablutions, but only the gents, and for some reason there isn't a viewing gallery so you come here to "do" not "see". (Some tourists pop in for photos regardless, resist the urge to wave your selfie-stick at them.) The ladies' is modern and functional, "separate spheres" and all that. £0.40.
- The cinema is within the Discovery Centre by the ferry pier.
- Rothesay Leisure Centre, 96 High Street, Rothesay PA20 9BN (half a mile south of town), ☏ . M-F 07:00-19:00, Sa Su 09:00-15:00. Their 25-m pool, gym and sauna are open daily. Fitness classes rotate between here, the college campus and Moat community centre.
- Port Bannatyne Petanque Club meets May-Sep in that village's park, Wednesday at 19:00 and Sunday at 14:00.
- Golf: Rothesay GC is on Canada Hill east side of town. Bute GC is nine holes, south at Kingarth near the airfield. Port Bannatyne GC in that village is an oddity, a 13-hole course: you play 12, then the first 5 again, then the 18th.
- 1 Loch Fad Fishing, Loch Fad, (To Loch Fad by Barone Rd B878 then left onto track; to Loch Quien go south via High St / B881 for 3 miles), ☏ . The deep loch is stocked with trout, and pike, perch and roach may also be fished. Rowing boats and rods for hire. In summer 2018 Bluebird K7, the restored record-breaking jet-powered hydroplane of Donald Campbell (1921-1967), undertook trials here. Loch Fad Day ticket (5 fish) £25; Loch Quien (catch & release) £14.
- The West Island Way is a long-distance footpath that traverses Bute, 32 miles in all. It's all easy going, pick your own itinerary, but the suggested stages are: Day 1 circuit of Kilchattan Bay, 5 miles; Day 2 Kilchattan to Port Bannatyne, 11.5 miles; Day 3 Port Bannatyne to Rhubodach 8.5 miles; Day 4 back to Port Bannatyne.
- Five Ferries is a cycle route of 51 miles, starting in Ardrossan, crossing via Arran to Kintyre then via Colintrave to Bute and back to the mainland via Rothesay to Wemyss Bay. It's often done as a charity challenge. If you manage to connect with the fourth ferry at Colintraive you're almost home safe, as there are no gradients before you and the final ferry from Rothesay is frequent. There isn't a combi-ticket for all five ferries but reckon to pay £15, no booking needed but warn them if there's a large group of you - this is important for the small Lochranza and Cowal ferries.
- ButeFest is a music festival in late July at Ettrick Bay on the west coast. The next is F 28 - Su 30 July 2023.
- Bute Highland Games are held at The Stadium sports ground, on High St half a mile south of Rothesay town centre, with the next on Sa 12 Aug 2023.
- Co-op Food main store is on Bridge Street 200 yards west and a block inland from Rothesay ferry pier. It's open daily 07:00-22:00. There's a smaller Co-op on Montague St a block inland from the pier, same hours. Londis is midway between the two Co-ops.
- Macqueen's is a butcher selling hand-made gourmet sausages, haggis and black pudding, at 1 Bishop St near the pier. It's open M Tu Th F 07:30-17:00, Sa 07:30-15:30.
- Bute Smokehouse produces salmon, trout and kippers. It's at 111 Montague St, open M-Sa 11:00-13:00.
- Zavaronis Cafe, 20 Argyle St, Rothesay PA20 0AU, ☏ . W-M 10:00-17:00. Famous cafe, a Rothesay institution, mixed reviews on whether it's worth the money. They also run a fish & chip shop on East Princes St by the harbour. Their best known family member was Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999), famous as a singer at age ten with her chirpy album "Ma! He's Making Eyes at Me", but succumbing to depression and anorexia nervosa.
- India Pavilion at 7 Argyle St is open daily 14:00-23:00.
- The Bonnie Clyde at 29 Gallowgate has an eclectic menu, open M-Sa 10:00-22:00, Su 11:00-21:00.
- The Waterfront, 16 East Princes St, Rothesay PA20 9DL, ☏ . May-Oct F 17:30-21:00, Sa 12:00-21:00. "We don't serve fish & chips!" is the warning barked at customers. What they do serve is good Polish food; limited seating and hours so they're often booked out.
- The Kettledrum is a slick little cafe at 32 East Princes St, open W-Sa 12:00-20:00, Su 12:00-18:00.
- The Anchor Tavern is your best chance of a meal in Port Bannatyne. It's at 33 Marine Rd, open daily.
- Durrum a doo a durrum-day, durrum a doo a daddy o,
- Durrum a doo a durrum-day, the day we went tae Rothesay o! - trad ballad
- Rothesay pubs were designed for Glaswegians to come "doon the water", get bevvied, take a leak in the Victorian gents, then stagger straight back onto the ferry. The strip includes Criterion Bar (up for sale in 2023), Islander Bar, The Grapes, The Galatea, Taverna Bar, Black Bull Inn, The Golfers and Palace Bar.
- Isle of Bute Distillery makes gin and spiced rum. They're at 65 High St in Rothesay and offer tours. In 2022 they were due to move into the larger Bute Yard behind, and re-open the island brewery, but covid has held this up.
- Spirit of Bute is a micro-distillery at 79 Montague St. Their shop is open W-Sa 11:00-16:30.
- We aa lay doon tae tak oor ease, when somebody happened for tae sneeze,
- And waukened half a million fleas, that et us alive in Rothesay o. - trad ballad
- Roseland Caravan Park, Roslin Rd, Rothesay PA20 9EH (Canada Hill half a mile east of town), ☏ . Primarily for static units, but with decent facilities for tourers (April-Oct) and campers (April-Dec). Tent £20, tourer £30, + £6 hook-up.
- B&Bs dot the coast road. Those within a mile of Rothesay ferry pier are Sunnyside at 12 Argyle Place, Ivybank Villa on Westland Rd, Summer's Bay Hotel at 23 Battery Place, Highlander House at 28 Battery Place, and St Ebba at 37 Mountstuart Rd.
- Esplanade Hotel is more like a bar / restaurant with rooms, as most visitors are just here for a meal. It's at 4 High St facing the ferry pier.
- Bute Backpackers has basic private rooms (£35 ppn) and doesn't have a dorm. It's at 36 Argyle St, half a mile west of the ferry pier.
- Victoria Hotel, 55 Victoria St, Rothesay PA20 OAP (100 yards west of ferry pier), ☏ . Trad hotel, clean and friendly, but lots of steps to upper floors. B&B double £70.
- Cannon House Hotel, 5 Battery Place, Rothesay PA20 9DP (on coast road half a mile east of ferry pier), ☏ . Peaceful small hotel in a Georgian townhouse with six double rooms and one twin. Residents' restaurant, lounge and small bar. B&B double £75.
- Glenburn Hotel, Mountstuart Rd, Rothesay PA20 9JP (above coast road a mile east of ferry pier), ☏ . Quirky hotel in a former Victorian hydro. Dogs welcome. B&B double £65.
- Cadillac Kustomz Hotel, 23 Marine Place, Ardbeg PA20 0LF (east end of Port Bannatyne), ☏ . Offbeat themed hotel, a shrine to the Cadillac automobile and associated Americana. They also get the basics right for comfort and service. B&B double £90.
- Mount Stuart House runs a string of self-catering properties around the island, all decent enough, but alas there are no guest rooms within the fabulous house.
- Colintraive Hotel, Colintraive PA22 3AS, ☏ . This is not on Bute, but on the Cowal mainland above the pier for ferries to Rhubodach (see "Get in") so it could be a life-saver if you missed the last ferry. (There's nothing at Rhubodach pier on Bute, but from there you could backtrack to Rothesay if need be.) It's an excellent small hotel, scoring highly for comfort, service and food, and not just by stranded travellers. B&B double £120.
As of June 2023, Rothesay has 4G from all UK carriers, but the rest of Bute has no signal.
- Ah said, “Ah think we should elope.” So we went and jined the Band of Hope,
- But the polis widny let us stop another oor in Rothesay o.
The obvious route is back to the mainland via Rothesay and Wemyss Bay, when Glasgow and the whole of lowland Scotland lie before you. This is also the best route to the Isle of Arran, by ferry from Ardrossan.
From the short ferry crossing of Rhubodach-Colintraive, either go north to Loch Long, Inveraray and Loch Lomond, or loop south again to Portvadie, for ferries to Tarbert on Loch Fyne. From there the main road leads to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre. Dotted along the way are ferry ports for Islay, Gigha, and a back route into Arran.