Welcome to Isle of Bute
The Isle of Bute lies in the Firth of Clyde, off Scotland's Ayrshire coast. Despite being just five miles wide and fifteen long, it is a place of great variety; it is divided by the Highland Boundary fault, most noticeable at Loch Fad, into low lying lands in the south and hilly terrain in the north. It is amongst the most accessible of the Scottish islands, just 40 miles southwest of Glasgow; it is connected from by the regular Wemyss Bay-Rothesay ferry. Rothesay is the capital of the island and largest town (see article, Rothesay).
The first visitors to Bute were Mesolithic hunter gatherers whose presence is testified to by small stone tools and ‘shell middens,' essentially the rubbish they left behind. More substantial remnants were not left until the Neolithic period, which began in Scotland some 6000 years ago.
Port Bannantyne, Isle of Bute
Constructions from this time are more often than not tombs, reflecting a culture which revered the dead. In Lenihuline Wood, at Cairnbaan, a 30 metre long cairn is one of Bute's finest examples from this age. The dead were provided with such items as finely decorated pots, recently excavated from the tombs at Glenvoideanin, for use in the afterlife.
The Bronze Age, from 2500 BC to 500 BC, was the age of stone circles, such as those near Ettrick Bay and Kilchattan Bay. There are a number of theories about their use: as calendars, as sites of religious rituals, etc. No one knows for sure.
Ever more complex societies developed on Bute over thousands of years. By the time of Roman withdrawal from the British Isles the tribal societies had developed into early kingdoms. The process of kingdom building on the west coast was influenced by the area's proximity to Ireland. Not only was the west coast the place where the kings of Dalriata (who would go on to found the Scottish Kingdom) would set foot on Scottish soil, but also the gateway to Scotland used by early Christian missionaries, whose influence would be just as great.
As a result, the Isle of Bute has a number of sites of some importance in early Christian Scotland. Arguably the two most important date from the 6 th century. The first is St Blane's Church, named after a Bute born saint, which contains the tombs of a number of 7 th and 8 th century abbots and bishops. The church lies at the southern tip of the Island, accessible from Kingarth. The other is a chapel at St Ninian's Point, on the west coast opposite Inchmarnock Island. Not only is the chapel of great historical interest but is also a vantage point from which spectacular panoramas of the coast, sea and island are afforded.
The era of the Vikings arrived in the late 8 th century and led to the building of a castle at Rothesay by Magnus Barfod in 1098. The existing castle was developed by the Stewarts of Bute, an Anglo-Norman family who arrived in Scotland in the 11 th century and were granted the lands of Bute as a means of supporting the development of Scottish feudalism. After the expulsion of the Scandinavians, the Stewarts secured their position as dominant family on the island. Their fortunes were to go from good to better in the following centuries; it was from the Stewarts of Bute that the Stewart (later Stuart) Kings of Scotland would owe their origins; in 1603 these kings unified the crowns of Scotland and England.
To some extent one can see the success of the family in Rothesay Castle (see article, Rothesay) although it is now but a ruin. The family relocated to Mount Stuart House, 7 miles south of Rothesay, in the 18 th century. Although the original mansion was destroyed by fire in 1877 it was soon after rebuilt by the 3 rd Marquis of Bute to a grand, if slightly over the top, neo gothic design. The first house in Britain to be lit by electric lighting and the first to have an indoor heated swimming pool, Mount Stuart House is today considered to be perhaps the most magnificent neo-gothic mansion in the world and one of the island's major tourist attractions.
Bute developed as a tourist destination in the Victorian period, due largely to the advent of steam ships. The ships brought visitors from nearby Glasgow ‘doun the water' for a taste of island tranquillity. The island's major town, Rothesay, has many attractions (from the medieval keep to exquisitely designed Victorian toilets) and is an excellent base to explore the island. The island itself has a kind of Hebredian beauty, with gentle hills and miles of rocky coastline as well as long sandy beaches.