Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Bute. The West Island Way. The 'Still' Undiscovered Island.

                                            ALL PHOTOGRAPHS CLICK FULL SIZE
As I mentioned in the last post this is a tale of two islands. About three weeks before the Arran Trip I went over on the ferry to Bute and Rothesay.  Although it was earlier in the season the Jazz Festival was on that weekend ( first weekend in May) so I was worried about getting parked at the Wemyss Bay Train/Ferry terminal seen above. One of the great relics of a bygone age and still kept in pristine splendour.
The walk down this wooden covered in ramp always does something to me inside. It's very evocative and there is nothing else like it in Scotland. As you stride down it towards the booking office at the bottom it echoes the footfalls of Victorian and Edwardian tourists shuffling down to wait patiently in a long line to board the ferry in the days when dozens of paddle steamers took folk to every part of the Firth of Clyde, including Campbeltown. It was forecast to be a lovely Spring day. It wasn't particularly early as I took the 9:25 am ferry. See any tourists yet?
The scene below is Bogany wood and Rothesay but the trees have grown since this was painted.
Poster from the era when the town of Rothesay and the Island of Bute was 'the destination' to head for during the two weeks of the Glasgow fair fortnight. Rothesay was packed in those happy times, and happy days for guest houses, B and Bs and Hotels I'd imagine right up to the late 1970s.  Ironically, I probably would not have liked it as much then as an adult as I prefer peace and solitude. You certainly get that on Bute these days.
The packed ferry on its way to Rothesay- holiday crowds fighting for space. This reminds me of the Australian Tourist Board advert from a couple of years back that ends with the plea "Where the bloody hell are you?" I can understand why people are reluctant to take holidays in Australia as it requires a large commitment of time (two full days travelling on a plane to reach it, and 3 days back)... money, £800 plus just to get there. A car or more likely expensive 4 wheel drive land cruiser hire to see more than just one corner of a vast land the size of Europe. Add in spending money and at least a month off work to make the journey worthwhile and it falls beyond most tourists budgets or time off allowance.

 Bute on the other hand is so close yet it was ghostly quiet when I arrived in Rothesay, (see photo above). Mind you, it's usually quiet here any time I've been over. Half a dozen folk got off the ferry with me. I couldn't help comparing that in retrospect to my journey over to Arran a few weeks later. A long queue of foot passengers, a packed ferry terminal and car park, almost a hundred people taking bikes over with them...a full car deck of vehicles.
 Here, I was the sole bike rider getting off this ferry.
Have they all been infected with leprosy on Bute perhaps? Has the great plague struck here? Is the black death still rampant on the island?

I've talked to a few people since that trip and they all say " Oh, I used to love going to Rothesay, such a great place. I've heard it's run down now."
It's a comment I've heard before about Bute's main town so this time I had a good cycle right round the main shopping area and back streets.
 Being an island Bute's shopping streets actually have more shops open than most town centres these days so it's clearly not that putting visitors off. I only counted a handful of shops empty and none of them were eyesores, just a small shop window here and there. Yes, admittedly there are a few buildings that could do with a coat of paint around the harbour area and two were being renovated with scaffolding up outside. Same as most small towns of this period.
It's a catch 22 situation here as well but in reverse. A self fulfilling prophesy scenario. No tourists- place gets run down. People mention that - situation is perceived worse than it actually is. More tourists arriving and spending money - place soon revives and money is lavished on the buildings.
 Accommodation perhaps? As I haven't stayed here in a hotel or guest house since the 1980s I couldn't comment on availability or standard although I,d imagine a fair few have shut due to lack of tourist numbers since then. There is a well maintained Caravan and camping site in Rothesay halfway up Canada hill which gets good reviews although tent pitches tend to be fairly expensive for cyclists or backpackers.£18 for two small one man tents which is near enough the same for a large tent plus car.  It mainly caters for touring caravans and year round static units. For the Jazz Festival I noticed that camper vans were allowed to park overnight along the Promenade area which is wide enough for that. (You could easily wild camp discreetly overnight on Bute though, either around Garroch Head or anywhere on the higher moorlands away from farms or private property.)
What I can say from previous visits is that the gardens in season are always immaculate here (Bute is a Britain in Bloom winner) and I know from experience the network of easy walks around the town are always stunning at any time of year.
http://www.gardens-of-argyll.co.uk/gardens/ardencraig-gardens.html  Mount Stuart also in here.
The Bogany wood walk to Ardencraig Gardens and back****( see poster), The circular walk up and over Canada Hill***** , The walk to the Kirk Dam via the Castle, the Town Park and the Thom Lade walkway ***** The Flat Promenade walks to Port Bannatyne*** or Bogany Point***. These are all excellent. What do other people think of the place though?
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Attractions-g551923-Activities-Isle_of_Bute_Argyll_and_Bute_Scotland.html  Very good photographic slide shows of St Blane's Church and Mount Stuart in here. Reviews mainly positive.

The Castle and moat are unique and Rothesay is still a very interesting place to explore with amazing views on foot or bike. Most of the town still looks well kept with stunning period architecture.

  The Serpentine Brae and Rothesay mansions. Not run down here in any way and most reviews I looked at online were positive about the town.
Another view of the walks and views available around Rothesay. Yes it is hilly here but many scenic flat walks are found in Rothesay too. It's a wonderful place. It's the same price on the ferry (slightly cheaper actually at £8 return passenger, bikes are free) than Arran and tends to get better weather due to a lack of high mountains. So what is it? Cant speak for accommodation as I'm usually a day tripper but why is it so quiet here? Why so few other day trippers anytime I've been here? I met one other guy( from London) cycling round the island who was middle aged as well and over for the Jazz Festival. He remarked what a beautiful island it was and how tranquil it seemed.
Kerrycroy Village and the local entrance to Mount Stuart estate. Away from Rothesay the scenery on Bute is pastoral, the roads are very quiet and the views are world class. None of it looks "run down."
People are strange creatures and it's puzzled me for years this question. It actually suits my nature to have it all to myself  and I'd probably be pissed off if too many people arrive here as I was slightly miffed the last time I cycled around the south end of Arran since the increased volume of traffic on the roads took the shine off cycling there with a steady steam of 4 by 4 vehicles and cars whizzing past my elbow all the way round.
Mount Stuart Tourist entrance. Even with a family it's actually cheaper on a day trip as passengers or cyclists to get to Bute but I think I finally know what it is that puts people off and I owe it to the guys in Rothesay who get up early every morning to open the booth and put flags in all the holes on the mini golf course... to the B and B, Guest Houses and Hotels and the Winter Gardens and the folk who lay out the magnificent floral displays each year... to spill the beans. I've decided it's a modern plague that's keeping tourists away from the island... even as day trippers.
It's .............Fashion.
Most humans are herd animals who always like to stick together. Maybe Rothesay and Bute nowadays is considered unfashionable in some way... like Abba used to be before their current resurgence into retro icons. Mind you, one reviewer on trip advisor thought Rothesay was like "Shettleston on Sea" and that the scenery on Bute was "uninspiring and dull." so there's no accounting for taste.
Maybe the views here are not that attractive to some people? Are the little lambs not cute enough? Bute has hundreds jumping around. More than anywhere else I've seen this year.
I decided to take one of my favourite trips out past Kilchattan to do the circular tour of the Garroch Head Peninsula. I thought about leaving my bike hidden and locked up in the forest then decided to just walk it around the peninsula instead as it didn't seem that hard to take it with me. This proved to be the case with only a few places where I had to carry it over boulders. (Mountain bikers-this path is not suitable for cycling so don't try)
Cows were rock climbing merrily on St Blane's Hill when I passed under it..... Glencallum bay was as empty and unspoiled as ever... and views round this headland are always superb. I met two people on the entire southern half of the West Island Way ... which is how I like it as I don't enjoy crowds of people in wild areas.

View across to the "busy" populated side of Liitle Cumbrae Island near Craig Nabbin with the old and newer lighthouses on show.
Usual "dreary" view of the Arran Peaks looking like something out of Jurassic Park or the American Rockies.
Obviously not a tourist draw. (note the weather is still sunny here yet dull and grey on Arran)
For an hour or so it was very dark over the Arran peaks and I thought I was going to witness a thunder and lightning storm... from still sunny Bute of course as I don't do rain in Scotland these days and refuse to walk under it...but it fizzled out .. yet remained overcast on the mountains.
St Blane's Chapel/Church when I reached it was as beautiful and peaceful as ever. A chapel, or a church, and the remains of a monastery have all occupied this atmospheric hollow over centuries according to the conflicting signage. (Chapel on most road signs... Church when you arrive there)
 The happy go lucky Vikings interrupted proceedings here from time to time with old favourite party games- rape, pillage, murder, burning, robbery of artefacts and sundry other hi jinks just to keep things from getting dull. I had my lunch here surrounded by giant ash trees, the baaing of little lambs (It wasn't me officer, honest, it's bottom was like that when I arrived) and the swish of cows tails. Just me and nature wonderfully intertwined :o)
Holy Isle off Arran from Bute. After lunch I did see my first tourists. A middle aged couple over for the jazz festival sightseeing on the island for the first time presumably. They had motored down the narrow dead end road to visit St Blane's Church/chapel which is a very picturesque ruin in a grassy meadow/hollow and one of my all time beautiful spots on the planet. This is simply a ruin and an ancient graveyard within a consecrated area but it has several discreet information boards (like the one above) to inform visitors about the site. I spent a lovely half an hour here resting, eating, and drinking in the unique quality of this place. Daisy rings could be seen in the meadow, bees buzzed in the wildflowers scattered around and jackdaws squabbled on the small cliffs nearby. I'm not religious in any way and was underwhelmed by busy Iona and Rosslyn chapel when I visited them although the actual buildings were nice but for me this place has always been very special due to its remote, completely natural, location. A combination of ancient stone, fantastic setting, and a very real "stillness" in the hollow that is noticeable when you sit down and appreciate it for any length of time, plus a lack of other human distractions that allow nature to be focused like a magnifying glass on your soul. I can see why they would choose this place to settle but that peaceful air has been lost at many other more popular religious sites for me due to the number of tourists and a commercial aspect...(Lourdes was a backpackers nightmare come true on a Pyrenean trip one hot summer when I passed through it years ago) but not here.
Anyway, I was already leaving the hollow just as they arrived so I thought they would enjoy that special atmosphere of peaceful reflection for themselves. Halfway down the path I stopped to look at a butterfly and was surprised to see them coming back down again behind me at speed. They must have literally walked into the hollow then straight back out again without reading a single sign or even entering the graveyard or vallum enclosure. Either they did not like the fact that it was a ruin or more likely they didn't like its secluded remote aspect. Weird after making the journey down a dead end road (above)  to see it in the first place. Yep, people are strange alright. Creatures of mystery. Maybe if it was busy with other tourists tramping around to give it fashion status they'd enjoy it more. Who knows? Bet they give it a crap review on trip adviser. " Nothing to see. Boring landscape and narrow roads."
(Maybe they could built an artificial Munro on the highest peak on Bute with a chair lift up and a  roller coaster spiralling down it- that might top Arran's appeal.)
Anyway, I had a great time, as I do on every occasion I visit this marvellous island.. which is all that really matters to me. It did liven up some in Rothesay town itself when I returned as the harbour had a few more private yachts in it and more visitors had arrived off an afternoon ferry to see the music acts. They missed a great sunny day though.

By special request I have been asked to put a happy video on this week so here it is. Jazz Festival flavoured as well. How appropriate is that.
Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa were always a bit too extreme and unconventional- even for me- but I did like this bouncy uplifting number as soon as I heard it.
Mad artist and mad lyrics deserve a suitably mad video ...and this is it! It made me laugh anyway. Humans are always funny... observed from a safe distance!


Kay G. said...

Cheerful video? I think someone needs to consult the dictionary!
Nice try anyway! :-)

blueskyscotland said...

Chas and Dave don't do it for me I'm afraid Kay. It was going to be "Freebird" By L.S. but that can wait until next time.

The Glebe Blog said...

Another place I heard a lot of as a youngster, but never visited. The Duke of Rothesey was also the Earl of Fife, and whether it was the link that attracted them, a lot of Fife miners used to holiday at Rothesey.
Vallum, too much like Valium but maybe the effects the same.
Do I detect a bit of sarcasm regarding the views Bob ?
Great pictures as usual.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
Not sarcasm- more disbelief as Bute in general has some stunning scenery. Maybe they visited during bad weather though as most of Scotland looks grim and dreary in mist or drizzle and grey skies can change the mood of a place.
I tend to forget that as I only visit places like islands on good days.

Neil said...

The southern section of the West Island Way is one of the best seascape walks in the west of Scotland, in my humble opinion. And St Blane's is one of the most peaceful spots that you can find. In fact, its about time that I paid a return visit!

Carol said...

I have to admit to only ever going to Rothesay/Bute once in my life and that was back in about the '80s with my Dad on a daytrip.

Unknown said...

Love those old posters, but on closer inspection the foreground has been subjected to a wee bit of artistic licence, the buildings at the bottom of the pick should be more to the right and there is no path that matches the one in the pic', I should know, I walk through Bogany wood every day to go to work, such a difficult start to the working day I know, someone has to.
As usual great report with matching photographs.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
It's a nice place and apart from a few streets around the harbour area and a new fish farm on Loch Fad it's not changed much.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I suppose there is not much attraction there for a mountain bagger like yourself.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Paul,
mind you where would we be without a spot of artistic licence
now and again? No point paying for a promotional poster featuring Rothesay looking at its best when the actual town centre is obscured by trees. Cant have the Lord of the Rings,The Wizard of Oz or any fantasy, science fiction or creative writing in books or films without it. Have you seen the painting in Glasgow's Art Gallery of Ben Lomond looking like the Matterhorn? Now that's artistic licence taken to a whole new level.(no pun intended:)