I don’t know about you but the very fact that it’s referred to as the ‘unexplored isle‘ makes me even more intent to set off for the Isle of Bute. If you are also keen to explore the unexplored (and perhaps, like me, you have fingers crossed that you may be one of the lucky ones to win free ferry tickets from VisitScotland) then this month’s interview is essential pre-holiday reading. For tips on exploring this gem of an island we spoke to Susanne Arbuckle – keen photographer, blogger at Adventures around Scotland and authority on ‘buteiful Bute’.
Warning, this blog post is packed to the brim with great tips and may result in the need to immediately book a holiday…
What do you love the most about island life?
You can’t help but feel like you’re on holiday when you’re on an island. There is something very therapeutic about being surrounded by water and leaving the hustle and bustle of the mainland behind. Life goes at a much more relaxed pace and people are friendly with time to chat.
What are your personal highlights of Bute?
For sheer opulence Mount Stuart House has to be seen to be believed, and for a sense of history I like to explore the rugged Dunagoil Fort. The seals playing and sunbathing at Scalpsie Bay are great fun to watch and a walk up the Serpentine in Rothesay provides a whole new perspective on the town as you look down on Rothesay Bay from the top at Canada Hill.
What do you most love to photograph on the island?
I never get tired of taking photos of the palm trees along Rothesay promenade or at Port Bannatyne. They look great against a blue sky or sunset and it is hard to believe you are still in Scotland! In general I love taking landscape shots and Bute provides plenty of stunning views. I never use Photoshop as I always want people to see things as they really are.
Which walks would you recommend to visitors?
If you have the time I really recommend The West Island Way – a 25 mile long distance walk that crosses the island. The walk can be split into four parts and you can complete the entire walk or pick and choose as many sections as you like.
For an easy circular walk from Rothesay town centre follow the marked path through Skipper Woods, turn left at the end and back towards Rothesay. This takes you along the water’s edge with nice views of the Firth of Clyde towards Loch Striven with some grand Victorian Villas on the opposite side. Stop at Craigmore tearoom for cake on the way back as your reward.
What would you suggest to visitors looking to get off the beaten track?
Whilst most locals and tourists flock to the easily reached Ettrick Bay and its popular tearoom, a little more effort will take you further along the west coast to the beach oasis of Scalpsie Bay. With clean wide sands that stretch out with a direct view to Arran it is easy to find a secluded spot to enjoy this peaceful and scenic location.
Wildlife watchers will delight at the variety of sea birds and the antics of the playful seal colony that can often be found sunbathing on the rocks, providing perfect photo opportunities. A walk uphill following the marked trail will take you to a viewing platform with picnic tables and an information board pointing out the various historical and geographical sites. For really breathtaking 360 degree views of Bute, it’s neighbouring islands and the mainland, follow the signposted trail up the hill from the viewing platform car park. At the top you will be rewarded with one of the best vistas on the island. Take time to relax and savour the views over lunch at the picnic table where you may even be joined by some curious sheep!
Where is your favourite place to go for coffee and cake after a long walk?
Musicker Cafe and The Coffee Stop are a few doors apart and have views towards the castle. They are both quite different but equally as good and as I regularly test the cake in each I can recommend both!
Can you describe a perfect day on Bute?
In the morning a visit to Mount Stuart and a walk around the grounds before heading into Rothesay and a good pub lunch at the Black Bull. Walking off lunch with a stroll along the promenade and town centre while enjoying one of the unusual flavours of ice cream from The Pokey Hat.
As a perfect day is all about taking it easy, ending the afternoon with a visit to one of the many beaches is a must. Enjoying a bbq at Scalpsie Bay while watching the sun go down is hard to beat.
What day trips would you suggest for those wanting to explore more of Argyll?
The short ferry ride at the north end of the island takes you across the lovely Kyles of Bute to Colintraive where there is a nice hotel. From here you can follow Argyll’s secret coast road to Otter Ferry, passing several nice towns and villages on the way. A stop at the Tighnabruich viewpoint is stunning and the marina at Portavadie serves a good lunch. This is a relatively quiet area of Argyll, yet it is just as beautiful as the rest of the region.
Another easy day trip is to Inverarary and Loch Fyne which are always great to visit with a stop at The Creggans Inn for lunch.
What other hidden gems have you discovered during your ‘adventures around Scotland’?
This is really hard as I’ve visited a lot of Scotland over the years and have found many hidden gems. Dumfries and Galloway is often overlooked as place to visit in Scotland and I’d say the whole area is a hidden gem. One of my best memories was camping at Clatteringshaws Loch in the Galloway Forest Park a couple of years ago, enjoying a superb sunset and the amazing dark skies. The rest of our campervan trip was equally as memorable and I can’t wait to explore there again later this year.