Car-free adventures around theIsle of ButeArgyll and Bute
One of the UK's best car-free adventures is a train and ferry ride to the Isle of Bute, where palaces and paths, coastal scenery and castles are waiting.
1. Getting from Glasgow to Rothesay
Wandering along the rocky coast path or through towering trees and sunlit ferns at Mount Stuart, it’s hard to imagine you only left Glasgow a couple of hours ago. Not only that, but a seamlessly interconnected journey by train, ferry and bus brings you to the Isle of Bute’s treasures in scenic style.
- Take a fifty-minute train journey from Glasgow’s Central Station, which runs partly along the Firth of Clyde to Wemyss Bay (pronounced “Weems”). The round station with its glass roof is spectacular.
- The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry will be waiting to transport you over the water to Rothesay (“Roth-see”). Look out for dolphins, cormorants, guillemots and great views of Argyll’s mountains across the Kyles of Bute.
2. Take the bus to Mount Stuart
Mount Stuart is a palatial neo-gothic mansion in red sandstone near the coast with a great art collection, colourful rooms and sprawling gardens. The first mansion on the current site of Mount Stuart was begun in 1716 and caught fire in 1877, giving the third Marquess, John Patrick Crichton Stuart, the chance to create today’s luxurious turreted fantasia. Follow Good Journey’s directions.
- Bus 490 (sometimes 90 and 493 on Sundays/evenings) leaves from the Guildford Square bus stop, just at the end of the pier from the ferry. It runs to coincide with the ferry crossings so you can hop off the boat and straight on the bus to Mount Stuart.
- During opening hours, the bus right drives into the grounds of Mount Stuart and it is a lovely, signed twenty-minute stroll through the gardens to get to the house itself and the café. The stop is not always shown on timetables, but comes soon after Kerrycroy (look out for seals!). When the house is closed, the bus stops by the gate.
- At the heart of the house, which is well worth seeing, the Marble Hall towers eighty feet overhead with rows of columns, zodiac-themed stained glass, monumental arches and a crystal-studded, starry, vaulted ceiling. The ornately-crafted rooms are full of intricate details like carved wooden birds and oak leaf shaped bronze door handles or glowing red stained glass windows at the top of the marble chapel.
- John Stuart, the third Earl of Bute, was (briefly) Prime Minister and there is a portrait of him by Joshua Reynolds in the house, looking very fine in blue velvet robes and ceremonial chains.
- Another full-length portrait, centuries later, of John Crichton-Stuart second Marquess of Bute, portrays the young Marquess in his family tartan with a dramatic seascape in the background. It was painted Henry by Raeburn. The landscape is dark, but recognisably Bute: he is standing on a sandy shore with the mountainous slopes of the Isle of Arran visible across the water.
3. And don’t miss the gardens…
Mount Stuart’s gardens are an expansive landscape of exotic plants and fruitful orchards, overgrown streams and stately avenues, stretching from an immaculate maple-shaded rockery to a wild kelp-strewn sandy beach.
- The area has a temperate rainforest climate making it green and lush. The holly trees and evergreen pines are often draped with moss and lichen.
- The autumn colours are spectacular and spring brings rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias with a carpet of golden daffs across the lawns. The Stuart family loved collecting unusual plants over the centuries and many are now champion trees like the evergreen Daisy Bush, widest example of its kind, in the ironically-named Wee Garden.
- You can even stay in one of the smartly-converted cottages on the estate and wander the grounds at your leisure. The characterful Kennels has a wood-burning stove, a stack of logs, and a sunset-facing sitting room that looks out onto sloping fields of cows.