Bute’s West Island Way

iScot magazine have a special free download offer this month. Among many other interesting items, it contains an article I’ve written about the wonderful West Island Way walking trail on the island of Bute. https://pocketmags.com/iscot-magazine

You can also read about Robert Burns, the remote but beautiful Applecross Peninsula, Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery, current affairs, whisky, the dreaded midge, Meal Makers (help for the elderly) and much more.

And if you love the great outdoors here’s a new website devoted to Argyll: http://www.wildaboutargyll.co.uk/  Watch the short film and see how many of these places you have already been to – and then visit the rest!

There’s something for everyone in Scotland!

Bute – a small island with fascinating connections!

Rothesay on Bute, the gateway to the Isle of Bute Mystery series

Rothesay Harbour, the gateway to the Isle of Bute

Question: What’s the connection between Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, the explorer who died along with Scott in the Antarctic, and James Dobbie, nurseryman and founder of the well-known chain of garden centres?

Answer: the Island of Bute!

Henry Bowers’ family lived on Bute for many years and he loved the time he could spend there when on leave from the Royal India Marine.  It was time spent walking, talking, playing tennis and even swimming all the way from Ardbeg Point to Craigmore every day before breakfast!

Birdie Bowers

Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers

A small man, of boundless energy, he was one of last surviving members of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.  On realising that they had no hope of surviving, Scott wrote a letter to Bowers’ mother, “We are very near the end of our journey and I am finishing it in the company of two very gallant, noble gentlemen. One of these is your son. He has come to be one of my closest and soundest friends and I appreciate his wonderful upright nature, his ability and his energy. As his troubles have thickened his dauntless spirit ever shone brighter and he has remained cheerful, hopeful and indomitable to the end.”  Not long afterwards their tent was finally buried in a ferocious blizzard, and their remains not found until eight months later. They were buried where they died.

Bute Connections, BNHS 2011

Bute Connections, BNHS 2011

By contrast, it was James Dobbie’s passion for plants that brought him to Bute.  His overriding interest in horticulture led him to give up his job as Chief Constable and Public Prosecutor in Renfrew and move to Rothesay in 1875 to develop his growing horticultural interests: Bute chosen because it had what he considered to be the ‘perfect climate’ for growing plants. Even after he had officially retired from the company, Dobbie’s love of gardens and plants continued. On his death on 13th October 1905 he was buried at the High Kirk in Rothesay.

Bowers and Dobbie are but two of the thirty-six men and women who appear in the book Bute Connections, compiled by Bute residents Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin.  It was published in 2011 by the BNHS (Buteshire Natural History Society) and is available from Bute Museum. In fact, so many connections were discovered that a second volume has been suggested to bring this intriguing and revealing slice of local history up to the present!

RCAHMS: New insights into Bute's rich and varied past

RCAHMS: New insights into Bute’s rich and varied past

It’s an island rich in history and archaeology, as was discovered when the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) completed a new survey of Bute in 2009/2010 as part of the excellent three-year Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Project.  Aided by the knowledge and expertise of islanders, the survey team identified nearly two hundred previously unrecorded archaeological sites!

At the close of the project, RCAHMS archaeologists Alex Hale and George Geddes produced the expertly written and beautifully presented book The Archaeological Landscape of Butea must for all with an interest in Bute’s past and how that has formed its present and could shape its future!

On the lookout for Viking raiders in one of the caves at Dunagoil!

On the lookout for Viking raiders in one of the caves at Dunagoil!

For some people, Bute is synonymous with Rothesay, the island’s ‘capital’, sadly now a faded reflection of its former Victorian grandeur.  But there is so much more to the island than Rothesay. So just what does Bute offer visitors today?

For a start, you could get your bearings and brush up on the island’s history by spending an afternoon in the wonderful Bute Museum.  Then head for the dungeons of Rothesay Castle!  Or sample the Gothic splendour of Mount Stuart.  Or why not be brave and explore the caves below the Iron Age fort at Dunagoil?  Or be energetic and hire a bike from the Bike Shed and cycle up the steep twists and turns of the Serpentine – or if that’s just too challenging go for a cycle round the island!  Or take a walk through the atmospheric remains of the early medieval monastery of St Blane’s.  Later, should you feel like something a bit more strenuous, you could spend a week walking the West Island Way.  And round things off with a meal at one of the islands many excellent restaurants, washed down with a fine craft beer from the new Bute Brew Co!

From the Serpentine: the Calmac ferry leaving Rothesay for the mainland

In addition to all that, you could always go along to one of the many cultural events on the island. For example, just last week we had the great pleasure of being in Rothesay when murder came to Bute in the shape of an author visit hosted by the library as part of Book Week Scotland.  There was a full house for crime writers Craig Robertson and Alexandra Sokoloff  – he from Stirling, she from California.  By the end of that evening you would have found yourself seriously considering a visit to the Faroe Islands, deciding you definitely must go on the tour deep below Central Station and the streets of Glasgow and worrying slightly at the thought that serial killers could also be women!

If Bute can attract speakers of the calibre of Craig Robertson and Alexandra Sokoloff, then it’s got a lot going for it!

“Discover Bute”: a lasting legacy?

Rothesay's largest ever visitor?

Rothesay’s largest ever visitor?

Over a period of four years from 2008 to 2012 the people of Bute took part in a wonderful project that brought the island’s rural landscape to the fore. Through the Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme (DBLPS), and under the able guidance of its coordinator Bridget Paterson, a huge range of projects flourished and were enjoyed by thousands of people. There was the unforgettable first outing of the Big Man Walking, the restoration of hedgerows and woodland, the creation of new walks across the island, the discovery of artifacts more than 4,000-years-old in the Bronze Age Barrow at Scalpsie, the building of new bird hides at Ettrick Bay and Loch Quien, the repairing of dry stone walls, dozens of school visits, an abundance of related training courses and an unprecedented participation of volunteers – islanders and visitors alike.  It was wonderful!

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute - a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

Part of the legacy of Discover Bute – a DVD and booklet covering fantastic walks across this beautiful and historic island

At the same time there was a community forest buy-out at the north end of the island, with Discover Bute again involved in the creation of new pathways and the building of new bridges to open up this area for all to enjoy.  There have even been brilliant bench-making courses for anyone who wanted to try their hand at that!

But what now? Could the momentum and involvement that was generated back then be continued?  The answer to that is undoubtedly – and thankfully! – ‘Yes’!

Much of the historical legacy of Discover Bute is now being carried forward by Paul Duffy, who was Discover Bute’s archaeological director. Through his new venture Brandanii Archaeology, Paul hopes to continue and expand the connection between the people of Bute and their island’s rich heritage.

While walkers, and those who’ve ever tackled Bute’s unique West Island Way, will be delighted to see that another group, the Bute Conservation Trust, have just set out their plans – and hopes – for the coming year.  It’s good to see that so much is being done to build on Discover Bute’s achievements, and that so many people are still willing to be involved and give up their time and energy to make Bute a great place to live in and visit.  Long may it continue!

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute

Bute Conservation Trust unveil their plans to maintain the legacy of Discover Bute