Day-trip to The Isle of Bute from Appletree Cottage, Loch Lomond on 5 Nov 2016
This was a great day out to the isle of Bute in the firth of Clyde. A round trip taking around eight hours, in stunning scenery with two ferry crossings. On the 5th November 2016 we left Appletree Self-Catering Cottage in Croftamie at the South end of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park at around 1030am and made for Balloch along the former military road that is the A811. Continuing straight through Balloch we joined the A82 heading north (Signposted Tarbert and Crianlarich) This road took us up the western shore of Loch Lomond giving good views across the loch and the magnificent Ben Lomond towering above the far shore. About twenty-five minutes after leaving Appletree Cottage we arrived at the small village of Tarbert where the road divides. Crianlarich is to the right (A82) and Inveraray and Arrochar are signposted straight ahead (A83). We continued straight on following the road towards Arrochar. On leaving Tarbert we could see the small railway station of Arrochar and Tarbert which is on the beautiful West Highland Railway Line, In former times a commuter train ran between this station and Glasgow City Centre. Those days are long gone however and the winter timetable nowadays provides only three trains each way per day. Arrochar is a small village at the head of Loch Long and boasts a petrol station and a few convenience stores. As we entered the village we were treated to good views of Ben Arthur, more commonly known as The Cobbler, across the waters of the loch. At the foot of The Cobbler on the shoreline we could see the impressive remains of the second world wartime torpedo testing station. We continued along the A83, following the North shore of Loch Long and then commenced the long climb up the Rest and Be Thankful pass. (see previous blog for information about this location) Once over the summit the road A83 descends into Glen Kinglass. At the foot of the hill on the left is a small humped back bridge. This used to be the main (single track) road to these parts. The bridge, also known as Butterbridge was in the past a favourite stop for Tinkers who sold their basket wares by the roadside. It was also a popular site for tinkers' weddings. Once down in Glen Kinglass the new road is straight and more or less level for a few miles. The remains of the old military road can be glimpsed on the left hand side. Towards the western end of Glen Kinglass we took the left-hand turning signposted Dunoon A815. The A815 after a few turns joined the South shore of Loch Fyne. Across the water the white painted village of Inveraray, the ancient former capital of Argyll, glistened in the sunlight. Inveraray is famous for its old jail, a beautifully preserved nineteenth century prison and courthouse which is well worth a visit, as is the excellent George Hotel in the town. Immediately to the east of Inveraray is the four towered Inveraray Castle, ancient seat of the Campbells and the Duke of Argyll. We pulled up by the side of the road to admire the view, As it happened we had stopped adjacent to another Tinkers' wedding site known as the Tinkers' Heart. We watched cormorants drying their wings on the nearby buoys in the loch before getting back in the car and continuing our journey.
The drive down the South shore of Loch Fyne was a pretty one. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining, which brought out all the autumn colours in the trees, and joy of joys, there was hardly a car on the road! We passed through the hamlet of St Catherines and shortly afterwards arrive in Strachur where we take a right hand turn onto the A886, signposted Colintraive and Tighnabruaich. Strachur is an attractive little village on the shore of the loch with a post office cum general store cum cafe serving home-made food. After Strachur the A886 took us through beautiful remote countryside. We ignored the turning off to Tighnabruaich (that's for another day) and continued on to the small ferry terminal of Colintraive.
Ferry from Colintraive to Rhubodach, Isle of Bute
A Calmac ferry was waiting to take us across to Bute, which appeared to be little over a stones-throw away across the Kyle of Bute Before driving onto, we bought a through ticket from one of the ticket attendants who were walking along the very small queue of cars with their ticket machines. The ticket we choose is called a Hopscotch - it is for a one way journey from Colintraive to Rhubodach on the North end of Bute and then one way from Rothesay (at the South end of Bute) to Wemyss Bay on the mainland.
We didn't have to wait long until boarded the Loch Dunvegan car and passenger ferry. It was pleasantly quiet at this time of year with only about seven cars and a handful of passengers. Before we knew it we were on Bute, as the journey only took about 10 minutes. We disembarked via the small slipway at what was the end of a single-track road. We waited until the other cars from the ferry had passed us and then set on our way, happy in the knowledge that there was nobody behind us and that we could take our time sightseeing as we travelled without fear of being at the head of a queue of cars waiting to pass! At this point the journey from Appletree Cottage had taken us just over two hours. It seemed like another world. We made our way down the East coast of the island, stopping occasionally to take in the views. The opposite shore on the mainland was hardly inhabited with only the occasional house here and there. On Bute the road was now double-track but with no sign of other vehicles. The habitation was initially sparse but as we headed south more buildings started to appear. Approaching Port Bannatyne we saw an impressive number of yachts and other craft gently bobbing up and down in the safety of the marina. The Kyles of Bute and for that matter the rest of the Clyde estuary are very popular waters for sailing. After a short time we arrived in the island's capital town of Rothesay. Here we parked up and had a bite to eat in one of the many cafes in the town.
After lunch we explored the harbour and the what is now called the Discovery Centre - a beautifully restored throwback to the 1920s when the passenger paddle steamers plied their tourist trade on the Clyde, ferrying the people of Glasgow and its surrounds to the islands where they would be entertained by music hall and variety stars of the day. The Discovery Centre - or the Winter Gardens as it used to be known is now Grade A listed building. Inside this former palace of entertainment there is a tourist information centre with a good selection of information and, maps. There is also a large display in text and photographs of the history of Rothesay and Bute's high-points. At the back of the hall is a corridor crammed with images of those music hall and variety acts which entertained the masses in this particular venue. We wonder how many you may recognise? Rothesay Castle is also worth a look. Dating back to the 13th century this impressive semi restore ruin in the centre of the town is surrounded by a water filled moat and high impregnable walls in an unusual circular plan.
South and South West Bute
Back in the car we drove south and had a brief look at exterior of Mount Stuart, a stunning gothic revival country house set it in its own huge estate. Designed in the 1870s by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson it is the ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute. The pictures of the interior of the house looked fantastic but unfortunately it was not open to the public on the day we visited. We explored the island further, down to the southern tip and then up the West coast. Here the views across to the hills of Arran were tremendous with ever changing sunlight dancing across the craggy distant peaks.
Time to return to Appletree Self Catering Cottage in Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park
We planned to get the 4pm ferry to Wemyss Bay on the mainland because we wished to make the crossing in daylight. Our through "hopscotch" ticket had not prescribed what time we should make the crossing so we were free to choose. We made our way back across the island to Rothesay and down to the ferry terminal which is in the centre of the town. There was no queue and we drove aboard straight away after showing the attendant our tickets. We were about ten minutes early so had a good chance to view Rothesay from the upper decks of the ship before she slipped away. Had we been any earlier we could have taken a look inside the famously ornate Victorian toilets on the pierhead.
It had been a gorgeous clear day and the sunset was magnificent over the silhouetted hills of Arran as we steamed out into the middle of the Clyde estuary. The lights of Wemyss Bay twinkled in the distance growing ever larger until we birthed approximately half an hour after leaving Bute. From there we drove back home to Appletree Cottage and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park spotting the occasional firework flittering across the now dark sky. We finally arrived back at Appletree at 1830 after a perfect day!