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Biking about Bute – Day 1

Biking about Bute – Day 1

For a long time Ulli has talked about visiting Bute, “the Jewel of the Clyde”. Also, there have been a number of searches which have visited this blog looking for information about cycling on Bute (visiting posts where I have written about cycling on other islands with a view to Bute). So it was that Bute was the obvious place to go for a long weekend. Despite the annual Jazz Festival happening over the same weekend, we still managed to book a B&B in Rothesay. Rothesay is the capital of the island and the only real town, there is very little accommodation outside Rothesay, unless you want to wild camp. However this isn’t a problem, as Bute, unlike some other islands, doesn’t have a circumnavigatory road, so staying in one place and making out and back trips and loops are the way to see the island, without having to carry all your luggage around all day.

Day 1

Getting to Bute was easy, train to Glasgow Queen Street, then a short walk/cycle to Glasgow Central (as usual I managed to miss the turn off into Gordon Street half way down Buchanan Street), train to Wemyss Bay where the ferry terminal is attached to the station., For cyclists to get onto the ferry, you have to buy the tickets at the foot passenger ticket office inside the terminal and then go around the outside to board via the car deck. I like ferries, feeling the vibrations of the deck plates coming up through my feet always reminds me of my sea time with the Grey Funnel Line. The crossing was smooth, although the sky was grey and there were heavy showers moving along the Firth of Clyde, not the weather we had hoped for, at the beginning of May.

Once alongside the pier in Rothesay, we were piped ashore, busking at the pier seems to be a popular way of supplementing their pocket money among the local teenagers. Then it was just a short ride to the B&B to drop off a pannier. For some reason it seemed to be the lighter one, I spent the whole trip lugging 5 kg of bike tools and a camera around with me. The next task was to find lunch. As the Jazz Festival was on this, was supposedly one of Bute’s busiest weekends of the year, but we soon found a wee tearoom by the Craigmore Old Pier (the Pier is long gone) with space and sea views and didn’t have to resort to buying rolls from the Co-Op.

Lunch over, it was time to get down to the serious business of exploring the Island, first stop the Isle of Bute Discovery Centre which gives a broad overview of the islands past and present. We discover that the island is transected by the Highland Boundary Fault, with the north being more Highland like and the south more lowland, although this is less pronounced than on Arran. We decided to take on the north first. Riding along the shore road through Port Bannatyne we saw a sight which wasn’t mentioned in the Discovery Centre, but one that stops tourists in their tracks and has them reaching for a camera. I refer of course to the “Hanging bike of Port Bannatyne”, no I don’t know why it is there either.

The Hanging bike of Port Bannatyne

Having exited Port Bannatyne, we turned left at Kames Castle onto the road for Ettrick Bay. There is a short hill here, nothing challenging, but it does give a good view point down on to the castle, which is one of your bog standard tower houses so favoured by Scottish lairds, in fact they like them so much at Kames there are two. At the crest of the hill we passed St Colmac with its ruined church, built in 1836 by the second Marquess of Bute, closed in 1980 and now being left to collapse. Just there, the road forks and we took the right fork, alongside which runs the line of an old tramway. Back in the halcyon days of Bute’s tourist past a tram ran from Rothesay to Ettrick Bay, where there was a dance hall and tea rooms. Well the dance hall is long gone, but tea rooms are still there and the ice creams they serve are very good. Beyond Ettrick Bay, the black topped single track road runs along a raised beach as far as Glecknabrae. It is possible to follow the farm track to Kilmichael, but disappointingly the road doesn’t continue to Buttock Point and the Maids of Bute. We decided to turn round and go back the way we came (not that there was much choice).

Having crossed the island back to the eastern side, we turned north once again, up along the east coast, where the raised beaches are far less pronounced. We went as far as the Rhubodach ferry. Just after the slipway there is a short stretch of new tarmac and the road bends. I turned to ask Ulli how much further the road went (she had a map on her handle bars), as I turned to look forward again I saw that 10 m ahead there was a closed gate with a rough track beyond, which kind of answered my question. Time to turn around again. At least this time the wind was at our backs.

Photos from Bute are here. Day two is here and day three is here.

There is a map of our route on day 1 here.

My stats for day 1 were:

  • Distance cycled – 49.43 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:23:34
  • Max Speed – 56.30 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.66 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 210 m

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Biking about Bute – Day 2

Biking about Bute – Day 2

Continued from Biking about Bute – Day 1

After a hearty breakfast we set out once again, it had been recommended that we visit Mount Stuart House. Now, country houses are not usually my sort of thing, but on this occasion I decided to go and take a look. The advice was to be there for the first tour, which was good advice (apart from being told the wrong opening times, which meant that we were an hour early). Still, this did mean that we secured places on the first tour of the day, and we had plenty of time to explore the grounds. They have a refreshingly positive attitude to bikes, there is cycle parking directly outside the Visitor Centre and also at the House itself, and we were welcome to cycle around as we pleased. So off we went, rode round some of the estate roads, had a look at the kitchen gardens and arrived in good time for the tour. Now, as I said above, country houses are not my sort of thing, but I actually rather enjoyed the tour of this one. The house has a lived-in feel rather than the pickled in aspic feel you get with a lot of these places.

The tour over, we went outside to get some photos (you are not allowed to take pictures inside), just as the sun came out and the massed hoards arrived, making us glad that we had been on the first tour of the day. Photos duly taken, we set out onto the open road once more, to further explore the island. We headed vaguely towards Kingarth, with the idea of having lunch at the Kingarth Hotel, which is actually the Isle of Bute’s only country pub. Along the way we noticed the roads were really quiet and this was supposed to be a busy Bank Holiday weekend (possibly this was not a Scottish Bank Holiday, but it was still a weekend). On arrival we found the hotel car park was fairly full, maybe this was this where all the traffic had gone to? But there were only 20 or 30 cars. The Smiddy Bar (the dining part of the Kingarth Hotel) was also full, so rather than hang around waiting for a table, we decided to ride on down to Kilchattan Bay to see if we could find anything there.

The ride was pleasantly easy, but we were aware that the wind was at our backs. Looking around for lunch, we found the wee shop was shut, then we saw a sign board outside the St Blane’s Hotel, but the door was locked. There were people sitting in what looked like the bar, maybe they didn’t like the look of two hungry cyclists and locked the door, either way, they didn’t appear to want our custom. So we turned round and cycled back up the hill to Kingarth, which proved to be a lot easier than I had expected. There was now space in the bar, which was good, as the food was great. Fresh, local ingredients and portion sizes ideal for hungry cyclists, all a very reasonable price. What more could you ask for?

Lunch over, back on the road trying to decide where to go next, we were faced by a typical Bute direction sign, left, Rothesay 7 miles (11.3 Km) or right, Rothesay 8 miles (12.9 Km). It is hard to get lost on the Isle of Bute!

Which way?

We turned left, but we weren’t going back to Rothesay straight away, 250 m down the road we turned left again onto Plan Road. We were off to see St Blane’s Church (or rather the remains of St Blane’s Church). As we walked up from the road to the site, we meet a couple coming the other way who we had seen earlier at Mount Stuart (and at the Kingarth Hotel). By the time we got to the ruins we were the only ones there (apart from a few sheep), it is a beautiful, romantic site and well worth visiting.

When we left St Blane’s the sun was shining, but we could see some dark clouds on the horizon and, sure enough, a couple of kilometres along the road we saw a rain shower coming towards us. On the way south we had noted a style over a wall into a wood (there was a standing stone marked on the map), so we took the opportunity to take shelter for 10 minutes or so. The shower passed, we continued on our way, next stop Scalpsie Bay for a spot of seal spotting. There were also dramatic views across the Sound of Bute to Arran, much taking of photos ensued. Photos taken, Ooo’s Ooo’d and Aaah’s Aaah’d, we were back on the road again. As time was getting on, we decided to head back to the metropolis, by the slightly longer route. It was a pleasant evening, the roads were very quiet, and with the evening light glowing, there were more photos to be taken. Later that evening, as we were looking for somewhere to eat in Rothesay, we meet the couple we had been crossing paths with all day. We stopped to chat, she was French, he Scots, they had been worried about our being caught in the rain showers. We explained how we had found shelter, and we all agreed that the Isle of Bute was a lovely place to visit.

Photos from Bute are here. Day one is here and day three is here.

There is a map of our route on day 2 here.

My stats for day 2 were:

  • Distance cycled – 44.6 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:08:18
  • Max Speed – 65.88 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.85 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 390 m

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Biking about Bute – Day 3

Biking about Bute – Day 3

Continued from Biking about Bute – day 2

For our final day, we wanted to see a few of the things we had missed on the previous days. First on the list was the Ascog Fernery, which is an extraordinary sunken Victorian greenhouse with only one fern of the original collection surviving. This a specimen from New Zealand which is reputed to be over 1,000 years old. We were surprised that there was no collection box for donations, it was only once we got home, that we found that it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Next, as the weather was the clearest it had been during our stay, we decided to ride up Canada Hill which is noted for its views, cue taking more photos. Having reached the top of the hill, you have to go down again, and the fun way down from Canada Hill is the Serpentine Road.


View Larger Map

As its name suggests, the Serpentine Road snakes its way down the hill into Rothesay. It is steepest at the top where it passes between houses on high banks, then it opens out and the turns get closer together, this is the most fun part. I stopped at the top of the open part, as I knew Ulli would want to take photos, once she was ready I set off. Going down was enormous fun, it is not as fast as you might expect, as you have keep the brakes covered because of the hairpin bends. Having gotten to the bottom, I waited for Ulli to come down and prepared for what I expected to come next. Sure enough, once Ulli arrived, she asked if I would go back up, so that she could get more pictures from the bottom. So off I went back up the hill again, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t as hard as it looks. Coming down a second time I now knew where the best line through the bends was, so I was faster, this was a mistake. As I reached Ulli, she told me I had been too fast, and to go back up and do it again. Much to the bemusement of two walkers coming down the steps to the side, I set off up the hill yet again, feeling like one of the grand old Duke of York’s 10,000 men:
when I was up, I was up,
when I was down, I was down,
and when I was only halfway up,
I was neither up nor down.
After the third decent, I declared that I wasn’t going to do it again.

After a short debate we decided to do one last loop to cover one of the roads which we had yet to ride. We headed north through Port Bannatyne then left at Kames Castle, towards St Colmac only this time took the left fork to the south end of Ettrick Bay. Having got there we noted that there is a path which could have used on day one. We carried on to Straad and then walked out St Ninian’s Point, to the remains of St Ninian’s chapel, passing a couple of standing stones on the way. Then returned to Rothesay, via the Greenan Loch, in time for a late lunch and the ferry back to the mainland.

Photos from Bute are here.

There is a map of our route on day 3 here.

My stats for day 3 were:

  • Distance cycled – 34.2 Km
  • Time spent riding – 01:52:06
  • Max Speed – 65.1 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.3 Km/h

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