Rothesay And Isle Of Bute
ROUTE LENGTH: 18 MILES
By Public Transport
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A complete circuit of Bute is a rewarding and compact experience. Rothesay itself is an attractive holiday port whose ancient Church of St Mary was at one time a Cathedral of the Southern Isles, just as its castle was a royal Stewart stronghold. Going northwest first, by Port Bannatyne, you reach Kilmichael which manages with its ruined chapel to feel remote even on Bute. Everywhere on this west coast seems to be connected with Kintyre and Ireland.
Travelling south again, keeping to the west side, past the lovely Ettrick Bay, where Norse raiders came ashore, we reach St Ninian’s Bay where on the northern point there was a substantial Celtic monastery founded in the earliest phase of Ninian’s mission from Whithorn. This is still an evocative place, looking out on Inchmarnock- Marnoc’s or Ernoc’s Isle- whose fertile acres were home to another early Celtic community. Here missionaries and pilgrims found peace, but also the natural fruits of land and sea which they regarded as the generous gifts of their own maker.
These open outlooks contrast with the more enclosed terrain of the south end, where there is a rich concentration of early settlement, beyond Kilchattan Bay. Standing stones and a stone circle mark the approach, with Dunagoil Fort located to the south west and Garroch Head at the tip. Tucked within this landscape between St Catan’s Seat (Suidhe Catain) and St Blane’s Hill is the monastery and later chapel of Blane. The site is one of the most complete in Scotland, retaining its enclosing circular wall, its well, and an earlier, perhaps ritual feature, the Devil’s Cauldron. The sense of enclosure and shelter is remarkable, the restfulness palpable.
Coming back on the east side, the Chapel and well of Catan were at the north end of the bay, rather than the location of the present village to the south. The Ascog Fernery is a reminder of Bute’s fecundity and mild climate. On the road back to Rothesay is Mountstuart, a Gothic Revival masterpiece created by the artistic passion and religious devotion of the third Marquess of Bute. His conversion to Roman Catholicism rocked Victorian society, but Pluscarden Abbey, Falkland Palace, Dunblane Cathedral and Whithorn priory, in addition to St Blane’s, were all to benefit from his determination to recover lost aspects of Scotland’s spiritual heritage.
O happy passing of Blane!
Let Bute rejoice above all other islands
To have sent forth a dweller with the angels.
By him the Lord’s house shines with miracles.
As light shines from a golden candlestick
So Blane shone, longing for things eternal.
Glowing lamp of charity, raised high and bright,
O bountiful Blane, give us the oil of kindness
Give us the light of grace, cleansing us from sin,
leading us to the everlasting kingdom of light.
(Aberdeen Breviary, Adapted)