We had just arrived in Rothesay, off the ferry from Wemyss bay, and we began to explore the beautiful island of Bute…
Status: Argyll and Bute, Town, Scotland
Travel: Virgin Trains (Carlisle – Glasgow Central), Scotrail (Glasgow Central – Wemyss Bay via Paisley Gilmour Street), Caledonian MacBrayne (Wemyss Bay – Rothesay)
Eating & Sleeping: Ferry
Attractions: Rothesay Castle, Isle of Bute, Ferry Crossing, Rothesay Town Hall, Highland Arch, Bute Museum, Tourist Information, Gardens, Sea Front etc
Rothesay is at the edge of Bute, and therefore has an extensive port with boats and ferries going off to mainland Scotland. The sun had stayed out, and it was great to be getting off the British mainland for the third time so far in our travels, it felt like proper exploring.
Rothesay has an extensive promenade, all along the front. There are various old buildings on the sea front as well as an extensive park (more on that in a minute) and the views are fantastic. It’s a typical seaside town, but as you head further into the town centre there are many other gems to discover.
The park I mentioned earlier is right next to the sea front and just down from the ferry port. In the middle of the park (with the greenest grass we have ever seen!) is the Tourist Information Centre, in the building pictured. It also contains the Bute Museum, which gives lots of history of the town as well as Bute itself, along with a guide to some of the steamers and ships that have served the island, as well as the local wildlife. As it’s an island, there is of course plenty of flora and fauna, birds and other wildlife to discover.
The building itself was built as the Winter Gardens in 1923, but it was eventually abandoned and the Tourist Information and Museum moved in in the 1990’s.
At the south end of the park, nearer the ferry port and the main town centre, the superbly sculpted angel atop the War Memorial looks out over the town. It was built after World War I, and stands as a memorial to both World Wars, of which Scotland played an important part along with the rest of Britain.
From the sea front we moved into the main town, to explore one of the crowning glories of Rothesay.
The ruins of Rothesay Castle stand in the middle of a moat at the centre of the town. It’s a grand size, and we were planning on going inside but we picked the one day of the week that the Castle isn’t actually open… didn’t plan that very well but it doesn’t matter, we walked around the entire outside and took in all the detail. Again the grass is so green on Bute, and covered all the sides of the moat, on the inner and outer circles.
If you live in the UK you will know who the current Prince of Wales is, Charles, heir to the British throne. Well in Scotland, the heir to the throne is known as the Duke of Rothesay, a practice that began back in 1398 when the son of King Robert III of Scotland gave the title to his son, David. When the thrones of England and Scotland merged, the title became for the British throne, not just the Scottish throne.
Moving around to the other side of the Castle, we found a large hole in the wall. The walls are in very good condition, minus the roof. We are not sure how it looks inside as we didn’t get inside, but it must be fascinating to walk around.
The Castle has a long and varied history, beginning back in the 13th century. It is unusual as the layout is circular, most castles being square or rectangular in Scotland. On the left of the picture is the Pigeon Tower, which is from the 13th century, and the main interior of the castle was built in the 16th century.
The Castle was predated by a wooden Castle built by Alan Steward of Scotland, but by 1230 the stone wall had been constructed. The English soon captured the Castle during the Scottish Wars of Independence but Robert the Bruce retook it in 1311, only for the English to return in 1334 and so on. In 1371 the Steward Family ascended the Scottish Throne and the Castle became a popular holiday home for the Royals.
The Castle was extended in the 16th century to provide accommodation for King James VI, and again for his successor James V. In 1527 the island was attacked, but the Castle survived the siege and it passed into the hands of the Earl of Lennox, who was under the influence of the English.
During the English Civil War, leading into the Scottish and Irish Civil Wars, the Royalists took over the Castle, but when the troops left in 1660 they partially destroyed the Castle. The ruins were left for many years, until the 1800’s when it was excavated, and it was given to the state in 1961, and cared for by Historic Scotland.
Just across the road from the Castle is the elegant Town Hall, finished in smooth stone. It also contains the Sheriffs Court for the town. We had one more thing to do in Rothesay after this, and we back towards the gardens on the sea front. Further along the gardens, past the Tourist Information and Bute Museum, is the Highland Arch…
The Highlands Arch marks the boundary between the Scottish Highlands in the North, and the Scottish Lowlands in the South. So if you (like I did in the picture) have one foot on either side of the arch, you are stood in both areas at once. The Highland Boundary Fault runs diagonally from Bute up to near Aberdeen in the North East of Scotland, and also crosses through Loch Lomond we which we also visited recently. Today marked our second trip officially into the Highlands, and hopefully the start of many more to come. The picture of me is taken from the Lowlands side, welcoming you to the Highlands. From the other side the sign welcomes you to the Lowlands.
From here it was only a short walk back to the ferry port, as we had already been here a good few hours and it was time to head back over to the mainland, for one last stop on the way to Glasgow.
The easiest way to reach Rothesay from most areas of Scotland is to take the train from Glasgow Central through Paisley to Wemyss Bay and get the ferry over to Rothesay from there. You can also drive to Wemyss bay and make the ferry journey by car. If you are coming from the edges of Argyll and Bute you can drive over to Bute from Colintraive using another ferry that arrives at the north of the island.
Bute is an amazing island, with great scenery and sights, and there are many other amazing things to see on the island including Mount Stuart House, often said to be one of the best examples of Neo-Gothic architecture in the world. It is situated south of Rothesay, still on the island.
From here we started back to Glasgow, and stopped in the town of Paisley on the way…