The lockdown restrictions eased here in Scotland just in time for me to join with a small number of my family to celebrate (socially distanced of course) my mum’s 80th birthday, and to take a short break on the Isle of Bute. Like most people, I’ve barely been over the door in the last year and a bit. I can see the Isle of Bute from my window, but going there last week felt like a trip to a far-flung island.
My writing life has been a bit hectic since the start of the year. The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty, the first in my Victorian duet, was one of those occasionally very testing books to write (you can read more about my struggle with it here). I was so late finishing it that I rolled straight into a Christmas novella, the initial version of which was not Christmassy enough, so I was still working on the revisions when I headed off to Bute. Fortunately, I had space and peace to work in the mornings, and the revisions were signed off while I was away, so I got to celebrate too (a bottle of bubbly with Mum and Baby Sis on a very windy beach).
My family have a long history of going ‘doon the watter’ on holiday to the main town of Rothesay, and we’ve had a holiday home in various forms ever since I was wee. In recent years though, the island has reinvented itself and is no longer merely a classic seaside resort. Bute now offers some fabulous walking, including the West Island Way, a wide variety of outdoor sports, and of course the now renowned Mount Stuart house and estate. It’s a small island – only about 25 kilometres (14 miles) to cycle round – but its situation on the Firth of Clyde, tucked in amongst the Isles of Aran and Cumbrae, and slap bang in the middle of the Highland Fault Line provide some spectacular scenery and views.
The walking is gentle. There are very few hills and plenty of waymarked paths well-equipped with seats and picnic tables. The circular route over the top of Canada Hill with views down to Rothesay and over to Loch Striven and Toward, on my side of the Clyde, is one of my favourites. You can descend into the town by the road which takes you to the pier at Craigmore (sadly there’s no café there any more) and then along the coast into Rothesay. Going this way, you pass the Victorian Fernery which I blogged about here, and which features in The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty. From Rothesay, you can head back up to Canada Hill via the Serpentine or you can walk around the Castle and up past the golf course.
Alternatively, instead of heading into Rothesay, you can turn the other way at Craigmore, and head back up to Canada Hill to complete the circuit via the road past Loch Ascog.
If you want to extend the walk, you can carry on to Kerrycroy, the model English village at the main gates of Mount Stuart, and if you want to walk even further, head past the visitor’s gate and Mount Stuart and onto the Old Moor Road. That’s one of the things I love about the walking on the island – there are infinite variations, and you’re never really too far from the starting point.
You can’t visit Bute though, without going to the seaside. Ettrick Bay was my beach of choice this time, and I walked a circuit here, starting at one end of the beach, circling inland past some standing stones (there are several on the island) and then back to the other end of the beach, where there’s a café. You can paddle here well out without the water going over your knees, and it’s not that much colder in May than it is in July, so I ventured in.
Loch Fad is a well-stocked trout fishing loch (and the trout are yummy), and another favourite walk of mine. Sadly this time, I had to double back because the beasties were out in force, and I’m one of those people that they love – in fact I reckon if there was a gourmet guide for midgies, I’d get a Michelin Star. There are lots of picnic spots round the loch though, with plenty of chairs, so on a brighter day it’s a lovely place.
The weather was bright but windy and very cold for my little staycation. I came home weather-beaten and happy. There’s something about an island that really makes you disconnect from the world, and when you’re lucky enough to connect again with family you’ve not seen for a long time, it makes for a perfect holiday.
I’m ready to launch into work again, with an on-line read that will be available free in the autumn, a taster for my Victorian duet. More on that when I know more myself!