Travel Black Book: At home in Bute

Travel Black Book: At home in Bute

Who: Professional storyteller and consultant Sheila Wee, 57. She is married with two daughters, actress Julie Wee, 31, and marketing executive Sophie, 27.

Favourite destination: Isle of Bute, Scotland

Why: Bute (pronounced "byoot") is a small gem (15km long and 6.5km wide) on Scotland's western coast. You could say it is a miniature Scotland - it is situated on the highland fault, so its northern end is in the highlands, while its southern end is in the lowlands.

This means that for a small island, its scenery is unusually varied with soft rolling hills, craggy heather-covered moorland, spectacular beaches and ancient woodlands.

All this is surrounded by the clearest waters and glorious views of the Arran Mountains, the Cowal Hills and the majestic sweep of Clyde Estuary.

Bute is also on the Gulf Stream, which means it enjoys a warm microclimate. Don't be surprised at the sight of palm trees gracing the gardens on the island.

Two other things keep me going back to Bute. One is the chance to be close to nature - wildlife abounds in Bute and I have often woken up to see deer in the garden or almost bumped into one while out walking.

Seals are one of my favourite animals and I never miss a chance to go to Scalpsie Bay or Ascog to look at them up close.

The other thing that draws me back is the people.

It's a friendly place with a strong sense of community. You don't feel the gap between locals and visitors like you do in many other holiday destinations. You might be a visitor, but you never feel like a tourist.

Getting there

Bute is often called the undiscovered Isle, which is ironic as it is the most accessible of Scotland's islands. It is a 40-minute drive from Glasgow Airport to the ferry terminal at Weymss Bay, and the ferry ride takes another 35 minutes.

While crossings to Bute are now on modern car ferries, you can still experience the magic of the Waverly, the world's last sea-going paddle steamer.

It's a beautiful ship - all gleaming brass and polished wood. It still sails regularly to Bute and at ports around the British coast for day, afternoon or evening excursions (

Favourite place to stay

My husband and I recently bought a flat in a 19th-century building on the seafront. It's on the third floor and we named it Neadbost, which means sheltered nest in Gaelic. That's just how it feels - warm and cosy with a fantastic view of the sea. We rent it out as a holiday home when we are not there.

There are many more wonderful holiday homes on the island (

Favourite restaurant

I love the food at the Kingarth Hotel (, an 18th-century inn in the south. It specialises in home-cooked food using local ingredients - its lamb, beef, venison, langoustines, mussels, cheese, milk and cream all come from the island.

I especially love its fish pie - the type of fish used varies, but it often contains smoked haddock, cod and mussels. My husband is still raving about the ploughman's lunch he had last August, which was a massive plate with both pate and cheese. Prices are about £5 (S$10.70) for starters and £10 for mains.

To the side of Rothesay Pier (Rothesay is the only town on Bute) is my favourite fish and chips shop, The Squat Lobster ( nvohfmd). Its fish is fresh and the batter is light and crispy and not oily.

It costs £6.50 for a generous portion of haddock and chips (£7.75 for a jumbo portion) and £7.95 for the fish pie, which is full of salmon and locally caught prawn topped with a squat lobster.

Favourite activity

A good reason to stay in self-catering accommodation in Bute is that it gives you the chance to shop for and cook locally produced food. Bute has top quality local butchers and fishmongers.

My favourite butcher is Macqueens of Rothesay (, where you can buy top quality locally reared highland cattle meat and sliced sausage.

Richie's of Rothesay (www.ritchies is a smokehouse and fishmonger that was founded in 1888 and supplied kippers to Queen Victoria. Its smoked salmon is particularly good.

Favourite tourist site

Mount Stuart (, home of the Marquess of Bute, is a flamboyant neo-gothic fantasia - full of magnificent marble, stained-glass windows embedded with crystals and ceilings decorated with characters from Greek mythology and astrology. It is over the top and marvellous.

As well as being a showpiece, it was also designed to be a comfortable home.

It was the first home in the world to have a heated indoor swimming pool and the first in Scotland to be purpose-built with electric light, central heating, a telephone system and a passenger lift.

All this, set in the midst of lovely gardens, woodland and shoreline, makes it well worth a visit.

Favourite bookshop

Print Point ( on West Princes Street in Rothesay is a true community bookshop. It grew out of a printing business that was bought over by its employees in 1997. It still does printing and has a great little bookshop that opens seven days a week.

It also has a cosy area where you can sit and have coffee and make use of the complimentary Wi-Fi.

It's a great place to mingle with the locals as there is always someone dropping in and willing to chat. Also, the owners are nice and make everyone feel at home.

Best place for breakfast

I love having a leisurely breakfast at the Ettrick Bay Tea Room ( on the mile-long golden sandy beach of Ettrick Bay that looks out over the water to the Kyles of Bute and the Mull of Kintyre. It's a simple, homely place frequented by locals and visitors.

I would go for a simple bacon roll (£2.80) and a steaming pot of tea.

Best view

It is difficult to choose as there are so many breathtaking vistas, but one that is particularly spectacular is the view from Canada Hill.

It was here during the 18th and 19th centuries that families gathered to watch their loved ones sail off to new lives in Canada.

From the hill, you get a sweeping view of Clyde Estuary.

Events to bookmark

The Bute Highland Games ( are held on the last Saturday of August each year.

With pipe bands, highland dancing, tossing the caber, throwing the hammer and much more, it is an uniquely Scottish experience.

Other annual festivals include the Bute Fest (, a fabulous weekend of family friendly food, music and fun in July.

Ideal length of stay

I would recommend a minimum of three nights. However, if you want to take things slow, stay a week or longer.

Recommended guide

Bute by David McDowell guides you on walks around the island and gives insights into the history and people.

This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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