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Isle of Bute

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Isle of Bute

Gaelic name Eilean Bhòid or Eilean Bhòdach
Norse name Bót[1]
Meaning of name fire or beacon island[2]
Bute is located in Argyll and Bute
Bute shown within Argyll and Bute
OS grid reference
Physical geography
Island group Firth of Clyde
Area 12,217 hectares (47.2 sq mi)[3]
Area rank 13 [4]
Highest elevation Windy Hill 278 metres (912 ft)
Political geography
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Argyll and Bute
Population 6,498[5]
Population rank 5[5][4]
Population density 53.19 people/km2[3][5]
Largest settlement Rothesay
References [6]

Bute (; also known as the Isle of Bute, Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Bhòid or Eilean Bhòdach) is an island in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. It is divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault. Formerly a constituent island of the larger County of Bute, it is now part of the council area of Argyll and Bute. Bute's resident population was 6,498 in 2011, a decline of just over 10% from the figure of 7,228 recorded in 2001[7] against a background of Scottish island populations as a whole growing by 4% to 103,702 for the same period.[8]


  • Geography 1
  • Etymology 2
  • History 3
  • Transport 4
  • Education 5
  • Sport 6
  • Economy 7
  • Attractions 8
  • Notable residents and visitors 9
  • Notes 10
  • Footnotes 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13


Satellite image of the Isle of Bute. To the west of Bute is the island of Inchmarnock and to the east are The Cumbraes.

Bute lies in the Firth of Clyde. The only town on the island, Rothesay, () is linked by ferry to the mainland. Hamlets

on the island include Kilchattan Bay, Kingarth and Port Bannatyne.

Bute is divided in two by the Highland Boundary Fault. North of the fault the island is hilly and largely uncultivated with extensive areas of forestry. The highest hill is Kames Hill at 267 metres. To the south of the fault the terrain is smoother and highly cultivated although in the far south is to be found the island's most rugged terrain around Glen Callum. Loch Fad is Bute's largest body of freshwater and runs along the fault line.

The western side of Bute is known for its beaches, many of which enjoy fine views over the Sound of Bute towards Arran and Bute's smaller satellite island Inchmarnock. Villages on the western side of the island include Straad, around St. Ninian's Bay, and Kildavanan on Ettrick Bay.

In the north, Bute is separated from the Cowal peninsula by the Kyles of Bute. The northern part of the island is sparsely populated, and the ferry terminal at Rhubodach connects the island to the mainland at Colintraive by the smaller of the island's two ferries. The crossing is one of the shortest, less than 300 metres (330 yd), and takes only a few minutes but is busy because many tourists prefer the scenic route to the island.

North Bute forms part of the Kyles of Bute National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.[9]


The name "Bute" is of uncertain origin. Professor W.J. Watson (1926) suggested that Old Irish bót, meaning 'fire', may be the origin, perhaps referring to signal fires,[10] and is supported in this by Mac an Tàilleir.[2] Watson also states that there is no likely derivation from Ptolemy's Ebudae. This reference to beacon fires may date from the Norse period.[11]

Probably originally known to the Norse as Bót, later during the Viking age the island was known as "Rothesay", possibly referring to a personal name "Roth" or "Roderick" with the Old Norse suffix ey, meaning "island". This name eventually came to refer to the main town on the island, which was also known in Gaelic as Baile Bhòid, literally "the town of Bute".[6][12]

Haswell-Smith (2004) states that the original derivation was from the Brythonic budh meaning "corn".[6] It has also been suggested that the name may mean "victory isle"[13][14] or have been named after St Brendan, although this is unlikely.[15]


The human occupation of Bute dates from prehistoric times. The Queen of the Inch necklace is an article of jewellery made of jet found in a cist that dates from circa 2000 BC.[16]

Bute was absorbed into the Cenél Comgall of Dál Riata and colonised by Gaelic peoples. The island subsequently fell under Norse control and formed part of the Kingdom of the Isles, ruled by the Crovan dynasty. The Irish Text Martyrology of Tallaght makes a reference to Blane, the Bishop of Kingarth on Bute, "in Gall-Ghàidheil".[17] However, in the 12th century, the island fell under the control of Somerled, Lord of Argyll, and possibly his Clann Somhairle descendants. At about the turn of the 13th century, Bute appears to have come into possession of the family of the Steward of Scotland, during a time of internal strife amongst Somerled's descendants.[18]

In 1549, Dean Monro wrote of "Buitt" that it was:

very fertyle ground, namelie for aitts, with twa strenthes; the ane is the round castle of Buitt, callit Rosay of the auld, and Borrowstone about it callit Buitt. Before the town and castle is ane bay of sea, quhilk is a gude heavin for ships to ly upon ankers. That uther castle is callit the castle of Kames, quhilk Kames in Erishe is alsmeikle as to say in English the bay Castle. In this ile ther is twa paroche kirks, that ane southe callit the kirk of Bride, the uther northe in the Borrowstone of Buitt, with twa chappells, ane of them above the towne of Buitt, the uther under the forsaid castle of Kames.[19][Note 1]

Bute played a major role during World War II, and its naval involvements were especially significant. HMS Cyclops was the depot ship for the 7th Submarine Flotilla and was home-based in Rothesay Bay. A few miles further north at Port Bannatyne the luxury 88-bedroomed Kyles Hydro Hotel, overlooking the Port, was requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as the HQ for midget submarine (x-craft) operations. In particular, it was from here (hotel renamed HMS Varbel) that the top secret and audacious attack on the Tirpitz was masterminded. Much of the training of X-Craft submariners was undertaken in the waters around Bute, and especially in the secluded waters of Loch Striven to the north of Port Bannatyne. Bute at War. Bute accommodated many officers and NCOs of the Polish Armed Forces in the West. Officially a military camp, it was unofficially thought of as a prison for Władysław Sikorski's political enemies.[20][21]


Bute is connected with the Scottish mainland by two Caledonian MacBrayne ferries:

During summer, the paddle steamer Waverley calls at Rothesay on regular cruises.

There is a regular bus service along the eastern coast road, and a daily service connecting the island with Argyll and the western Highlands and Islands. Many independent holidaymakers use the island as a stepping stone from Glasgow and Ayrshire to western Scotland using this route. In summer an open-top bus tours the island leaving from Guildford Square by the ferry at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

The main ferry to the island leaves from Wemyss Bay, a village on the A78, the coast road between Glasgow and Ayr. Wemyss Bay is connected by rail to Paisley (for Glasgow International Airport) and Glasgow Central station. Prestwick Airport (used by Ryanair and several other airlines) is connected directly to Wemyss Bay by FASTBUS 585, which runs twice an hour.

There is an ad hoc link between Glasgow Pacific Quay and Port Bannatyne Marina by Loch Lomond Seaplanes, journey time 17 minutes.[22]


The island has one secondary school, Rothesay Academy, which moved to a new modern joint campus with Rothesay Primary in 2007. The largest of the island's three primary schools is Rothesay Primary, the smallest school (with roughly 50 pupils) is North Bute Primary in Port Bannatyne. The third primary school, St Andrews Primary, is a Catholic School aligned with St Andrew's Church, the only Catholic Church on the predominantly Protestant island.


Bute has many sports clubs and activities available. There are three golf courses: Rothesay Golf Club, Kingarth Golf Club and Port Bannatyne Golf Club. The most successful sporting club on the island is Bute Shinty Club who play at the highest level of shinty (the Marine Harvest Premier League). In 2006 Bute won promotion to the Premier League by winning the South Division One. Bute also won the Ballimore Cup and were runners up in the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup in 2006. The local amateur football team are known as the Brandanes, and the junior team are the Brandane Rovers. Bute also has facilities for fishing, rugby, tennis, bowls, and cricket. Petanque is played at Port Bannatyne; boules may be hired from the Post Office there.

The centre for sailing on Bute is at Port Bannatyne with two boatyards and the new marina,[23] and a club which organises private moorings in these particularly protected waters of Kames Bay. There is Bute Sailing School with its own yacht.


The Mount Stuart Trust owns 28,000 acres on the island and is wholly controlled by five members of the Marquess of Bute's family, plus an accountant and lawyer, none of whom live on Bute.[24]

Farming and tourism are the main industries on the island, along with fishing and forestry. Privately owned businesses include Telecom Service Centres (TSC), Port Bannatyne Marina and Boat Yard, the Ardmaleish Boatbuilding Company, Bute Fabrics Ltd, (an international weaver of contemporary woollen fabrics for upholstery and vertical applications), and the Scottish Mead Company.

The local radio station, Bute FM, found itself at the centre of a local controversy in 2010 after presenter Michael Blair was sacked and several volunteers walked out in sympathy. The situation was apparently exacerbated when the a phone-in show was prevented from airing complaints from listeners about the incident. The show's presenter resigned in protest stating that "for a community radio show to tell listeners they can't have their say on a show called 'Have Your Say' is just incredible."[25]


Scalpsie Bay and raised beach looking south to the three hills Suidhe Chatain, Tor Mòr and Suidhe Bhlain.

Architectural attractions on the island include the ruined 12th century St Blane's Chapel on a site associated with Saint Catan and Saint Blane, who was born on Bute. Another ruined chapel, dating from the 6th century, lies at St Ninian's Point.

The eccentric Rothesay Castle was built 800 years ago by the hereditary High Steward of Scotland.

Ascog Hall Fernery and Gardens are a renovated Victorian residence and glass-house containing shrubs and plants from all over the Empire, including a fern believed to be over 1,000 years old.

Loch Fad is a deep freshwater loch stocked with pike and brown trout, and is available to visiting tourist fishermen. Boats are available to hire.

The Old Post Office, now used only for sorting mail, is an historic working post office (open mornings only) which houses artefacts of the early post, some from before the advent of the postage stamp.

Scalpsie Bay has a colony of over 200 seals on its beach, which can only be reached on foot across the fields. The island also has many herds of deer, rich bird life and some large hares. Wild goats with large curled horns may be seen in the north of the island.

Port Bannatyne, a village towards the north of the island, is the centre for sailing and sea-fishing on the island. It has two boatyards and a marina for 200 vessels. Langoustines are fished with creels anchored in the bay. X-Class midget submarines were stationed in Kames Bay during World War II and there is a memorial to World War II dead. Port Bannatyne Golf Club is known for scenic views from the course.

A road from Port Bannatyne goes seven miles along the shore of the Kyles of Bute to the small ferry to Colintraive on the Argyll mainland.

The 1920s Winter Gardens (now the "Discovery Centre") close to the Rothesay Pier houses a small cinema and tourist information office. Nearby are the Victorian toilets.

There are a variety of music, folk and poetry festivals, and walking trails and new cycling routes. There are some remote Bronze Age stone circles, an Iron Age fortified village, and early Christian remains (including St. Blane's Chapel). The Bute Museum of the island's history is situated behind Rothesay Castle.

Notable residents and visitors

Famous Bute people include:


  1. ^ Translation from Scots: "very fertile ground, namely for oats, with two strongholds; one is the round castle of Bute, called Rothesay of old, by Borrowstone. Before the town and castle is a bay of the sea, which is a good haven for ships to lie upon their anchors. That other castle is called the castle of Kames, which translated from Gaelic means 'the bay castle'. In this isle there are two parish churches, that to the south called the kirk of Bride, the other north in the Borrowstone of Bute, with two chapels, one of them above the town of Rothesay, the other under the aforesaid castle of Kames." (The phrase "and Borrowstone about it callit Buitt" does not have a clear meaning. The second use of "Borrowstone" suggests it was a district in north Bute of which Rothesay was a part.)


  1. ^ Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  2. ^ a b Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 24
  3. ^ a b Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 23.
  4. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and were listed in the 2011 census.
  5. ^ a b c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith (2004) pp. 23–28
  7. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Scotland's 2011 census: Island living on the rise". BBC News. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  9. ^ "National Scenic Areas". SNH. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  10. ^ Watson (1926) pp 95–6
  11. ^ Hewison (1893) p. 13
  12. ^ Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 102
  13. ^ "Bute in a Nutshell". Bute Gateway. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  14. ^ 'Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society'. The Society, 1893. the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Digitized 20 April 2009.
  15. ^ Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 23 who notes that the proposed connection to St Brendan appears in the 15th century Chronicle of the Scots.
  16. ^ "The Queen of the Inch Necklace and Facial reconstruction". Bute Museum. Retrieved 5 September 2010.
  17. ^ Jennings and Kruse (2009) p. 133
  18. ^ Forte, Angelo;  
  19. ^ Monro (1549) "Buitt" no. 6
  20. ^  
  21. ^  
  22. ^ "Loch LomondSeaplanes". Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Port Bannatyne Marina". Retrieved 23 March 2013. 
  24. ^ "Absentee Highland lairds urged to give more power to communities". Scotsman. 
  25. ^ Campsie, Alison (1 September 2010) "Breakfast DJ's sacking makes waves at island radio station ". Glasgow: The Herald.
  26. ^ a b c d e f "Prominent personalities with a Bute connection". Bute Gateway. Retrieved 18 September 2011.
  27. ^ Gazetteer for Scotland. "Andrew Bannatyne". Retrieved 7 April 2007. 
  28. ^ Glasgow Digital Archive. "Andrew Bannatyne". Retrieved 7 April 2007. 
  29. ^ "The Cyclopedia of New Zealand: Mr Thomas Bannatyne Gillies". New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. Retrieved 31 July 2009. 
  30. ^ "Edmund Kean". Retrieved 7 April 2007. 
  31. ^ "Ashley Lilley".  
  32. ^ "Obitutary: Sir William Macewen, C.B., M.D., F.R.C.S., F.R.S.".  
  33. ^ "John William Mackail FBA OM". W. H. Auden – 'Family Ghosts' (Stanford University). Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  34. ^ "New shinty trio for Ireland clash". BBC Sport. 28 September 2009. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  35. ^ "Council car drove Provost to island breaks".  


  • Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate.  
  • Hewison, James King (1893) The Isle of Bute in the Olden Time. Edinburgh. William Blackwood and Sons. Retrieved 18 Sep 2011.
  • Jennings, Andrew and Kruse, Arne (2009) "From Dál Riata to the Gall-Ghàidheil". Viking and Medieval Scandinavia. 5. Brepols.
  • Iain Mac an Tàilleir (2003). "Placenames" (pdf). Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  • Monro, Sir Donald (1549) Description of the Western Isles of Scotland. William Auld. Edinburgh - 1774 edition.
  • Watson, W. J. (1994) The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland. Edinburgh; Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-323-5. First published 1926.

External links

  • Bute's historic sites at Canmore
  • Port Bannatyne Marina and Boatyard
  • Port Bannatyne to Glasgow Airlink
  • Bute Sons & Daughters project
  • Bute at War (Website detailing Bute's unique role during WWII)
  • The Buteman (local newspaper)
  • Bute FM (Community Radio Station)
  • ButeWiki
  • Port Bannatyne Petanque Club
  • Sailing reviews and news
  • Bute in Pictures, BBC News
  • Bute on BBC Island Blogging

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