The good, the bad and the ugly: glimpses of Rothesay and Bute

rothesay 1

Camera ready for the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit at Mount Stuart, it found another job to do this Wednesday [13th March] – recording moments in and beyond Rothesay on a chill but beautiful day.

CalMac Argyle ferry coming on to Rothesay

The spectacularly lovely Victorian lavatories on Rothesay harbour were closed at 8.00am. Pity. But the CalMac ferry, Argyle. coming in to Rothesay from Wemyss Bay in Ayrshire, had a few surprises in store. This one was pure James Bond.

ferry surprise

The lovely old harbour still has some charm and water is almost always seductive.

Rothesay harbour

However, the heart of the town facing the ferry, as folk come off it, is in a bad way – neglected, gap-toothed, flaking and flaky, empty shops.

Rothesay - the view from the ferry

If you cannot or will not maintain a town centre property, should you be made to sell it? Before any chance of a purchaser is lost?

Rothesay - on the square

The civic impact of this mess is wholly destructive. Why would anyone come to Rothesay for Rothesay’s sake?

If you come in for the day on the ferry from Wemyss Bay, you won’t walk far and the first part of the town you’ll walk is the front. There’s no immediately obvious alternative in these long Victorian seaside towns anyway.

What would you find on Rothesay’s current waterfront that would offer you comfort, ease, pleasure? How long could you seriously spend there? What would you do? And if the weather turned nasty?

Would you come back?

Rothesay pavilion

Council owned property is a bit better but only marginally. The lovely art deco Rothesay Pavilion looks tired and clapped out, suffering from public sector pragmatism as well as a degree of neglect.


You can still see the earlier confidence and ambition of this town in its essential structures. But if you looked at the reality of the ground floor shop fronts, things are different and less than they seem.

rothesay on the square 2

But how can you believe in a place that property owners allow to look like this?

nooks and crannies

There are nooks and side alleys that would have had their attraction and still might – but today they just look sleazy.

Hidden behind theĀ  desolate wreck of this once grand promenading square now tarted up with fairy lights in front of the dereliction, is the massy force of Rothesay Castle, built to do business of a very particular and obvious kind.

rothesay castle

It’s scale and strength are magnificent, its grassy banks and moat well maintained, their sculpture impeccable.

On the edge of the town, toward Mount Stuart, on the shore, there is evidence of recent strong tides at the side of a lovely stone round house.

Tidal spill at round house

High on the hillside is the imposing Glenburn Hotel, once impossibly in-your-face in self-importance, now hosting bus tours.

Glenburn hotel

Just where the narrowing main road swings right, away from the water and towards Mount Stuart’s gates there is the out-of-time curiosity of Kerrycroy village with its surprisingly long stone pier extending out into the Firth of Clyde. This little crescent of seven dwellings was built by the wife of the 2nd Marquess of Bute in the style of an English village.


The pier had to be as long as it is to see the end of it capable of letting boats come alongside at low tide.

pier at kerrrycroy

It was used around 70 years after Kerrycroy was built – to ferry in the stone for the building of the 3rd Marquess of Bute’s neo-gothic mansion of surprises at Mount Stuart, where the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Summit was held on Wednesday.

kerrycroy bay

The Bute shoreline is endlessly intriguing, even below the road there are rock structures to marvel at – one series looked like beached mammals.


One, at the water’s edge, washed over by the wavelets, looked like a skate washed ashore, suffering rawly from radiation burn. You’d have sworn corrupted blood was leaching into the water from it.

skate rock

On the other side of Rothesay, Port Bannatyne points jauntily over to the entrance to Loch Striven, with the Cowal hills behind.

Port Bannatyne and the Cowal hills

The truth of Rothesay is that you could live there enjoyably because you’d have the whole of the lovely island within your reach and the sanctuary of your home. You’d know where the good places are for coffee, comfort and shopping in the odd foray.

But who would visit Rothesay for the day, on foot, from the ferry? Such a visitor has no sanctuary, nowhere to take refuge – and is unlikely to find any.

We went for a cup of coffee where a visitor might go – made it a takeaway after we went inside, bought a cake – which tasted of a blend of dampness and fairy liquid.

the challenge

We’d tried another equally obvious place much earlier in the day – hadn’t been renovated for longer than one could imagine; reasonably good coffee; very pleasant and helpful Polish member of staff. It was a real challenge to get access to the ladies’ loo through an impossibly tight doors arrangement. If you were in there and a fire broke out you’d have no chance. and no one would get in to get you out. The handle on the inner door is on the far right inside inside the outer one.

Everyone today has expectations of a great deal more than this town can currently offer and no one is prepared to settle for much less. Why should they?

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16 Responses to The good, the bad and the ugly: glimpses of Rothesay and Bute

  1. The stone that looked like a skate is probably Old Red Sandstone, which is characteristic of the Highland Faultline.

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  2. Sadly Rothesay suffers from the neglect of those who inherited the post ‘good old days’ of being Glasgows favourite ‘doon the watter’ experience . Its grand buildings falling to ruin without much local interest in keeping the town to a standard that would welcome visitors and decent incomers alike. The large percentage of incomers are drug addicts and social misfits trying to escape the gloom of an inner city existence and who only contribute to the further decline of the place. There has been those who have gone to Rothesay lured by the beautiful west coast scenery at their fingertips and who have invested only to be meet by local apathy from the less foresighted of the townsfolk who would benefit from an injection of good publicity of the local scenery which is lost by the various eyesores of the town center and lack of facilities for visitors. Neighbouring towns on the main coast are also suffering though, due to foreign holidays being cheaper and almost guaranteed sunshine is hard to compete with. I lived in Rothesay for a few years and found the apathy disturbing as it really could shine as the jewel it once was and could easily become the best attraction on the Clyde. Many are trying but are finding it an uphill struggle due to petty differences as the self acclaimed ‘elite’ flatter themselves with misguided self importance. It needs a collective effort from all on the Island to turn it around and I personally think it deserves it. It is truly a beautiful Island.

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  3. This article is simply pap – There have been significant investments and developments in Bute. The new marina in Port Banatyne and the upgrade to Rothesay Harbour, not to mention the continuing existence of the only commercially viable large covered slipway on the lower Clyde at Ardmaleish . The community buyout of the northern forest. To name just a few. All this is visible and contributes to growing the economy and provision of jobs. As to the side swiping of the tourist bus trade; some of Argyll’s winter economy exists only on the back of bus tours. As William above alludes to, there is a dark side to living on Bute. A truly unbalanced cursory portrait of Bute from ForArgyll

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  4. Raises some tough but valid points. Does unfortunately overlook some recent developments and works in progress, but it’s written from a visitor and an ‘at a glance’ point of view.

    I think it’s important to remember that first impressions make a big difference to people’s perceptions.

    The island needs to learn a bit more about how people now perceive it when they come to visit and be always trying to improve and build on it’s strengths: friendly people, great views, good outdoor activities, easy to get to, strong community, lots of hardworking independent businesses, great historical attractions, talented creative residents and amazing wildlife in abundance, to name just a few.

    I think when you know the place it does all become easier but for day trippers and one off visitors it can sometimes be tricky to find what you’re looking for.

    The area behind the square car park is a pretty grim first impression for any visitor to see on arrival and would surely be a worthwhile project for redevelopment. Few licks of paint? Pop up market stalls in the ‘hole’? Modern signposting to local attractions like the castle, meadows and Tourist info?

    There are so many opportunities that could be developed with the right research, support, backing and a wee bit more ‘can do’ instead of ‘same old’, but as mentioned above it’s not just Bute that is suffering and it’s hard work in tough times for all.

    And I totally agree with William, it is a beautiful island. :)

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  5. I moved to the island in 2002 and have been involved in the renovation of 2 properties and am currently converting The Old Bakehouse into 4 flats but it has been a 4 year up hill battle which until a year ago was met with nothing but obstruction from the council and nothing but support from the islanders. It is no walk in the park trying to work with the system we have and the costs involved but in the time I have lived here I have seen constant care for the jewel in the Clyde that Rothesay is. Walk a mile with more than a camera and you would get a more balanced version of our much loved wee island.

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    • We have shown that if you walk mere than a mile… Catherine – and could not agree more about the lovely Bute.
      But people who come for the day to ‘try’ the place won’t walk a mile – and have come to be in Rothesay and not in the island as a whole. And that’s the problem.
      Who, coming in for a taster visit to Rothesay as it now is, is going to choose to come back – either to Rothesay or to explore more widely into the island?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. Anybody could do the same for every village/town in Argyll.

    I remember being seduced by a road-sign that advertised the pub in Furnace and the decent bargain meals to be had there. Went into Furnace, dump, and the said pub was shut.

    The sign was in good condition though…

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  7. went back to rothesay to visit my mum at the week end back to my child hood home left with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat the place is a shadow of its former self what was once the jewel of the clyde is now just another carbunkle. boarded up shops and dirty looking tea rooms, charity shops selling over priced junk ,supposed upper market shops selling cheap tat at overly inflated prices.Pubs with no entertainment and nothing but the same old jakies propping up the bar that were there 8 years ago when i left.i am sorry but the world has moved on but rothesay has failed to do so if i had taken my 15 year old son what would i have done with him all weekend as it was freezing cold .

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    • I agree with Simon above. I thought you were writing about Helensburgh or Dunoon.
      I really hope the CHORD projects will make a difference but I worry it’s too little, too late.

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  8. We will be happy to provide help to the islanders to clean up the properties. We will also apply a significant discount for a block order., Just call 01349 880701 for more information or get together with other residents for better discounts

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  9. My wife and I made our first and last visit to Rothesay in 2009. We stayed at The Victoria, a pleasant little town centre hotel. A bit expensive for what it was but they tried hard.

    As soon as we got there we crossed the road to the Tourist Information Centre to find out where to eat on our only night in town. An uninterested member of staff handed me a cheap school plastic folder with hand written and photocopied menus inside. I asked if there was a printed leaflet on where to eat in town. The answer was a curt, “No”.

    We then went to go on the open top bus around the island. The driver demanded we bought a two day ticket. I said we were only there one day. The attitude was “Tough”.

    The streets seemed scruffy, and gave the impression of not being safe to walk after dark. The buildings looked derelict and many were.

    It’s a beautiful island and we had planned to go back but could find no reason. I’d love to see the town develop, it’s in a great location with great ferry connections for people like us who travel from the south to the West Highlands.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

    • And your evidence is coming from someone who wanted to be in Rothesay, who had chosen to travel a significant distance to be there, who wanted to enjoy the visit, was looking to enjoy it, ventured beyond the town but could find no comfort there – or anything approaching assistance – to underpin a possible second chance for the place.
      No one can possibly challenge the authenticity of this reasonably toned account or defend the reality of this experience.
      Aywhere that can summon no better that this in SELLING a place, does not deserve to be less derelict than Rothesay currently is.

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  10. I was a cop In rothesay in the sixties and it was pretty derelict then. I am amazed that nothing seems to have been done to arrest the decay.i enjoyed my time in rothesay and it gives me no pleasure in making this comment ian

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  11. I’ve visited Rothesay many times in the late 70′s, 80′s and 90′s, as my aunt lived on the high street diagonally across from the old roller skating disco.

    As a child it was a great place to go away from city living, but now when I look at it, it’s just a dump and quite upsets me.

    I now go to the Isle of Arran for a summer break with the family and stay in a lovely rented house in Lamlash.

    Why does it seem that, people have invested on this island like Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay, but not on the isle of Bute – Rothesay, Port Bannatyne and Ardbeg?

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  12. I’ve just bought a wee holiday flat in port Bannatyne and love it! ok Rothesay is a bit run down but put on your walking boots and the island is amazing, wonderful views, wildlife and the locals are very friendly, it’s my wee escape from city life and I look forward to many happy visits with friends and family. All places have good and bad areas Bute has so much to offer if you give it a chance! come to the port for a nice walk, pint or lunch!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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