Shortly after the first moon landings, my teacher at Rothesay Primary asked the children to draw what we thought the world would look like in 2019.
Most of us drew flying cars and rockets ready to go to Mars. It was the space age, and we loved the thought of seeing Bute in this brave new world.
I spent my first 20 years on the Isle of Bute, living in a community where no one locked their doors.
From our house on Serpentine Road we could see the putting greens, the Prom and Rothesay Bay, including the gantry over the pier with its messages,“Ceud mìle fàilte” on one side and “Haste ye back” on the other.
The main street was lined with colourful lights, while the putting greens were decorated with illuminated wooden animals.
From Easter until October, ferries arrived full of people from the central belt coming “doon the watter” for fresh air and to dip their toes in the water at Children’s Corner.
Memories of a tourist town
The adults filled the pubs, while the younger ones went to the amusement arcades or the putting greens. Wallace Arnold coaches discharged their complement of pensioners at the Glenburn Hotel for afternoon tea before settling down to watch the Ella Wilson Gang Show at the Winter Gardens.
However, as the 1980s approached, the number of visitors declined: for all the island’s beauty it could not compete with the Costas. Things began to change, and the town fell on hard times.
I recently returned to Bute to find out how it was reinventing itself.
Was it finally finding a way to encourage people to make the ferry crossing as well as catch a flight to Spain?
I spoke with Hazel Mulholland and Robert Barr from VisitScotland’s iCentre, which shares space with a 90-seat cinema in the Winter Gardens.
Reinventing itself after hard times
We discussed the reopening of the cinema, the Isle of Bute music festival and the recent Pride parade.
There was also talk about doing more with the Prom, which was once the heart of the town.
Talk turned to Mount Stuart House.
Built by the 3rd Marquess in the late 19th-Century, it incorporated a number of innovative features, including electric lighting and what is believed to be the world’s first indoor heated swimming pool.
Mount Stuart is beautiful and unique and no visit to Bute can be complete without viewing this neo-Gothic house and its gardens.
However, ideally, you should arrive in the morning and plan to leave in the evening.
Aficionados of craft gins are also spoiled, with the island home to Spirit of Bute and Isle of Bute Gin.
Keith McIntyre, Spirit of Bute’s owner, invested almost everything he has into this venture. “It’s my pension”, he said between serving a steady stream of customers.
One of the driving forces behind the Isle of Bute Business Improvement District (IOBBID), Keith believes local businesses need to help make the island more attractive.
He also thinks the town would benefit from a good delicatessen, craft cafes and bookshops. And with that, he returned to his customers.
At the Isle of Bute Gin Company, I spoke with distillery manager Iona Buick about their success. She said the company is focusing on expanding its markets and serving the community.
Plans to expand
She spoke of the Bute Yard food and drink hub that will open next year, which will be a place for small businesses and produce stalls to offer their wares in a project committed to growing food and drink tourism.
The Isle of Bute Gin Company will move into larger premises alongside the Bute microbrewery to serve the farmers’ markets and fairs.
These businesses serve as examples of what is possible if only we think a little outside the box.
Speaking of thinking differently, David Brown of WildBute tours, showed me around the island.
A long history
He told me that there were four cotton mills on the island at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, each powered by water wheels on an island with no rivers.
We went past Rothesay Castle, a royal fortress and the only circular castle in Scotland.
We carried on past the remains of the Kyles of Bute Hydro hotel that the Admiralty requisitioned as HMS Varbel during the Second World War.
This was home to the midget submarine programme and was from where the operation to sink the Tirpitz was planned.
On we went past the Viking Ting, the stone circle at St Colmac and the artificial raths into which livestock was herded during raids.
We barely scratched the surface during a tour that could have gone on for hours.
People with a passion
My initial pessimism had been turned around by the enthusiasm of those who continue to make Bute their home.
Yes, the Prom is dark and foreboding and there is a shortage of hotel accommodation.
Still, the town has a charm of sorts and the island is a beautiful and peaceful haven. You can see the people want to succeed despite the obstacles placed in their way.
The Rothesay Pavilion
And so the discussion turned to the Pavilion. This listed 1930s art deco building has been undergoing renovations for several years, with work delayed by a contractor going out of business followed by the pandemic.
I spoke with Julie Tait, executive director of Rothesay Pavilion Charity. She spoke about this building and its future as a creative hub that will give young people career paths to keep them on the island.
She acknowledges the challenges facing this venue and accepts its chances of success will be enhanced should shelved plans for a waterfront hotel be revived.
And on that positive note, my return to Bute came to an end.
There may not be any flying cars or rocket excursions to Mars, but the people of Bute are still there, fighting hard to see their town and their island succeed.
If you go
During their time on Bute, Jamie and his wife, Linda,stayed at the Coach House at Stewart Hall (stewarthallbute.com).
They travelled to Bute on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay and returned via the ferry from Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute to Colintraive in Argyll (calmac.co.uk).
Isle of Bute Discovery Centre cinema (discoverycentrecinema.blogspot.com)
Mount Stuart House (mountstuart.com)
Spirit of Bute (
Isle of Bute Gin (isleofbutegin.com)
Isle of Bute BID (isleofbutebid.co.uk)
Rothesay Pavilion (rothesaypavilion.co.uk)
Rothesay Castle (
Jamie and Linda were guests of VisitScotland (visitscotland.com).