day trip to isle of bute

Day trip by ferry to Isle of Bute Scotland

While we were in Scotland I was determined we’d get over to one of the islands. I’d wanted to go to Arran because I’d been there as a child. Unfortunately there was no car ferry spaces at all. Even passenger tickets available were only at times that wouldn’t work for actually seeing the island.  So I decided a ferry over to the Isle of Bute would be a good replacement.

N’s not been on boats for years – since he had a stress out when we visited Portsmouth Dockyards. Ever since he’s refused to go on any type of boat, even in dry docks. But he seemed to have totally got over it with several boat trips and visits on our Scottish roadtrip holiday. Phew.

day trip to isle of bute

Isle of Bute Ferry to Rothesay

We did a morning trip while we were staying in Glasgow. The ferry port at Wemyss Bay is only around 40 minutes drive. You can get there by train though if going as a foot passenger and Wemyss Bay train station at the ferry port is beautiful. There’s very limited parking at the terminal although there is parking at the station.

Wemyss bay station

I did have a panic because my advance tickets showed our journey in reverse, but I was assured it didn’t matter. As long as you have a ticket booked, you’ll get on the next available ferry.  For the car, 1 adult and child the return journey cost around £34 which was good value. You can buy on the day from the ticket office, but in summer season ferries can get booked up to some islands.

We arrived at Wemyss Bay just as the previous ferry left because I’d wanted to get a specific time journey. They ask you to check in 30 minutes before, but there were people arriving right the time we were driving onto the boat.

Calmac bute ferry

We were parked up second in the lanes, and just went to the cafe to get a hot chocolate. There’s nothing really to see at Wemyss Bay and it’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be. 

I love waiting to go on a ferry. The wait never seems too bad as the anticipation is huge. We were pleased to be getting on first, but they put the lorries and other heavy vehicles in the middle lane so it wasn’t first on first off.

Once you’re parked, you have to go upstairs off the parking deck.  The Calmac ferries are fine for the journey, to Bute it’s around 30 minutes. There’s a small refreshments shop where you can get coffee etc. And plenty of seating in the lounge areas. There are also toilets (which N said were very nice), and bizarrely slot machines which seemed a strange addition to the lounge.

Of course you can go out on deck – both levels assuming you’re ok with steps. There were people from an American tour bus who needed to use the lift to get up from the car deck, so presumably the ferries are accessible for those in a wheelchair.

ferry view across the water
water foam trail from ferry

The journey to Rothesay was extremely windy, so it was funny to see N being blown around. There were plenty of people sitting outside, including a farm guy with a really good labrador dog. They must travel over lots as the dog wasn’t fussed. Unlike a little dog which kept fussing all over the ‘travelling with pets’ area.

At only 30 minutes, it’s a short journey, and we were soon back to the car, and disembarking at Rothesay. We decided to head straight off around the island to see the sights and views.

Isle of Bute driving tour

Bute is about 15 miles long and 47 square miles so it doesn’t take long to drive around it, although you’ll want to stop off at various places.  I was sad that the day we were there Mount Stuart, the stately home wasn’t open for the day. And Rothesay Castle isn’t currently accessible due to safety construction works. But there was still enough for us to see, and N was on the lookout for cows and took over my camera.

Scalpsie Bay

We drove pretty much straight from Rothesay towards Seal View point.  From here you can see right across Scalpsie Bay. N went walking uphill behind the car park to see what was there – there’s routes up to other viewpoints and historic sites. We walked down the hill slightly to see how far down towards the shore we could get. 

seal view point walks and historic points
view from seal view point
Scalpsie bay looking down to the beach

There are lovely views – other people just stopped at the roadside viewpoint. But we were the only ones walking down the fields and through the ferns a bit further. It was too hot for me to be walking too far – I didn’t fancy the walk back up the hill to the car. Further around the bay there’s a flatter walk directly to the beach.

We didn’t spot any seals but I’d not taken my long lens with us. If you’re lucky you can also see other wildlife in the water and shoreline.

view down the hilly roads in bute
grasses and blurred out orange flowers
views over bute

We walked back along the road a bit too so N could take some photos of the cows he’d spotted. He was on a cow spotting mission all holiday, although didn’t see many Simmentals he was hoping for. And we didn’t seem to get high enough up the country for Highlands.

2 cows and sheep in field
standing cows with sheep in background

Kilchattan Bay

We drove around the southern part of the island towards Kilchattan Bay. Again it’s a lovely bay and in higher season, you can do kayaking or paddle boarding there. We used the public toilets and enjoyed the view before the heavy rain shower came in and aborted our plans to travel further around.

small fishing boat at Kilchattan Bay
looking over the water at Kilchattan Bay pier

Instead we headed back along to the tea room there in the hope of some lunch. If you’re looking for a quaint little tea shop-cum-museum-cum village shop, then Kilchattan Bay tea room fits the brief.

N was quite amazed. I suppose he’d never seen anything quite like it in his life. We weren’t the only person ordering lunch. The food offer is obviously limited in such a small place, and for what it is, it’s expensive for anything that’s packaged. So cans of drinks and confectionery whacked the price up loads, given the really nice (but basic, no fussy chutneys etc – hallelujah!) toasted sandwich prices were really low.

Kilchattan Bay team room

The quirky place had several locals coming in for various items, but they also sell local crafts and books. The best, but very puzzling thing, was the displays of Titanic discoveries and paper articles. We couldn’t work that out.

But it was a friendly welcome for random tourists coming in from the rain, and lunch was just what we needed before heading on our way.

The rain didn’t last long and blue skies and sun were back out ready for us to go on our way. There wasn’t much left of the beach to go on and we’d have needed to park further along and walk. We enjoyed seeing it from the car instead as we drove onwards.

Blackpark Standing Stones

I was pleased that we spotted the prehistoric Blackpark Standing Stones from the road otherwise I might have missed them. We have the Rollright Stones near us, so we’re partial to seeing other stone circle remnants. In Scotland there are plenty to choose from. Many you need to walk a bit to get there, but with these, the carpark is right next to them.

We chose our path off towards the stones as another family returned to their car. In the countryside around Bute we didn’t really see many cars or people anywhere we went despite the day being beautiful.

The 3 stones remain from a circle of 7, and are also known as the Kingarth Standing Stones or Circle. You can walk right up to them and enjoy the peacefulness of the site.

Kingarth standing stones
Blackpark standing stones

There is an information board about the stones to learn more about them.  You can also reach the stone via a walk from Kilchattan Bay beach.


Rothesay is the main bustling town on Bute. The main part of the town is around the harbour, square and shops. Up the hill off the square is Rothesay Castle remains with the moat around it.

Rothesay castle and moat

We parked along the road behind the castle – the one way system and lack of signage was amusing trying to get out. But all the parking seemed to be free on street.

I was worried that we wouldn’t get on the ferry we wanted back over – the concerns over first come first served. So we didn’t explore around the town much.  If Mount Stuart had been open we’d have visited there on our drive around the island. But instead, we checked out the square, walked around the outer fence of the castle. And nosied at house prices, because we always do that when visiting somewhere on holiday.

Bute museum and natural history museum

Near where we’d parked there was Rothesay Town Hall, and then Bute Museum and Natural History Museum. N didn’t want to go into the museum so we just walked around the town.  We checked out the boats at the port – they looked gorgeous in the sunshine.

boats in the harbour at rothesay
Rothesay harbour
houses on the water edge in rothesay

Lots of people were going into look at the old Victorian Toilets.  I’d assumed it was a museum when I saw them on the map, but they’re just public toilets. Although very historic and beautifully tiled with information displays.  N went in to use them, then turned to the door to see a whole load of women looking in, so I went to the ladies to check them out. The ladies loos weren’t that exciting, and I couldn’t really have a good look at the men’s. So if you want to check out old Victorian toilets, hope there’s noone in there using them! Or wait until people are out before poking around in the ones for the opposite sex!

There’s some beautiful old buildings in the town. Classic seaside town style buildings like the Winter Gardens and the information centre.

We went and parked up ready for the ferry and watched it come in. The larger vehicles got to go on first that time but we all still got on.  It wasn’t windy on the return journey, although the difference in sky colour was quite something depending on the side you looked. 

Bute was a lovely day out. We didn’t get to do all the things I’d hoped to do because of closures, but we still enjoyed it. I think just being able to drive round and explore is fun. And it seems to work with a tween who could get bored with being on a set routine. Sometimes they just want to explore what they want to see. I’m not sure my legs always appreciated the down and uphills he led me on for the sake of finding cattle to photograph!

If we’d gone as foot passengers, I think we may have done the Bute tour bus. It’s a 90 minute tour around the island, and there are 3 places you can hop off. I’m not sure how it works again having to wait for the next bus as it only goes 4 times a day, 2 hourly. I’d be worried we’d get stranded.

But the ferry and flexibility of just driving where we wanted to worked well for us. Plus there’s the bonus of having got N back on boats again. And our Scottish holiday obsession of spotting cars from Arnold Clark on the drive to and from Wemyss Bay (so many, we were obsessed!).

Have you ever visited any of the Scottish Islands? Which would you recommend to visit?

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