Bute-iful: 66km Around Bute

I’ve been eyeing up Bute for a while now and figured it would make an easily accessible last-minute trip when all else looked grim or when time was short.

I’d lived in Largs for a while and had incredible views over Bute, Great Cumbrae and Arran from the front room window, but on remembering how the high winds threatened to put that window through on a regular basis, I understood that Bute’s relatively sheltered position, tucked away behind Kintyre and Arran, didn’t guarantee it would be safe from the Scottish Weather, but luckily this week looked promising.

The plan was to get there early on Wednesday and perhaps get a circumnavigation of Great Cumbrae in too. Despite living there, and it only being 10km, I’d never been all the way around. Plus having seen an excellent poster by Ordnance Survey, detailing all 82 of Great Britain’s islands over 5km2, the notion of circumnavigating them all is looking very tempting. So far, I’ve only ticked off seven, but it’s something to work towards!

However, being thoroughly disorganised meant I wouldn’t arrive until Wednesday afternoon and so I headed straight to Wemyss Bay to catch the ferry to Rothesay, glimpsing Porpoises as we entered the bay.

A night of car camping and a leisurely start from Port Bannatyne, in conditions that were perfectly still. I enjoyed the views as I waited for the Calmac Ferry to steam into Rothesay bay and dock alongside luxury cruise liner, the Hebridean Princess.

I worked out it had been around eight months since I’d completed any overnight trips and there had been far too few days trips over the winter too, so the pace was steady, but I was very happy to be back on the water. The day was mostly overcast but the light was silvery and everything looked very pretty. Rounding Rubh an Eun, the majestic and snowy Goat Fell came into view across the water on Arran, and I started to move with the little bit of tide past the rocky foreshore, and past the numerous beaches full of cows, where I tried to spot evidence of the chapels, forts and Neolithic cairns which dot this historic coastline.

Entering Inchmarnock Sound, I was in two minds whether I would camp on Inchmarnock itself, or somewhere in the vicinity of St Ninian’s Bay. I crossed the sound and headed up to the northernmost point of Inchmarnock, where the shingle beaches yielded a few flat grassy spots. The ground was very wet in most places, but I managed to find a good spot, between the cowpats, and set up camp.

Overnight the temperature was somewhere around 3°C, but two down sleeping bags and a hot water bottle kept me snug. By the morning a light breeze had arrived, and it was cold getting on the water. Despite showers and mist obscuring the distance a little, I opted to cross straight from Inchmarnock to Scarrel Point, about 5km. As I entered the Kyles of Bute and the lee of the mainland, the wind dropped and I enjoyed the company of some Porpoises feeding in the narrows.

The tide carried me as far as Kames, before the flow changes direction. At neap tides this wasn’t anything to worry about and I continued past the pretty villages, accompanied by two inquisitive seals. Rounding Buttock Point (disappointingly, I didn’t see the resemblance), I approached the Burnt Islands. Here the navigable passages narrow to just tens of metres wide and at spring tides the streams run at 5kts and 3kts in the north and south channels respectively. For me, however there was no issue, and the only delay was in waiting for the Calmac Ferry to arrive and depart again at Rhubodach; a crossing which is not far off being a literal stone’s thrown.

The final stretch through the eastern Kyles of Bute was grey and rainy, with low cloud obscuring the mountains to the North, but still beautiful with mirror calm seas. I arrived back into Port Bannatyne with the tide not too far out from the slip, making for an easy slide across the seaweed and back to the car. 66km down and the first trip of the year completed.

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