Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Isle of Two Halves

Circumnavigating the Isle of Bute

The Isle of Bute nudges up against the deeply-rutted lochs of the Cowal Peninsula, and it is an isle of two halves. And in keeping with this double identity the Scottish Canoe Association trip in September saw us complete the circumnavigation in two very different days.

From the lozenge of land at the southern end, Kilchattan Bay, we launched into the trip. It had been a bit of a shock to find that (a) it was going to be a long, 60 km paddle around the Isle over two days, and (b) that Stu had decided to tactically withdraw from the trip to save his back for a climbing holiday we had planned. Stu had a pleasant wander round the Isle, meeting us at various landings, instead.

As we rounded the southern tip, our leader, Roddy MacDowall of Kayak Bute passed off the surprising, rucking waves as "just a wee but o' tide..." This half of Bute is rugged and rusty-brown, abutting the wonderful isle of Inchmarnock, where we stopped for lunch. From there, we were in sniffing distance of the fantastic cafe at Ettrick Bay, its over-sized lemon meringues a mirage to our salt-cracked eyes.

The glory days of the Clyde Steamers remembered in a weather vane

We camped next to Colintraive Hotel on the mainland just beyond the northern end of Bute and with a fantastic meal and great beer, it couldn't have been better.

Bute's other half is altogether a different story. The eastern side is dominated by Rothesay and Port Bannatyne, great Victorian holiday ports now slightly decaying and enduring the after-effects of Glaswegian resettlement policies of the seventies. A wonderful retirement destination mingled with surprising pockets of social deprivation and almost-urban levels of isolation, only moments from Scotland's great western frontier.

A weekend of contrasts, for sure, but having made it round, an experience to treasure.