Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Cowal Peninsular and Bute, a Wedding Anniversary trip

With our 23rd wedding anniversary approaching and a long-held booking on Bute to celebrate it, we'd been watching the weather forecast closely.   Unfortunately the weekend looked fairly soggy however a couple of days preceding it looked very promising so having brought forward the dog-walking by a day and having had our trip on the canal, we drove that afternoon to Gourock and caught the car ferry across to Dunoon.

The next morning dawned bright and though we had to dodge the odd shower the weather did at least provide a lot of sunshine for our much anticipated visit to Benmore, the Botanic Garden at the foot of Beinn Mhor, a magnificent and important botanic garden in a stunning landscape and setting:

The light and season provided some cracking reflections:

And the three hours we spent there passed very quickly.   We took in the vast majority of the sites though a Spring visit looks a must to experience the Rhododendron collection in full flower.

After an excellent lunch in the cafe (despite their kitchen having burned down just a few weeks previously) we then walked out of the car park and started the Puck's Glen trail, again Scottish Forestry Commission, though this proved to be the best signed of any of their walks we've done so far.

I couldn't do the Glen justice with my camera:

Basically a trail follows the fast flowing water, a stream that feeds into the River Eachaig. and provides a series of impressive waterfalls.  The 3.5 mile round walk was very rewarding and helped round out a very memorable day.  One post of a gate on the return leg was ageing a little and had developed it's own fungi farm:

The evening back in Dunoon proved beautiful:

As did the sunrise the following morning:

Taking this image had a surreal quality as our visit to Dunoon coincided with the National Gaelic Singing Festival or Mod.   Our hotel had one group staying, they had an early breakfast and were singing together ahead of their scheduled performance.   They let me grab an informal snap as I headed back inside:

From Dunoon we decided to explore the rest of the accessible areas of the Southern end of the Cowal Peninsular.  One of the best sights being Castle Lachlan:

We did a walk at Ardentinny, the view from the bay was pretty:

However the trail was a big disappointment with a large section having recently been deforested (we understand the need for production and respect the approach, they might however have relocated or closed the trail).   We did see a very unusual fungi though, Orange Peel fungus, Aleuria aurantia:

We enjoyed lunch at a cafe called the Little Kitchen in Kames, a place that looks worth a longer visit before heading via Colintraive to Bute, taking in the view over the Kyles of Bute which again is worth going back to take in more fully.

We checked in to our accommodation and watched the to and fro of the ferries back to Weymss Bay on the mainland:

The following morning after a disappointing curry in Rothesay (food of any interest or note proved hard to find) the forecast rain happened as did the forecast sunshine thereafter, leading to a complete rainbow joining up Rothesay with Port Bannatyne:

Pretty much all you hear about Bute before visiting is Mount Stuart and it's not hard to understand why when you arrive.   The Island is mostly owned by one man, who inherited it, and the rest of the Island seems to be left to making ends meet however it can with this financial hoover in the middle of it.

We visited St Blane's Church, a fascinating place in its own right, and discovered that the interesting rock formation you see on the approach is in fact an important historical site.

First the Church, built in the 12th century, extended in the 14th, is constructed on the site of a monastery destroyed in the 8th century by Vikings:

It is a very spooky place and has a real 'atmosphere' to it.  Well worth an explore.

Then the fort, called Dunagoil:

Initially its caves were used/occupied in the neolithic age, it then was used as a fort, replete with defensive walls from the Bronze Age right up to the time of the Church being built.  Fascinating.  And again well worth an explore.   The weird thing is our research ahead of this trip turned up nothing about the place as noted above.

Anyway we drove on exploring our way around the coastline, having lunch at Ettrick Bay (good food, lousy coffee) and taking in the views of sunshine and rain falling on far Arran:

No idea what this is on the East Coast of Bute overlooking Cowal:

Views all along the coast impressed:

A lone young seal basked in the sunshine:

Our last stop of the day was atop Canada Hill, we'd heard it's called because either (a) people used to stand and wave at departing Islanders headed to Canada for a new life, often never to return, and (b) it overlooked the Canadian Army billet in WW2, we don't know if either or both stories are true but the view is great, albeit like everything else except the Laird's pile it's anonymous and you have to find it for yourself:

The sunset that evening, while we dined on microwave food from the co-op (the choices really were that bad), was grand, starting with a burst of gold:

Moving through orange:

Finally to red before dark:

On our last day (we were due to stay longer but had decided already to cut our stay short by a day) we relented and visited Mount Stuart.   £25 to get us both in, ouch.   Like the rest of the Island it caters mostly for OAPs with buses so you don't have to walk to the house.

We decided pretty quickly we didn't want to take the tour of the house.   Apparently the owner doesn't visit either, choosing to spend his time between London and a farmhouse on the Island.  The property is owned by a Charitable Trust.   We'd also heard he was a tax exile in Switzerland though that seemed to conflict with his choice of residences.

Anyway the land around the house is vast, well kept and a bit frankly lifeless, except for woodland birds.   The formal gardens had some interesting bee-friendly planting such as this Geranium:

The overnight rain had again been captured by fallen oak leaves:

This is the house, a German gingerbread-folly style castle:

It's actually obscene that so many resources and such wealth is owned and held by so few and that it's all inherited with no merit or quality required other than parentage.

We walked out of the estate along the beach, enjoying the geological landscape:

And then to the B&B to collect our stuff and then the ferry to the mainland.   We'd been looking forward to Bute for a long time and it disappointed.   Dunoon however over-achieved so that balanced out in the end.   And we've still barely scratched the surface of this enormous country.


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