Oban to Troon via Bute: in a Wee Hurrie

We’ve ticked another big “must see” off our list: Mount Stuart on the island of Bute. Now there’s a house I’d like to live in. Even Mark was impressed: he says it’s “not like some of the houses that we’ve visited that have had squillions spent on them but are bl**** awful”. Oh, and we have a new placing in our British Fish & Chip shop of the year awards……

Overview: 3 days, 142 miles

As our ferry approached Oban at the end of our last post, we were intrigued by a structure that looked a little bit like Rome’s Coliseum on the skyline.

It’s called McCaig’s Tower, and was constructed between 1897 and 1902 as a way to provide work for local stonemasons during the winter months. Surely they could have been put to work building something more useful? It was the brainchild of a certain John Stuart McCaig, described on a plaque above the entrance as “Art Critic and Philosophical Essayist and Banker”. Hmmm…..

It’s built of granite and has a circumference of 200 metres. For a long time, the site was apparently an overgrown mess, but in more recent times the council has transformed it into a nice little park with a view:

We found a great free camping spot for the night just a few miles outside Oban at Fearnoch. It’s a Forestry Commission car park set well back from the main road, and without any “no overnight parking” signs…

We covered quite a distance (by our recent standards) on Thursday, from Fearnoch to Inverary and further south to Colintraive and the ferry to Bute.

The scenery was still glorious, though we’re sadly now leaving the Highlands behind:

Inverary was smaller than each of us remembered it, but in a very pretty spot:

We wandered to Inverary Castle, home of the Dukes of Argyll, but didn’t go in (that would’ve been “payings” not “savings”). We were already looking forward to visiting Mount Stuart, and Inverary Castle just didn’t seem that enticing in comparison. Maybe next time….

Heading south towards Colintraive, we saw a sign promising “carved stones”. Who could resist? Our destination turned out to be Kilmodan Church, which has a small collection of very attractive carved grave slabs:

Mark particularly liked the lion and unicorn (at the top of the left-hand slab in the photo above).

The ferry from Colintraive to Bute was our shortest crossing yet – you can see the unloading ramp on the left hand side of the photo below:

Reports online of steep loading and unloading ramps on this crossing are true. It wasn’t a problem at all for us, but motorhomes with large overhangs might need to think twice (Calmac did successfully get a coach and a furniture van on/off our ferry with the aid of some very thick plastic mats – just).

We were now on the small island of Bute. We stayed overnight in a lovely spot at Scalspie Bay. Not a bad view from the small car park:

The island of Bute has one major tourist attraction, Mount Stuart. It’s privately owned, so “payings”, but it has been on our “must see” list since we watched a documentary about the 3rd Marquess of Bute earlier this year.

The first house on the site was built in 1719 by the second Earl of Bute. That house was largely destroyed by fire in 1877 and the Gothic Revival house we see today was built to replace it by the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

It seemed a bit strange that two wings of the original house survived and were kept. The two white blocks stuck on the back of a Gothic Revival masterpiece do look very odd to my eyes:

Wouldn’t you just demolish them and start afresh?

It can’t be that the 3rd Marquess was trying to save money: he was stinking rich. His ancestors had clocked onto the idea of marrying the only daughters of rich men quite early and the family wealth had built up nicely over the generations. The 2nd Marquess had done particularly well in industry – he’d developed the South Wales coal industry and built Cardiff docks. The money was rolling in…..

Unfortunately, the Crichton-Stuart men don’t seem to have been very long-lived. Popping their clogs in their 50s seems to have been quite common. The 2nd Marquess died in 1848 when his son was only a few months old. The 3rd Marquess couldn’t touch his inheritance until he reached 21, and so the money just snowballed. When he did reach 21 in 1868, his investments were producing an income of £300,000 per annum.

Our tour guide told us that the 3rd Marquess had suffered quite severe depression during his life as a result of the burden of responsibility from having so much money. “Oh, the poor thing….” muttered Mark not altogether convincingly…..

I think we can safely say that if you haven’t been to Mount Stuart, the interior is like nothing you have ever seen or, in your wildest moments, imagined. This is the entrance hall:

The ceiling shows the night sky in the Northern Hemisphere with images of some of the main constellations:

Anything that looks like marble here is marble – there are no fake columns like the ones we saw in Ireland’s Palladian mansions over the summer.

So if you were thinking of redoing your entrance hall and worrying that 20 different types of marble might be a bit much, fear not – it’ll look great!

Not a bad staircase:

Yep, the ladies’ drawing room ticks my boxes:

I wasn’t initially sure about the library:

The small rent table is nice, but only 3,000 books? I was reassured when the guide mentioned that there are two more interconnecting libraries and 23,000 books in total. I don’t think that anything could ever surpass the library at Alnwick Castle, though….

When the 3rd Marquess died in 1900 (at Mark’s current age – I could hear the deep gulp beside me as he processed that bit of information) the chapel wasn’t yet finished. The surprising thing here isn’t so much the sheer quantity of Carrara marble but the incredible drop in temperature as you walk through from the entrance hallway.

The rest of the house is lovely and warm, but the temperature in the chapel is positively glacial. I’m afraid it was all a bit too “white” for my liking. Only the rooflight added some much-needed colour:

The Marquesses of Bute don’t seem to have been into gardening: there’s very little in the way of formal garden. This is what you’d see as you pulled up in your carriage:

Most of the rest of it is woodland leading down to the shoreline:

We did get a map from the visitor centre, but the aim of this seemed to be to help people to find their way to the house (a 15 minute walk or short mini bus ride) rather than to direct them to any particular features in the grounds. We happened upon the Mount Stuart Mausoleum on our way back from the house to the visitor centre:

There were no signs telling us what it was, though our suspicions were raised by the fact that many of the graves outside seem to be for adult children of the 4th Marquess. We couldn’t see inside as the structure is currently boarded up, though some internet reasearch tells us that it was originally a parish church but was “repurposed” after the 3rd Marquess converted to catholicism in his youth. Apparently the 3rd Marquess is buried inside (minus his embalmed heart, which was buried in the Holy Land as per his instructions). How interesting that his descendants seem to have happily taken his money but have not seen fit to spend much of it maintaining his final resting place?

Friday night was spent at the Roseland Caravan Park just outside Rothesay, which is the only camp site on the island of Bute. It’s mainly static caravans and glamping pods: there are only three hard-standing pitches for motorhomes over 5.5 metres long. There are toilets and a shower but they’re miles away, and the chemical disposal point can only be described as comical (it’s a drainpipe sticking out of the ground inside a small dog kennel-like structure…. very difficult to use). There must be hordes of motorhomes on Bute in the summer. It’s amazing that no-one has opened a more motorhome-suitable facility on the island.

We had a definite destination in mind on Saturday: Troon. We took our last Calmac ferry crossing of the trip from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay then headed south. Last month, we visited The Bay chip shop in Stonehaven and Clunegapyears commented that we should also try the Wee Hurrie in Troon, so onto the list it went…..

It’s not a large establishment, but it’s right on the harbourside:

We ordered our usual: haddock / chips / mushy peas for me and cod / chips / mushy peas for Mark. I’d like to say that we do that for consistency when comparing the various establishments we’ve visited this year but no, we do it because we’re set in our ways….. Here’s Mark salivating happily whilst waiting. You can see fishing boats through the window; that had to be a good sign, right?

Without further ado, here’s the haddock:

The verdict? Well….. I came to my conclusion but waited for Mark to tell me what he thought. As usual, we’d come up with the exact same answer.

1= The Magpie, Whitby (February 2018)

1= The Wee Hurrie, Troon (October 2018)

3 The Quayside, Peel, Isle of Man (June 2018)

4 The Bay, Stonehaven (September 2018)

15 Rick Stein, Padstow (April 2018)

(15th place out of 5 contenders for Rick Stein is not a typo…….)

We didn’t intend for this year to turn into a tour of the nation’s chippies and now that we’ve visited five, it’s time to draw a line under this one……

There’s a really nice little car park just round the corner from the Wee Hurrie where we’re tucked up for the night with two other vans. We’re now coming back into a part of Scotland where the National Trust and Historic Scotland have a lot more to offer to entertain us, so we may have a busy few days of tourism ahead. It’s a good job that we’ve fortified ourselves with fish & chips!

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