Wild in the Isles: Attlee visits the Scottish island of Bute
You don’t need a sign post: just follow Attlee’s nose!
In some ways, Bute is my second home. That’s because Jane’s parents Mick and Branwen live there. If I was Jane’s child, instead of Jane’s dog, Mick and Branwen would be my grandparents but I’m a dog, not a child, so they’re just Mick and Branwen.
Bute is an island in the Firth of Clyde and it is a long way from Camberwell. It is a bus and then a train and then a pee at Glasgow Central and then another train from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay and then a half-hour ferry ride away.
I am always pretty exhausted by the time the ferry from Wemyss Bay arrives at Rothesay, which is Bute’s main town. Prince Charles, who may or may not have driven in the vintage green Range Rover that I, Attlee Common have driven in, is the Duke of Rothesay.
That doesn’t mean that Prince Charles lives on Bute; just that he and Camilla, who, like Jane, adopted a Battersea dog – I’m not a royalist, by the way, I just get all this information from Jane via The Daily Mail – visit about every five years.
I think Bute is a pretty little island and I always do my ‘Bisto-kid nose in the air’ act when we climb off the ferry because I can smell the mussels and the sea instead of the fried chicken of Camberwell. I wouldn’t say the sea air smells better – just different. And, when on Bute, I sometimes eat the mussels that are swept up on to land. They don’t taste anywhere near as good as the chicken bones in Camberwell though.
Port Bannatyne and Ettrick Bay
Port Bannatyne, taken by Zak
Mick and Branwen live in a house in a village called Port Bannatyne, which is about two miles from Rothesay, and the main street looks out over the sea. Whenever Jane and her sister Steph are staying with their parents in Port Bannatyne they sit around and moan about how bored they are. There is nothing to do here, they say.
I don’t see that what Jane does – or doesn’t do – on the Isle of Bute is so different from what she does – or doesn’t do – in London. She eats and sleeps and reads and watches television. In fact, what she does on Bute is better, because she takes me on more walks, and proper long ones too, through the woods at the back of Port Bannatyne or to Ettrick Bay, which is a mile-long strip of sandy beach about three miles away.
All right there are no literary salons or night clubs or art galleries on Bute but, whatever Jane might write on Twitter, she never goes to those in London. Never once has she said to me: Attlee, I’m just popping out for dinner at the Ivy with some friends of mine.
I don’t know exactly what the Ivy is but, I think, in dog terms, it would be like me having roast chicken and sausages and then a Jumbone for pudding with lots of famous dogs, such as Harvey, from the advert, and the Golden Labrador from Downtown Abbey (his bottom is in the opening titles) and Churchill, the insurance dog, although I’m not stupid and I know he’s a cartoon, however smart he might think he is with all his nodding.
Anyway, Jane and Steph are daft, because Bute is not boring. Ettrick Bay is wonderful – it’s my favourite beach on the whole of the British Isles – because, when we go there, we usually have the whole beach pretty much to ourselves and I can scoop up bits of seaweed in my mouth and throw them around and look at the view, right across to another island called Arran. Occasionally I bump into some other dogs and I play with them, until they jump into the sea and then I just watch. Because, even though I’m brave, I am a little unsure of the sea.
This is Branwen and me on Ettrick Bay, in May 2011.
This doesn’t make me stupid – this makes me clever. Because when the water comes towards me, in a wave, I bark at it, to make it go away. It does go away but then, seconds later, it comes back.
I have never before met anything that keeps coming at me when I bark at it. Because I’m so fierce, most things, when I bark at them, get as far away from me as possible. But not the sea. The sea thinks it’s more intelligent than me. I’m pretty sure it’s not. I just have to work out why it’s not.
At the end of Ettrick Bay there’s a cafe but nobody calls it a cafe – everybody calls it the tea rooms, and it’s been there since the 1950s or something, and not really changed. After we’ve been for a walk Branwen, Jane and Steph go in for a cup of tea and a big slice of coffee and walnut cake or a meringue, which, apparently, the Ettrick Bay Tea Room is famous for. I wait, patiently, outside. Sometimes Mick waits with me because he doesn’t really like cafes – sorry, tea rooms – he prefers pubs, like me.
Recently, though, at Ettrick Bay, I decided I should have a treat as well.
I’m quite good at foraging for treats. And this day, on the beach, I found a reddish wobbly thing that looked like jelly and I’ve eaten a scoop of jelly before, at a party, so I thought: woof, a treat, discovered me by me, the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of the dog world.
So I ate it – and then I was sick. And then I was sick again. I had to stagger over to the path beside the beach, where there’s lots of grass, and keep chewing big clumps of it, to make myself even more sick.
Whatever I’d eaten was not good. When Branwen saw me being sick and saw the half eaten bit of jelly she was concerned because, she said, it was a jelly fish – and jelly fish are poisonous. Branwen was worried but then, after five minutes or so, I stopped being sick and I knew I’d got rid of all the bad stuff in my tummy.
But that is a top tip for my fellow dogs on beaches: do not eat jelly fish. They are evil.
Afterwards Mick took me to the Anchor, which is his favourite pub, on Marine Road, the main street in Port Bannatyne, to cheer me up. The Anchor is not like those fancy London pubs where there’s lots of gastro-this and gastro-that (the only gastro I’ve ever had is enteritis). The Anchor is a pub where the person goes in and orders a pint of beer and then the person sits down and drinks their pint of beer. Simple.
There are some other interesting things in Port Bannatyne for dogs. For example, there is a Petanque Club – it is the only Petanque Club on any of the islands in Scotland. Petanque is like the French game boules and it is interesting for dogs because it involves lots of balls – yes, balls!
When I first saw the Petanque piste, I was so excited by all the balls that I ran on to the piste and grabbed a little red one and ran away. Nobody was very happy with me – apparently the ball I ran away with was called Jack. But Branwen laughed, which was good of her, considering she was the Petanque champion of the whole island in 2008, so must take the game pretty seriously.
At the hitching post, Port Bannatyne Post Office
Another feature of Port Bannatyne that I like is the dog hitching post, which is outside the Post Office on Marine Road. I am often hitched here while Jane goes into the Post Office and I love it. Everybody who passes fusses me and sometimes another dog is hitched to the post at the same time as me. This is like that speed dating that people looking for love take part in – it is speed bottom sniffing for dogs, while their owners spend three minutes chatting to Janet and Patrick inside the shop. There is also a cafe inside the Post Office, with cups of coffee and paninis, but I would rather stay outside, bottom sniffing with other dogs and looking out across the bay.
The main thing about Rothesay is that it has a pet shop that sells pigs’ ears. Last time I visited Bute, Branwen took me there and bought me a blue tartan lead and collar, to prove my Scottish credentials. When I wear them at home, in Camberwell, they show all the other dogs how well travelled I am! Rothesay also has a castle and a museum and Jane’s Great Aunt Ruby, who always makes a great fuss of me when I visit her and says I’m a little dog who is going places. She’s right. Woof!
Rothesay – Bute’s main town. Photo by Zak.
Last time I was in Bute though, which was May 2012, Jane decided it was not enough for me to sit around being praised by Ruby and eating pigs’ ears: I had to do some work. We started at the Esplanade Hotel, which has lovely views over Rothesay Harbour. Do you take dogs, Jane asked. Am I welcome, I barked. No. So we went to the visitor centre, which is in a fine building on the front – it is a museum and a cinema as well. The man at the visitor centre said that The Black Bull pub takes dogs. Hurrah for the black bull – not that I’d want to meet him on a dark night. Branwen said the food at The Black Bull is lovely but we didn’t want pub food – we wanted a cup of tea and a sandwich. (Actually I wanted a SAUSAGE but on this particular ocassion the humans were in charge.) We trailed around Rothesay for a while, having the door shut in our face, figuratively rather than literally, and then we found it: Mecca for Mutts. The Coffee Stop! When Jane’s Grandma was alive this was her favourite cafe in Rothesay by a million miles and now it is mine. The cakes are all homemade and the people are friendly and there are views over Rothesay Castle and dogs are allowed. The Coffee Stop is the place to stop. For a coffee.
This is me and Malcolm, the bus driver at Mount Stuart
Mount Stuart is a grand Gothic mansion near Rothesay that everyone on Bute is very proud of because it has lots of crazy architecture and was the first house in Scotland to have an electric lift. (Actually Jane isn’t sure this last bit, about the lift is true, but she thinks it might be.) Stella McCartney had her wedding at Mount Stuart and Madonna was a guest – this definitely is true. Last year when I visited Bute dogs were not allowed in Mount Stuart – and, fanfare, now they are. Mount Stuart has 300 acres of garden leading right down to the sea and all of this is open to us, fellow hounds of Britain. Amaze-bones! Some of the walks are through landscaped gardens and some are through conifer trees and there is even a place on the walks called the Wee Garden – for dogs that need to wee, I suppose. Ask at the Mount Stuart shop for a map showing where all the walks are or just follow your nose.
Attlee Common aka Phileas Dogg’s Best of Bute:
- The Ettrick Bay Tea Room is at Ettrick Bay, Isle of Bute. Tel: 01700 500123
- Port Bannatyne Post Office (with dog hitching post – on sunny days there are tables outside so your owners can sit with you and have a cup of tea and a scone), 46 Marine Road, PA20 OLW. Tel: 01700 503914
- The Coffee Stop, 29 High St, Rothesay, Isle of Bute, PA20 9AS. Tel: 01700 505545
- The Craigmore Tea Room is run by a lady called Muriel, who is the aunt of Jane’s friend Lindsay. On sunny days, it’s a good place for dogs to visit, as it has a little jetty, stretching out into the sea, with tables on it. Jane likes the tea room as it serves her second favourite meal, scampi and chips. The Tea Room is on Mountstuart Road – you can see it because of its little pier – and if you tell Muriel I sent you, she might even give you a dog treat!
- The Anchor, 32 Marine Road, Port Bannatyne, PA20 OLL. Tel: 01700 502096
- The Black Bull, 3 West Princes St, Rothesay, PA20 9AF. Tel: 01700 502366
- Rothesay Vistor Centre is at The Winter Garden, Victoria St, Rothesay, PA20 OAH. Tel: 01700 502151; www.visitscotland.com
- Mount Stuart Tel: 01700 503877; www.mountstuart.com
- For information about the Port Bannatyne Petanque Club, log on to www.portbannatynepetanque.org.uk
- Many of the photographs on this page are taken by Zak. Log on to www.pbase.com/zak355
Along Ettrick Bay, obviously. And to Scalpsie Bay, which isn’t accessible by road and, where, if you’re lucky, you can see seals. I have never seen a seal so I wouldn’t know what one looks like – I am sure if I did see one, I’d bark, a lot. But people seem to grow very excited if they’ve seen a seal at Scalpsie Bay and spend the next week telling each other about it.
(I should flag up here, so that my fellow dogs aren’t disappointed when they arrive, that there may be seals on Bute, but there don’t seem to be any squirrels. Not one. I have peered up every tree and sniffed out every nook and cranny but, no, there are no squirrels to chase. Sorry to have to report this.)
Where to Stay:
Now, I have never stayed anywhere on the Isle of Bute other than Mick and Branwen’s house. And I don’t think their cat Chloe would like it if lots of other dogs went to stay – Chloe doesn’t even like me, and I’m family!
But there a couple of places that I can recommend for dogs to stay on Bute.
- First off, because the owners have three very friendly black Labradors and understand us hounds and our holiday requirements, Munro’s Bed and Breakfast, in Ardbeg. It is right at the top of a hill and has lovely views over the bay. Jane says it is beautifully designed and all the rooms are lovely. Blah blah blah – all I care about is a bowl of water after a long walk and a sausage at breakfast. So ask your owner to log on to www.visitmunros.co.uk or call Joan on 01700 502346 and tell her that a VIP would like to book a room: that’s a very important pooch. (I hate the word pooch but Jane made me write that bit because she used to work for a tabloid newspaper and thinks play on words are funny.)
- Another place to stay, in a self-catering apartment, is Ardencraig House Apartments, which are run by Elaine, (who plays bridge with Jane’s dad Mick), her husband David and their two dogs Milly and Meg. The apartments are on a hill looking out over the sea and are a minute from Ardencraig Gardens. Ardencraig House Apartments, High Craig, Bute, PA20 9EP. Tel: 01700 505077; www.ardencraig.org.uk
Before you leave Bute, lift your leg….
- And finally, tell your owner not to catch the ferry home from Bute without visiting the island’s famous Victorian toilets on Rothesay Pier. Only the gents are Victorian, so Steph’s boyfriend Jerome had to report back on them to Jane and me. He said they were “very impressive”. (To be honest, I’m not sure Jerome would make it as a travel writer, like me, on the strength of that description.) I lifted my leg against a lamp post on Rothesay Pier and can report that it, too, was very impressive.
- For more information on Bute, log on to www.isle-of-bute.com and www.bestofbute.co.uk
Sheep – being herded by a car? Doing dogs out of jobs – Grrrrrrrr!