One of my favourite things about the Isle of Bute is the choice and diversity of beaches. Compared to its Firth of Clyde island neighbours, Arran and Cumbrae, the sandy bays and sheltered coves on Bute are far prettier in my opinion. Oh, and I should add that even on a sunny day, on most of the beaches mentioned, you are unlikely to encounter many other people which makes them even more appealing!
Another great thing about Bute is the accessibility of the coast as the road follows close to the shoreline around much of the island. Regularly placed benches, numerous parking bays and way-marked walks allow you to easily enjoy a variety of seaside scenery at your own pace.
It always amazes me that despite its proximity to Glasgow, Bute is often overlooked as a holiday destination. Once extremely popular as an escape from the city, it has fallen out of favour over recent times. However, if you are looking for an easy Scottish island escape with some lovely coastline then Bute ticks the boxes.
Below is a list of my favourite Isle of Bute beaches, some are classic sandy affairs while I've picked others for their scenic setting. I have also included some additional points of interest and history to help you get the most out of your visit.
Ettrick Bay is the most popular beach on Bute, however even on the hottest of days you will still have plenty of space to sunbathe, paddle and even swim if that's your thing. It is a classic golden sweep of sand, stretching for about 1 mile along the west coast of the island. Being on the west coast, is is also a great spot for watching the sunset behind the Kintyre Peninsula.
There are car parks at either end, with a popular tearoom located at the north end, while the south end is popular for overnight camper van parking. Just along from the car park at the south end is a bird hide which is a great place to watch the many seabirds that frequent Bute.
Rewind to the Edwardian era and a tram would convey excited holidaymakers from Rothesay to Ettrick Bay. Today, you can walk part of the old tram line on a marked walk between St Colmac's Church and the tearoom.
It is hard to imagine now, but the beach was once bustling with hundreds of visitors and over the last couple of centuries has witnessed horse races, sand-castle competitions, donkey rides, entertainment shows and dances. At times thousands of people gathered here to watch major events. Today, it is a much quieter place, much like the whole island, but when it comes to finding space to stretch out on the beach, fewer people can be a definite bonus.
Scalpsie Bay is personally my favourite beach on the Isle of Bute. A short walk from the car park leads to an expanse of sand which feels a little wilder and quieter than Ettrick Bay. The views across to Arran and the Holy Isle are just one of the reasons that this west coast beach is more appealing to me.
However, the main reason I have spent many an hour here is the colony of over 200 seals which can frequently be seen basking on the rocks at the north end. Providing you are quiet and don't disturb them, it is possible to get within a reasonable distance of the seals which is an amazing wildlife experience. There are plenty of rocks where you can sit and watch their antics as they playfully splash and swim just off the shoreline.
When you first reach the beach, you might notice some distinctive wooden posts in the sand which were designed as anti-glider defences during WWII. The cottage close to the car park was also used as a listening post for enemy submarines.
Drive further past the car park to the top of the hill for a great viewpoint over Scalpsie Bay which you can enjoy from the enclosed picnic benches.
Glencallum Bay sits at the south of Bute and can only be reached by boat if you're lucky enough to own one or by a reasonably challenging walk on foot if you don't. It is an unusually dark grey, almost black colour thanks to the surrounding volcanic rocks. but the setting makes it a rather special spot.
The beach sits on the West Island Way long distance walking route which starts from a car park near to Kilchattan Bay. A rocky and sometimes boggy trail is worth persevering with to reach the pretty little Rubh'an Eun Lighthouse with the bay just beyond. A quiet and fairly remote spot today, when the undergrowth dies down in the winter months you can see the foundations of an old inn. This dates back to a time when Glencallum was much busier with maritime traffic, including a ferry that ran to Ardrossan and smugglers who reputedly favoured the bay.
Today you are only likely to meet a few other adventurous hikers, however most of them don't stop for long as they continue along the West island Way. If you don't want to return to the car park by the same route, you also have the option of completing the first section of the Way which is a circular route totalling around 5 miles. However, I would advise taking a map if you wish to do this and if you're felling really adventurous, Glencallum Bay is also an excellent spot for some wild camping.
Stravanan Bay is another beach that involves a walk, however I've chosen it as there are a few interesting places to see along the way. The beach itself is a mixture of pebbles, rocks and sand, however it is another part of the coast that has a scenic backdrop.
Start your walk at the car park at the Blackpark Stone Circle opposite the airfield near to the Kingarth Hotel. Before heading to the beach is is worth visiting these atmospheric stones which were once part of a larger complex.
Continue across the airfield opposite, watching out for planes landing or taking off as you go! Bute is a popular day trip destination for small private planes and in the summer there are usually quite a few parked up on the airfield.
Keep walking until you reach Bute Golf Course and keep following the path through the golf course towards the coast. This time it is flying golf balls you need to keep an eye out for! When you reach the shore you can turn right towards a stretch of sand or perch on one of the rocks and enjoy the views across to Arran.
If you look to the left you can't miss the distinctive outline of Dunagoil, a vitrified Iron Age hillfort which was was occupied from approx 200 BC to 100 AD. Excavations carried out here revealed many interesting artefacts including jewellery, tools and pottery, some of which can be seen in Bute Museum.
The small red sandy bay at Kerrycroy is an easy beach to visit on the east coast . Benches facing towards the water are ideally placed for watching the many sailing boats that pass through the Firth of Clyde. If you're lucky you might even spot the occasional seal or porpoise too.
Kerrycroy is a distinctive little settlement and many of the houses were built in the 1880s and inspired by the English Arts and Crafts style to provide the English wife of the 3rd Marquess of Bute a reminder of home.
The old quay is a throwback to the early 19th century when there was a small port here, with fishing boats and a ferry that connected Bute with Largs on the mainland. The central building in the village was originally an inn before later being converted to a house. What was once a busy, working village and port is a much quieter place today.
St Ninian's Bay
St Ninian's Bay is best visited when the tide is out as the sweep of sand stretches out and you can easily walk to the spit of land known as St Ninian's Point. There is a car park next to the beach, however be aware that the track can be quite pot-holed at times. Alternatively, park around the small settlement at Straad and walk down the road from there.
Straad itself is a pretty wee place which was once home to fisher families and local trades, including a smiddy. The building still exists today although it has now been converted in to a home. Colourful gardens and wild flowers just add to the beauty and the nearby salt marsh attracts many birds.
The walk to St Ninian's Point takes you past a couple of cottages and beyond them at the far end of the little peninsula are the sparse remains of St Ninian's Chapel. Excavations indicate that the chapel dates back to the 6th or 7th century although it was preceded by a pagan burial ground. The chapel ruins are unassuming but this is a site of importance in the story of Christianity in Scotland so it seems a shame that it has been largely forgotten about.
Kilchattan Bay refers to both the settlement and the adjacent reddish coloured beach on the south east coast of Bute. It is best explored at low tide when the sandy bay expands enough for some beach-combing among the red sandstone.
Picnic tables and benches along the seafront make this a nice wee spot to enjoy the laid-back island ambience. Kilchattan Bay is a charming little place with well maintained dwellings and public spaces. It has a peaceful feel and a unique identity compared to other communities on the island.
As you walk along the street past the houses, look out for the old lime kiln, dating back to around 1820. The old quay was built soon after and lime would have been transported from here to other parts of the island and over to the mainland. Locally produced bricks, tiles and potatoes were some of the other goods also exported from here.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, steamers arrived here and deposited crowds of summer tourists at a wooden pier that has since been removed. Additional houses were built to accommodate the growing number of visitors and at one time there was enough trade to support 13 shops.
Kilchattan Bay is a much sleepier settlement today and although all the shops are gone, the post office sells some goods and has a tearoom if you fancy some refreshments with a view.
Bute can be reached in just over 90 minutes from Glasgow, so the next time you are looking for a Scottish coastal holiday on the west coast, this Firth of Clyde island makes for an easy wee adventure.
I've also marked all the beaches mentioned on this handy map so you can find them as you travel around the island.
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