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Isle of Bute

"Doon The Watter" To Bute

The Isle of Bute, a Victorian-era holiday destination for countless
Scots, has been revived for a new generation.


"Doon the watter." Was there a more evocative, enjoyable phrase for generations of Glaswegians? If there was, nobody told me. For those three short, vernacular words can conjure up a myriad of images: the smoky plume of a steam boat; the sharp, shrill sound of a ship's whistle; choppy waters, windy days and the promise of a week's holiday far from the soot- and smog-filled ventricles of Glasgow's industrial heart.

For almost a century, those three little words meant a summer train bound for Wemyss Bay, the short ferry crossing to Rothesay and a well-earned break on the Isle of Bute. Old black and white photographs of the Wemyss Bay train station on "Fair Friday" (the second weekend of July when, traditionally, the factories of Glasgow closed for the annual holiday) show the station packed with excited children and happy parents dressed in their Sunday best. From the 1870s until the arrival of cheap air flights to sunny climes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bute and the holiday resort of Rothesay were the place to be for a working class family. Yet, almost 150 years on from its earliest days as a tourist resort, Bute and Rothesay remain a rather magical attraction.

When I arrived at Wemyss Bay train station one morning in early autumn, there was no cluster of Victorian or Edwardian children clad in tweed plus fours, just a small party of German tourists who were a little too excited by the spectacle of the train station. It is but a short walk to the Caledonian McBrayne ferry that runs regularly from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay, and soon I was happily ensconced, clutching a cup of coffee and looking out at the blue-grey waters of the bay. Soon the ferry began to jostle as the engines thrummed into life and a few minutes later we were underway.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2019 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photo © VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint