‘THE community has been waiting a wee while for Bute Yard, but it’s definitely been worth the wait,” beams Kay Robertson, general manager of Bute Yard, as she proudly shows me around the Firth of Clyde’s new year-round multi-events indoor and outdoor space. Bute Yard proves the beating heart of a wider Rothesay and Bute renaissance.

I am relieved to find new life on Bute as it is an island for me that has often struggled. Land ownership here, I’ve been told, is tightly controlled by the Bute dynasty, with the farming lobby very strong too.

Younger people and fresh new businesses have not always found it easy to thrive with these entrenched, old-world interests and I’ve seen the likes of superb cheese makers and brewers come and go over the years.

Andy Wightman has written about land ownership on Bute and it doesn’t paint too positive a picture.

The National: Renaissance around Rothesay

With that backdrop, I’m delighted by Bute Yard, which was one of the pet projects of the late Marquess of Bute, Johnny Dumfries. The vision was a community-focused space where all the eclectic food producers, craftspeople and other businesses could come together for the benefit of both visitors and locals. It is pushing strongly towards that goal, as Robertson explains.

“At one of our most recent first-Sunday-of- the-month markets, 16 out of the 18 vendors were Bute-based, which we’re absolutely delighted about.”

READ MORE: I went cycling with Scottish Olympian Chris Hoy – here's what happened

It is not just these monthly markets that have been a success. The Isle of Bute Distillery has set up shop too, with more capacity to produce its award-winning gin, as well as the newer Dead Run Rum.

I’m really pleased to see the guys behind the old brewery on Bute are back with the Bute Brew Co – their banana beer is an absolute delight I savour on long benches reclaimed from potato crates in the cavernous main space, as LCD Soundsystem provides the hip bar backbeat. It feels more East Berlin than East Bute, a real sea change on an island I sometimes have found too confined by old money.

The National: Renaissance around Rothesay

The outside space welcomes too with more chunky wooden tables. I pick up smoked salmon and smoked cheese from the newly opened foodie cabin, washed down with a delicious Black Forest Hot Chocolate from another new opening, Coffee And Chocolate.

Robertson tells me there will be many more new arrivals, plus myriad events, from the monthly markets (they have been attracting over 2000 punters), through to weddings and gigs.

At the long Bute Yard bar I meet Erin Murphy, a local entrepreneur and self-declared foodie. She is a driving force behind the creative Gather Deli a few streets away.

READ MORE: Enjoying a break in 'mini-Prague' of Estonia's Tallinn

“We wanted to bring real foodie treats to people on Bute,” she smiles. “We’ve got things like proper fancy olives, cured meats and treat boxes people can take away for a picnic.

Bute Yard ties in really well with what we’re about.

“There is a buzz about Rothesay and next spring I’m also opening a new wine bar with some of my friends.”

Wandering around Rothesay there are other exciting projects too. Work has started again on The Rothesay Pavilion, a grand old dame that dates back as far as 1938.

Their website still says they need £15 million in funding so all donations are welcome to bring this cultural oasis back to life.

The doon the watter glory days are also being resurrected at the Glenburn Hotel, which dates back all the way to 1892, originally set up as a hydrotherapy retreat.

It had been closed and I feared for this epic old building on a bluff overlooking the water, but it now welcomes guests with 121 rooms and a restaurant.

Just before I leave Bute I pop back in to say goodbye to Robertson. Seeing that I’m genuinely impressed with Bute Yard, she switches her attention to bigging up the rest of Bute, always a good sign in any island community.

“There is so much going on. The Kingarth [Hotel] is open again with great food and we’ve got a new fast RIB boat operator.”

I also find two community projects going strong. There is the Anchor Tavern & Hub in Port Bannatyne, which is bringing new life to a community I found quite down at heel a few years ago – a real shame as when I was a kid we stayed here every year whilst across painting my dad’s wee boat.

Then there is the Bute Forest project. They run their own forestry operations, encourage indigenous species and have just added two off-the-grid huts that allow you to forest bathe and benefit the community at the same time.

Shelley Gould, project officer of this SCOTO member, says, “The hut accommodation provides an opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the natural landscape and connect with nature, with the option to book a guided ranger-led forest walk.

“We hope to attract local people and tourists and as a social enterprise, all monies will be reinvested in our replanting and community engagement activities.”

It’s another positive sign of an island alive with both literal and metaphorical green shoots.


You don’t expect Christmas Markets to be cheap, but Edinburgh’s festive extravaganza has this year come in for particular criticism on steep costs. I’ve been already as my kids love it and it fires up the Yuletide spirit. Remember those with an Edinburgh postcode get some discounts, so bring ID if you’re local. Food and drink is not cheap, so go for quality. The pie stand is my highlight, trumping the stodgy German sausages. For drinks, the Booking Office pub next door at Waverley serves hot drinks from £1.50 with free refills instead. They’ve got changing facilities too.