Day Three - Isle of Bute & Mount Stuart  

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Leaving Stirling, we drove about 90 minutes to the west coast of Scotland, and at Wemyss ("weems") we boarded a CalMac ferry around noon for a 35 minute crossing of the Firth of Clyde, arriving at the old port town of Rothesay, on the Isle of Bute.  (CalMac is short for Caledonian-MacBrayne, who operate ferries throughout the Inner & Outer Hebrides Islands)    

look for Wemyss & Isle of Bute at upper left

note - you can enlarge any part of a picture by left-clicking in and then out again.

port of Weymss Firth of Clyde the Scottish Highlands begin just north of Glasgow  
looking back towards the mainland coming into  Rothesay, see note below "a faded Georgian town" say guide books

note - in this photo the attractive mountains seen in the distance are on the Isle of Arran, to the west of Bute.  Our visit to the Isle of Bute was like barely dipping a toe into Scotland's extensive Inner Hebrides Islands.   

We stopped and checked in at the Ardyne Guest House, our one-night B&B stay at Rothesay, and then we drove a couple of miles south to see Mount Stuart.           


Rebuilt after a fire in the late 1870s, by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, Mount Stuart is 'a flamboyant example of 19th century Gothic Revival architecture'.   (wikipedia) 

The Bute family were Stuarts, direct descendants of Robert the Bruce.  As is often the case, relatives of powerful rulers are often given vast land holdings to manage, over time hopefully becoming a source of wealth. 

In this case the Earls of Bute struck gold in the form of coal mines on the land they were given, and they developed the mining operation to became the 'sole source' for the entire country of Wales.  The city of Cardiff and it's extravagant Castle were renovated by the 2nd and 3rd Marquesses of Bute, who turned the city of Cardiff into the largest coal off-loading port in the world (ca. 1840s - 1860s). 

Isn't it ironic that income from dirty old coal provided the funding for this glamorous home....

Speaking of Bute Family History - Once at home I read the 50-page official brochure, and found the family history to be full of interesting characters, so at the bottom of this page is a more extensive family history.  (there's not one word about coal in the brochure)

The Quick Take is that immense wealth came into the hands of some very interesting persons who lived here in the 1700s and 1800s. The 1st Earl of Bute & the 3rd Marquess of Bute are responsible for constructing the first (1716) and then the second (1890) Mount Stuart homes.    

note - you can enlarge any part of a picture by left-clicking in and then out again.

Mount Stuart visitor center perennial grasses old house & new house  
tours begin here our docent   in the dining room, see note 1  
Marble Hall is 80 feet high rare Italian and Sicilian marble  & alabaster the tallest private home ceiling in the UK Marble Hall's celestial ceiling
  looking east to the mainland marble staircase  
the ceiling above   heraldic ceiling in the Drawing room  
  more marble naturalistic elements in the marble family room ceiling  
Christian symbols Zodiac window showing  Sagittarius a bedroom for royalty frieze in bedroom
  ceiling of the horoscope room, see note 2 chapel lantern Marble Chapel  
the cafe Mount Stuart R & L


walk back to visitor center
  walled garden   the herb Borage


  antique rose again        

note 1 - this is a painting by Allan Ramsey of his patron, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, wearing the Order of the Thistle, in 1758. 

note 2 - the ceiling shows the exact position of the Planets when the 3rd Marquess of Bute was born in 1847.  When he became an adult he shocked his family by converting to Catholicism, an outlier in an otherwise Protestant family tree.   


That evening we enjoyed dinner at the Victoria Hotel, in the center of town. The dining room, on the 2nd floor, provided us with a terrific view, looking north across the Firth of Clyde, towards the legendary Scottish Highlands, in sunset light.  (note the palm trees in the landscape.) 

Inner Hebrides Islands north to the Highlands

Speaking of legendary....

The sticky-toffee dessert here took on legendary proportions as our trip progressed, as it could not be bested, the wives on the trip being the primary judges.  It's a square block of moist dark cake, made from molasses & dates, in a bowl with an inch or two of a warmed sauce made from caramelized brown sugar, a lot of butter, and whipping cream.  Warmed-up cake & sauce are served with vanilla bean ice cream. 

I tried it & the flavors compliment each perfectly.   

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BUTE FAMILY HISTORY - except where noted, all info below is from the official Mount Stuart brochure.  (please feel free to skip this section if you don't like history)

1315 - Walter Steward married the daughter of Robert the Bruce, their son becoming King James IV of Scotland. This was the origin of the family taking on the name Bute, i.e., once they were given land on the Isle of Bute & were appointed as hereditary keepers of Rothesay Castle.  And off they went to live in the Castle for 380 years, or so.  The town of Rothesay grew up around the Castle, both in a somewhat spectacular waterside setting.  

1703 - After Rothesay Castle was demolished by Oliver Cromwell in 1685, James Stuart, 3rd Baronet, was made 1st Earl of Bute, by the King, and by 1716 the original Mount Stuart was constructed on today's topographical site.     

John Stuart (1713 - 1792), the 3rd Earl of Bute, was a remarkable statesman and patron of the Arts, who became the friend, confidante, and personal advisor to King George III.  He served as the first  Scottish Prime Minister from 1762-63.  Interested in the Arts & Sciences, the 3rd Earl was the patron of Dr. Samuel Johnson and leading Architect Robert Adam, and later of Royal painter Joshua Reynolds.  He was also a distinguished Botanist, who became the first Director of Kew Gardens, in London.  The 3rd Earl was largely responsible for development of that garden into what eventually became the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, with one of the most diverse plant collections in the world, starting from early on.  

The 3rd Earl of Bute, was also an outstanding collector of European art, especially of 17th Century Dutch paintings, and later of Italian Renaissance & Baroque paintings.  The art collection which he handed down is so vast that it has never been completely audited.  

In 2016, for instance, research staff discovered a Wm. Shakespeare First Folio, from 1623.  (there are about 250 FF originals around today) 

John Stuart (1744-1814) the 4th Earl of Bute was given the title of 1st Marquess of Bute in 1796, a sort-of 'royal promotion'.  Bute's first wife Charlotte Windsor was heiress to a huge land estate in South Wales. 

John Stuart was intelligent & gregarious and enjoyed playing a part in London's high society at the time.  He was invited to become a regular member of a monthly discussion & drinking club which included Dr. Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, later Johnson's biographer, along with Irish poet & playwright Oliver Goldsmith, and, royal painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, plus others, like David Hume and Dugald Stewart.   (circa 1780s)

John Crichton-Stuart (1793-1848) was the 2nd Marquess of Bute.  He secured the family fortune by developing South Wales, in particular by developing the town of Cardiff, surrounding the largest coal importing docks in the world.  Note that the Bute royals seem over time to develop a strong interest in large scale construction projects, bringing more wealth to the family fortunes.      

John Crichton-Stuart (1842-1900), the 3rd Marquess of Bute, was by the 1860s the wealthiest person in Great Britain.  He was a complex man, a Scholar, historian, theologian, and 'the best unprofessional architect of his generation'.  He was also an archaeologist, a romantic mystic, and one of the greatest patrons of the arts of his time. 

In south Wales, he and his master Architect Wm. Burgess renovated the 'ethereal and wondrous' Cardiff Castle, originally an 11th Century Norman tower.  They also excavated and then rebuilt a number of 3rd Century Roman structures within the Castle, in the original style. 

The interiors at Cardiff Castle are said to be "the most magnificent ever achieved by Gothic Revival style".  (info about the renovation is from Wikipedia) 

As a philanthropist/builder, he restored many historic buildings in Scotland.  Among the 60 building projects he became involved with were the restoration of Falkland Palace (one of only a handful of British Royal Palaces), the gift of Bute Hall to Glasgow University, and, the archaeological excavations at Whithorn - "the cradle of Scottish Christianity", at St. Andrews.  Early in life he had converted to being a Catholic.   

After the first Mount Stuart was partially destroyed in a fire in December 1877, the 3rd Marquess commissioned the rebuilding to Architect Sir Robert Roland Anderson. The appearance of the second Mount Stuart was very much Bute's personal dream, and he was responsible for the house's sumptuous interiors, often personally supervising the craftsmen & artists with whom he had closely worked over a 20 year period, starting with Cardiff Castle.  

The brochure states that he had an interest in esoteric science and was the source of all architectural references to Astrology & Astronomy.  Yet he was a strong Catholic and towards the end of his life served a few terms an Rector of St. Andrew's University.   

I didn't realize until I read the brochure at home that the essence of this amazing home is ALL his doing; this magical house is his creation.  My take is that he wanted the entire house to be an artwork.  (it worked, see note below)

When the 3rd Marquess of Bute died in 1900, an era was over and Mount Stuart was unfinished, and remains so today.  In the 1980s the 6th Marquess of Bute and his wife tried to complete many of the unfinished projects.  Finally, in 1989, the Mount Stuart Trust was established which today continues to develop & care for the house & estate.

note - the overall effect as a tourist is stunning.  It was unlike any house I've ever been was kind of an 'out of the box' experience.  

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