Bute is a fantastic destination for cyclists. It’s big enough to offer a wide range of cycling options, but not too big that the main town of Rothesay is ever that far away. The short ferry journey means that it’s ideal for a day out with the bikes and it has some truly splendid views and scenery.
The public roads around Bute offer a number of cycling options. There is a 23-mile loop that takes in most of the perimeter of the island, and also roads that bisect it and thereby provide shorter routes.
If you fancy a bit of climbing then look no further than the Serpentine up Canada Hill. Lurking behind the main square in Rothesay lies one of Scotland’s most technical hill climbs. Whilst just under half a mile this Category 2 climb with 14 hairpin bends is not for the faint of heart. To find it, turn left off the ferry and cycle down to the mini-roundabout taking a right up Bishop Street for 100 yards.
Start outside the estate agents on the manhole cover 15 yards down for the hill. On clearing the last bend and entering the long straight, the second entrance on the left marks the finish so you can rest and see if you can stop your legs and lungs burning. The record is 1 minute 57 seconds but any time under 3 minutes is good.
The Tramway – Port Bannatyne to
Ettrick Bay (approximately 3 miles each way)
This is the path along the back of the park at Port Bannatyne, a pavement wide enough to cycle and a hard topped path from the Greenwood Crossing to Ettrick Bay. It is suitable for young families with children to cycle, as it is off-road and safe. More experienced cyclists can take the road to avoid the kissing gates.
Rothesay – Ettrick Bay Loop
(approximately 10 miles)
Turn right off the Rothesay ferry and cycle out through the town of Port Bannatyne. Take the next left signposted for Ettrick Bay and after half a mile turn left for Ballianlay. There are wonderful views of Arran on this road which, if you follow, will take you back into Rothesay. Taking a detour to Ettrick Bay or St Ninian’s Bay will reward you with some fantastic views across the Sound of Bute.
Rothesay – Ettrick Bay – Scalpsie Bay Loop (approximately 15 miles)
Follow the route described above, but do not follow the road back into Rothesay. Instead, turn right at Greenan Mill and follow the coast road to Scalpsie Bay. Turn left at the T-junction which will bring you back into Rothesay again.
Rothesay – Kingarth – Mount Stuart Loop (approximately 11 miles)
Go straight ahead from the ferry and continue up the hill out of the town past the hospital and swimming pool. Cycle past the Scalpsie Bay turn-off and continue along the road that takes you past Bute Golf Course. The Kingarth Hotel makes a great refreshment stop. From here take the road back to Rothesay but consider taking a detour into Kilchattan Bay village, visit Mount Stuart or take the road through Bruchag to Rothesay.
There is no shortage of options for off-road mountain bikes too. Starting at the Mount Stuart War Memorial monument and heading up over the Moor Road is great fun with some exhilarating views. There are some mountain bike trails in the forest along by Loch Fad. New for this year will be some trails up in the Community Forest at the north of the island near Rhubodach. These should be graded from black to blue and provide some wonderful views of the Kyles whilst you thrash your way down the hill!
Many locals and past holidaymakers alike will attest to the fact that Bute is best seen by bike. Whether coming over for a day trip or for a short break, everywhere is within easy reach on two wheels. Bicycles can be hired at the Bike Shed at 23-25 East Princes Street, just across and left from the Ferry Terminal. This is a cheap and easy way to see the island and take in the beautiful landscape at your own pace. The Discover Bute Landscape Partnership Scheme recently put in a number of bike rack stations at important landmarks across the island so you can park your bike up too.
Bute Festival of Cycling
Bute’s cycling club, The Bute Wheelers, organize a festival every September over two days known as the Rothesay Weekend. This features the notorious Serpentine Hill Climb, a 2-up time trail event around the island, a 10-mile time trial and a road race. Attracting hundreds of cyclists from all over Scotland and beyond, this is one event not to be missed. More information can be found on the Bute Wheelers website: www.butewheelers.org.uk