5 Most Soul-Healing Places on Bute

In the post-lockdown era, more people are desperately seeking an escape from chaotic urbanisation and the overwhelming bustle of modern-day capitalism. And who can blame them? While the latter half of this century has turned into consumerist ‘more, more, more’, it seems that many are opting for a ‘less is best’ attitude. Bute offers this much simpler way of life, with plenty of locations to carry out the 3 ‘r’s: Refresh, recentre and recharge. This is also known as ‘nature therapy’, which was extensively researched in Japan in the 90s. It’s true – nature does heal the soul, while also reducing stress and blood pressure. Even just visualising yourself being out in nature has a similar effect. But why ‘visualise’ when you can ‘actualise’? Here are my top 5 most soul-healing places on Bute:

1. Barone Hill

Barone Hill looking toward the Greenan farm. Taken by myself. July 2018.

Barone Hill isn’t always the quietest spot due to its accessible location and beginner-friendly hike but when you get the timing just right, it’s an incredibly rewarding climb. I’ve spent many nights watching the sunset disappear behind the hills, with nothing but the sound of birds flying through the brush. From the top of this hill, you get an entire 360° view. Whichever way you decide to face, there’s so much to take in from this beautiful viewpoint. You can sit and watch the ferry coming and going into Rothesay; or face onto the still waters of the Dhu Loch; or like me, watch the sun setting behind the hills facing toward Greenan farm. It really is a friendly climb that doesn’t take too much time away from your day. Especially when you’re not an experienced climber, there’s a real sense of accomplishment and empowerment when you reach the summit, and what could be more healing in times of self-doubt than that? Seeing Bute from a higher perspective puts a lot of things into perspective. I can’t count the summer nights that I spent there, just feeling grateful for being alive and thankful for having a body that could carry me up there.

2. Glecknabae

Glecknabae. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. September 2020.

When you’re on an island, it’s essential that you take advantage of being surrounded by open water. The shore toward Glecknabae and Kilmichael (take a right at Ettrick Bay tea room)is one of my all-time favourite places on the island. It’s often quiet here and for some extra solitude, I recommend visiting in either early mornings or before sunset. This shore offers a welcomed reprieve from what can sometimes be the business of Ettrick Bay. In fact, it’s like Ettrick Bay’s shy little cousin. There’s so many large rocks to perch yourself upon along this shoreline and places where you can be hidden by the overarching trees that look with you across the horizon. I’ve never been disturbed while sitting here; a place to watch your thoughts drift off with the waves and re-enter the town feeling like your brain has just had a bath. There are some places that require very little effort to just simply offer a spiritual sanctuary and for me, this is one of them.

3. Loch Fad

Loch Fad. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. July 2017.

That’s the wonderful thing about Bute. It offers the experience of waters in all forms, including Lochs like this. These aren’t just calm waters but virtually still waters. Sometimes even so still that the only movement you see come from the ripples of fish approaching the surface. Like Barone Hill, this place isn’t completely desolate but it does offer a taste of peace and quiet. What really gives this location its power as a soul-healing place is without a doubt the walk that goes with it. The journey is part of the destination for me. Anyone that you do meet on a walk round Loch Fad is usually there for the same reasons as you are and sometimes it’s a race for that white bench that faces out across the scenery. This location also offers a bird hut where your patience is rewarded with a whole range of different bird species from Mallard Ducks to Kingfishers. Not only this, but on the track heading toward Rothesay Academy from Loch Fad, you’ll probably meet a lot of blackbirds, robins and chaffinches chasing each other from side to side through the bushes. These tiny creatures remind us that there’s a lot more to Bute than just its people. There’s always a friend in Nature.

4. Scalpsie Bay

Scalpsie Bay. Source: Isle of Bute by John Williams. June 2020.

Scalpsie is renowned for two things: its cleanliness and its friendly inhabitants; the seals! When being in the company of other people gets too much for you, like it often can, then I recommend swapping it out for the company of seals. Depending on what time you visit, there can be whole squads of these guys lazing on rocks. They’re just a reminder that you don’t always have to be doing something – it’s perfectly okay to be sitting on a rock doing absolutely nothing! Another great thing about Scalpsie is that you don’t even have to be on Scalpsie Bay to experience the calmness of Scalpsie Bay. You can bask in what this beautiful location has to offer from the viewpoint not too far up the hill often called ‘Car Park in the Sky’. This place is usually quiet and combines what I love the most about all of these locations: Seeing Bute from different heights/perspectives and the mental clarity gained from being near water.

5. Kingarth Standing Stones

Kingarth Standing Stones. Blackpark Plantation. Source: Isle of Bute Facebook Page. 2015.

This part of the island carries a unique ethereal ambience; a mystical enchantment that I have felt in no other place. Not just the stones, but the woods itself are majestic. There’s something so humbling about being surrounded by these lanky trees. I’m always reminded when I visit that the world is a vast place, nature is its dominant force and what a beautiful combination when humanity works in harmony with it. It’s usually very still but walking in here doesn’t actually quiet my thoughts like other locations. It actually sends in more. More so than anything, I’m usually in awe and wonder, which only further propels my creativity. That’s it; It’s a place of divine inspiration.

Italians on Bute: The Bonaccorsi Family

Two brothers, aged 15 and 10, made their way from their Tuscan hometown of Barga to join their older brothers in Rothesay, Isle of Bute in 1901. Word had clearly gotten back to the Bonaccorsi family in Italy that the food industry in Scotland offered a goldmine for Italian migrants. Ice cream parlours, chip shops and confectioneries were sprouting up across Scottish towns, offering a much appreciated variation to Scottish society. It’s difficult to imagine why parents would be comfortable sending such young boys on a ship to a foreign country, but the wretched reality was that they were left with very little choice. At this time, Italy was facing an economic stagnancy and many parts of the country were experiencing famine. It was the duty of the Bonaccorsi brothers to become successful business owners on Bute and send the money back home to aid their parents and remaining family in Italy. For many Italians, the plan was to return to their home country as the economic hardships settled, or move on across the Atlantic to chase the ever-sought-after American Dream. However, the two young Bonaccorsi brothers went on to live the rest of their lives on the Isle of Bute and with an incredible legacy at that. The eldest of the two was Pietro Enrico Bonaccorsi; my Great Grandfather.

In an article by The National, the growing population of Italians in Scotland is shown by a compelling comparison. In the 1881 census, there were a mere 328 Italians residing in Scotland and by the start of the First World War, this had grown considerably to about 5500. These communities had been established in major cities such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen – but with Bute gaining the reputation as an idyllic holiday spot, there is little wonder as to why many Italians seized the economic opportunity on this small but thriving island. Some of these families include but are not limited to: Biagoni, Foschetti, Barbi and Zavaroni. The latter being another Italian family relation of mine. My Grandmother Bonaccorsi’s great niece was the famous Lena Zavaroni, making her my third cousin.

Notice how many of these families have surnames ending in ‘i’. This was a common characteristic of Northern Italian surnames, thus indicating that a majority of Italian immigrants were moving from the North (at least in the first wave of migration). For example, the family name ‘Bonaccorsi’ stems from the Southern alternative ‘Bonaccorso’. Not only this, but whole villages from Italy were essentially relocated to Scotland in a clan-like fashion and, of course, the most famous being the Northern province of Lucca in Tuscany. This is where my Great-Grandfather’s hometown of Barga is situated. In fact, according to the same article by The National, Lucca is known as the most Scottish town in Italy and it’s estimated that around half of its residents have Scottish relatives, some that they of course aren’t even aware of: “It was perhaps the best example of the phenomenon in which Italians did not so much mass migrate as come in bunches from particular towns and villages and then supported each other when they got here, remaining quite clannish.”

The Italians and Scots Relationship

The Scots coined a nickname for them, ‘Tallies’, which was often used in a warm, adorning way. However, Italians were known for mingling mostly amongst themselves, except for when it came to business. Intermarriage with other nationalities was practically unheard of, mostly due to their religion. Pietro Bonaccorsi was a slight exception. He married my Great-Grandmother Helen McStay, an Irish immigrant of Roman Catholic religion, which overcame the cultural barrier. The National states that: “Though almost all Italians were Roman Catholic, the Italo-Scots also did not suffer the level of discrimination and downright bigotry expressed towards the Irish Catholics, and as people who were usually involved in family businesses they could not be accused of taking Scottish jobs.”

As with most bigotry, if a migrant ‘doesn’t have anything to offer’ such as businesses, profitable skills and/or culture, then that’s when the natives often rear their ugly bigoted head. Italians brought a welcomed diversity to Scottish cuisine and thus remained, at least in the early years, free from such slurs and tension. In my opinion, in the eyes of the Scots, Irish culture was almost too similar to their own – offering nothing of value and only populating their country more with socio-economic competition such as jobs and housing.

However, the peaceful assimilation of Italians in Scotland did not last too long. Benito Mussolini encouraged global Italian communities to engage in Fascism by forming clubs across all of their countries of residence. Scotland was no exception. Italians within the country began joining Il Duce’s Fascist party but much worse was yet to come.

War broke out in 1939 and the Italian communities across Scotland were immediately under suspicion. Neighbours and other good friends began distancing themselves and keeping a wary and watchful eye on their former Italian friends. The tensions eventually came to an explosive head when Il Duce declared war on Britain in the Summer of 1940. No Italian was safe in Scotland. Shop windows were smashed, businesses were looted and Italians were physically attacked, cases nearing the 100s in Edinburgh alone. The attacks weren’t limited to just Italians, but their Scottish born children and relatives. It wasn’t until the RAF bombed regions of Italy that both countries knew that every remaining hope of peace had vanquished. This meant war.

Winston Churchill soon directed the Internment of every Italian man between the ages of 17 and 60 (though, varying sources say 18 and 70) and were deemed as “enemy aliens”. They were either forced to work on war defences or be transported over the Atlantic to countries such as Canada.

Pietro Bonaccorsi was no exception to this rule. After making a life for himself on Bute as a confectioner firstly at the Glenburn Hotel before becoming the owner of the Electric Bakery, he was interned at the age of 54 on the Isle of Man POW camp. The internment left many women to take over the business responsibility and face alienation by their Scottish co-inhabitants. My second cousin, Ray Kennedy, who is in the process of writing a book on our family writes that: “Outcries in Parliament lead to a change in policy and the first releases of internees in August 1940.  By February 1941 more than 10,000 had been freed, and by the following summer, only 5,000 were left in internment camps.  Many of those released from internment subsequently contributed to the war effort on the Home Front or served in the armed forces.

My Grandfather [Pietro Bonaccorsi] never forgave Churchill; his hatred was made worse by the fact that some of the Bonaccorsi family was at that time fighting in the British army including his nephew Raffaello and his sons Umberto and Aldo.”

Some of the Bonaccorsi family were forced to change their surnames to ‘Brown’ during the war in order to fight on the side of the British and escape suspicion, but my grandfather Aldo, his brother Umberto and cousin Raffaelo, refused. Unfortunately, Raffaelo, the son of Pietro’s brother Celestino, was eventually taken as a Prisoner of War to Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf.

My Grandfather Aldo Bonaccorsi in the middle WW2, approximately 17 years old. Source: Avril Lax, Rothesay Remembered.

The Bonaccorsi Family Crimes on Bute

The Bonaccorsi family was no Italian mob and my Great Grandfather was no Al Capone, but both him and his family did have their fair share of run-ins with the law on Bute. According to the Buteman Newspaper and family recollections, Pietro Bonaccorsi found himself in court in 1926 facing charges of owning an illicit still. There was a lot of laughter in the court as Pietro insisted on calling the judge “Senor Presidente” and stating that a prosecution witness by the name of Antonio Barbi had “a big mouth”. Consequently, he was found guilty and fined £50, which back then was a large sum of money.

Pietro Bonaccorsi (right) with his brother (left) and their wives.

Pietro’s eldest son, Arturo, was the only one of the Bonaccorsi children that could speak Italian fluently. He was put in charge of one of his father’s businesses: The Electric Bakery on Watergate. One day, Arturo found some of his colleagues and friends gambling illegally at the back of the shop on a Sunday. My mother tells me at this time there was strictly no gambling on a Sunday. Arturo’s colleagues scoffed at his attempt to scold them. That was until he brought out a gun and again, insisted that they stopped. For some reason, the men listened this time. However, it was too little too late. After a tip-off, they were all arrested and court proceedings were carried out.

The Impact of Italians on Bute

The Italian culture has had a massive impact world wide, and a small piece of that can be seen in Bute. Zavaroni’s Cafe, even after all these years, is still a thriving business showcasing the Scottish love for a chippy and ice cream; a love that shows no sign of slowing down. Many of the people on Bute who were teenagers in the 70s reminisce about ‘Gaby’s’ or ‘Joe Foschetti’s XL cafe’.

One of my favourite parts of Italian culture that I got to experience throughout my childhood on Bute came from my Grandpa Aldo; Italian music. My niche party trick is knowing every lyric to Santa Lucia and Luna Mezzo Mare, and also being able to name each of the Three Tenors. My mother passed down a lot of small but heart-warming Italian customs, like saying Buonanotte and having to watch the Godfather Trilogy (which is unsurprisingly my favourite trilogy of all time). I hope one day, in the not-so-distant future, I eventually get to visit my Bonaccorsi family in Barga. It’s clear to see that Italy hasn’t just left a small part of itself on Bute, it’s also left a huge part in me.

Above is a picture of my Grandpa Aldo performing like the fantastic tenor he was. The next picture is of me as a child with my Grandpa Aldo and my Nana Catherine Bonaccorsi nee Crawford.

Is Big Food the New Big Tobacco?

With big industry comes big responsibility and not every corporation exercises that to their consumers’ best interest. This podcast investigates the manipulation tactics of Big Tobacco and compares it to the modern-day dominating industry of Big Food. Despite being manufacturers of entirely different products, I’ve revealed how these two industries are entirely capable of manufacturing similar deceit. Does Big Food sing from the same exploitative playbook as Big Tobacco?

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mount Stuart

Ailsa Gillies

Opening to the public in 1995, this eclectic array of infrastructure has served to be one of the most breathtaking manors in British history, situated on the gem of the Clyde: the Isle of Bute. Mount Stuart has come to be a hidden gem in its own right, surrounded by 300 acres of landscape and nature which is just as famed as the building itself.

Though popular, the house is certainly as mysterious as it looks. From both its interior and exterior, MountStuart tells a story of its own; from its blend of Georgian and Neo-Gothic architecture, to its uncarved pillars. This building has seen death, tragedy and jubilation all within its grounds. Here are5 things you didn’t know about Mount Stuart:

1. The original building was destroyed by fire!

Mount Stuart, original building post-fire. Source: http://www.mountstuart.com

The magnificent building that we know and have come to love today…

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Ferry Fiasco: Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?

In the year where the Isle of Bute has been hailed as The Sunday Times best place to live in Scotland, its residents have never been more divided. Some think it’s merely a case of mainlander privilege to bare this perspective considering they have never experienced many days of ferry cancellations and missed mainland appointments. Others revelled in the pride of their community being placed on the map. Finally Bute was getting the credit its scenic coastal landscapes so deserved. In essence, while some welcomed this as a much-needed boost to the economy through publicity and tourism, others were fearful of what this meant for the 15×4 miles Firth of the Clyde island.

But let’s be clear — this isn’t like the Viking invasions of the 11th Century. Day-trippers aren’t packing bags for a day of plunder and pillage in Bute’s town of Rothesay. They’re here to share the fruits of what the islanders are able to feast on all year round — or at least some of it. This is where the Bute cynics may have a point:

The Sunday Times panelists alongside tourists likely have little understanding of what it’s like to be at the mercy of a lifeline service that is currently hitting headlines across the nation for unreliability. CalMac, the UK’s largest ferry operator (in terms of number of routes and vessels), has come under fire from both the press and its highly-dependent islander customers and commuters. Consequently more and more Bute residents are returning to an age old question: Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?  

Ferry Fiasco

According to Google Trends, the search terms ‘CalMac’ and ‘island bridge’ peaked—perhaps not so coincidentally— at the exact same time in mid February 2022 when reports of delays to shipbuilding started to surge in Scottish media. Headlines included ‘ferry delays’ and ‘decimated ferry services’ in reference to CalMac. All of this came as rising tensions between Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) and Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) were being brought to light. John Sturrock QC describes the relationship between the two companies as ‘personal animosity’ which were contributing to delays and ‘costing the tax-payer a fortune’.

Not only this but recently there have been calls for resignations within Scottish parliament if the delays continue. Kate Forbes, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, had projected that the overall cost of building new vessels had increased by over £8.5 million. According to The Scotsman, Ms Forbes said that she recognised how pertinent it is to complete these ferries for vulnerable islands and the reasoning was due to ‘outstanding legacy cabling issues’. It must be noted that these ferries were contracted by CMAL, which is government owned and government subsidised.

Due to these delays, older vessels are still in order which in turn impairs reliability due to technical issues and frequency of required servicing. For instance, one vessel that served the Isle of Arran had been out of operation until early May due to an engine failure and consequently, CalMac’s managing director, Robbie Drummond, has had to recognise that such an occurrence is detrimental to both island economy and to vital healthcare.

The Daily Record reports that pubs have been running out of alcohol, tourism has declined (which has been recognised as an island’s ‘lifeblood’) and has become unendurable for those who require the ferry services to attend hospital. Most importantly, Mr Drummond issued a statement on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that clarified money being spent on maintenance had increased by 70% in the last 5 years. CalMac is running purely on ‘ageing fleet’ and vessels that are well beyond their lifeline. This has real life implications for islanders.

The Scottish Ferry Review found in its consultation questionnaire in 2010 that the ageing of CalMac vessels are not singular to Arran, but have covered a far wider scope for many years. Within the review they stated that: “In tandem with the increasing fleet age, the rate of bringing new vessels into service has been reducing over time with a greater time period evident between commissions.” The review found that in 1974 the average age of vessels was 13 years old and by 2012 this average had shot up by 9 years to 22.

The reviews’ recommendation to reduce this trend was that vessels needed to be replaced ‘at a rate approaching one per year’ and that assuming these vessels have a lifespan of approximately 30 years, the predicted average age would need to be reduced from 22 to 19.5 years old. So, what does this mean for Bute?

Currently Bute operates with 2 main vessels from Wemyss Bay to Rothesay. These are the MV Argyle and MV Bute. Often times in Winter months the MV Coruisk is also put into service to tackle tempestuous weather in replacement of either one of the Rothesay ferries.  At the north end of the island the MV Loch Dunvegan operates alone from Colintraive to Rhubodach.

The youngest of the 4 vessels at 15 years old is the MV Argyle and the oldest is the 31 year old MV Loch Dunvegan. The average age of all 4 vessels combined is 20.5 years old, taking it over the recommended national average age of 19.5 years for CalMac vessels. For a company that displays one of its main qualities as ‘modernisation’ on their web page, having a vessel in service on Bute that has operated since 1991, does not seem to substantiate this claim of modernity. The review does not corroborate this either. This has been seen in practice and poses great difficulties for the Isle of Bute. More required servicing and technical issues have prevented more than just a ‘day-trip’ but vital services and resources.

According to a particular case on the 13th December 2021 posted to a community Facebook group, CalMac’s website showed that the MV Bute had been withdrawn from service due to a ‘technical fault’. Its replacement, the MV Coruisk, was delayed in the adjustment which seen the service for the latter half of that day and the remainder of the following day cancelled. Thereafter it remained on a single vessel timetable with the MV Argyle.

It’s important to highlight that there is also a significant issue with single vessel operations and in the same review, it was raised that: “We do not believe a single vessel operation constitutes provision of a lifeline ferry service” and this is exactly what CalMac brand themselves as on both the David MacBrayne website and the CalMac website: a lifeline service. It is not difficult to understand why many may feel that it’s unjust to constitute CalMac as this type of service when, often times, it does not live up to the provisions that it should.

How The Pandemic Ignited the ‘Bridge Debate’

The Isle of Bute community Facebook group has the second largest number of members (14,000) amongst the Scottish islands, second only to Skye (38,000). This community group was once a place that solely consisted of scenic pictures representing Bute’s wildlife before turning into a public discussion board to air concerns for other Brandanes (Bute residents) to respond to — which more often than not— has its habits of turning into heated debates.

On the 7th December 2021, a woman who runs a well-known hotel on Bute posted to the page in an obvious rage that was directed at CalMac and tagged councillors, urging them to get involved with her complaint. The woman had stated that she had arrived an hour and a half early at Wemyss Bay for the last sailing. She attempted to purchase a ticket but allegedly staff reported that the network was down and she’d have to pay by cash.

After explaining that she didn’t have cash as she was sure that CalMac had become a cashless company, she was told that she would not be able to travel unless she went to the nearest cash machine (which would require her to walk over a mile to the co-op in the rain, by a dark busy road) and acquire some: “The refusal to let a single passenger travel on the last sailing and to assume it is acceptable for anyone to be able to walk a mile and a half in the dark has left me flabbergasted.”

This was the only option provided. She stated in her post: “Yes I’d asked if someone could pop into Rothesay before the boat sailed and pay for me. Yes I’d asked if I could pay on board at the cafe and yes I’d asked if I could do a bank transfer. Everything I suggested was shot down in flames.”

She continued: “The only suggestion that was given to me was to sit in the car and wait to see if the network came back on — if it didn’t I’d not be allowed to travel.”

When the woman was finally able to get cash, she then had to walk down to the foot passenger ticket office — despite being a vehicle passenger— as the vehicle office claimed that they weren’t allowed to handle cash: “You couldn’t make it up. Not one apology was issued and the bad faith towards this company grows by the day.” 

This event occurred exactly 3 months after Bute Councillor Liz McCabe announced that there were issues with members of the community not being allowed to pay their ferry fare by cash: “For those who may not know, when travelling with CalMac you CAN pay by cash as a last resort. Seemingly we have been able to do for some time. However I have had some people telling me this was not the case for them.”

One responder to this statement said: “They wouldn’t let my husband when the rest and be thankful was closed! Point blank refused at Wemyss Bay.”

Issues with payments during the course of the pandemic sparked outrage in the community with some maintaining that CalMac were using their power to exploit islanders. One responder to the 7th December incident said: “Surely if the card payment network was down, then there should have been a contingency plan put in place?”

While others declared it was a ‘disgrace’ and ‘dreadful behaviour’ for a company. Another responder stated: “Absolute disgrace and if you complain it’s a waste of time. Build a bridge.”

As December went on, the Isle of Bute community page filled up with phone screenshots of ‘technical difficulty’ warnings from CalMac’s website, ferry cancellation complaints and soon, the idea of bridge building had resurfaced. It appeared that the community was truly beginning to lose faith and losing it very close to a time where sons, daughters and grandparents would be depending on these lifeline services to spend time with their families for Christmas — for some, the first time in many years due to the pandemic.

In an obtained FOI, over 2,201 scheduled sailings for the entirety of Bute in 2021 were cancelled compared to only 854 pre-pandemic. Granted, there are many external factors that simply cannot be managed by CalMac but it does leave wonder as to why there were also almost 1.5k less scheduled sailings than in 2019?

After contacting an individual who regularly and openly spoke quite positively about CalMac online, I asked for their opinion on a bridge as they are a regular commuter due to their job as a delivery driver. They were initially willing to co-operate but as the questions turned to issues around the use of ferry services, this person shut down all conversation by informing me that their boss is not happy with them talking to journalists and that if I wanted any more information, I was to contact their marketing team. The marketing team I later found out was the marketing of a distribution company who rely heavily on CalMac for business. Purely from speculation, I believe that this was an attempt to avoid decrying a company they so heavily depend on. Again, this is speculative.

The Debate

There is nothing that seems to ignite debate in an island community like presenting the group with a poll centred on a bridge. The poll that posed the question: ‘Does Bute need a bridge now more than ever?’ garnered a staggering 687 respondents, 387 of which (the majority), voted in favour of such endeavour and the remaining 300 voted against.

The main argument for those in favour of a bridge centred on the quality of ferry services to and from the island which has already been extensively touched upon in this investigation. However, some moved away from the notion of ‘the quality of service’ and more onto the idea that the external factors that impose a threat to ferry services are of equal issue i.e weather, COVID and technical issues. Although not the company’s fault, these are still valid reasons for desiring the freedom of what being connected to the mainland could bring. One respondent stated: “Living on the island has become more difficult during uncertainty of ferry especially during winter months, a bridge would solve that problem.”

While another stated: “I would just like the freedom it would give you should you be running late and the ferry is away at least there is an alternative way home instead of having to pay a hotel to stay over.”

A lot of ‘pro-bridgers’ acknowledged that they didn’t want rid of the ferry services on Bute altogether, they would just prefer to have an alternative option available in which they had access to mainland facilities and resources. 

As mentioned earlier, tourism is the main source of economic success for many Scottish islands and with islands like Skye, who in its first year of having a bridge, over 61200 vehicles crossed  which was more than the official numbers of the ferry according to the Evening Express, there is no wonder why this appeal exists on Bute.

Besides economy, the most gripping point came in the form of vital services such as healthcare. 

Highland Healthcare Branch Secretary Dawn MacDonald stated that a bridge could mean “the difference between life and death” as well as prevent missed appointments due to bad weather and ferry breakdowns. The most poignant of Mrs MacDonald’s statement came in the form of a life or death situation: “Years back, a GP’s daughter took an asthma attack and the delay in getting her to a hospital on the mainland almost cost her her life. It was too close to death for the GP’s liking and subsequently, he moved away.”

A spokesperson for Bute’s Kidney Patient Support also highlighted the issues of healthcare on the island: “Before the dialysis unit opened on Bute in November 2021 there was no treatment on the island. Patients had to go to Inverclyde 3 times per week. They went by ambulance transport each day, but you will understand if there was bad weather or breakdowns on the ferries then they couldn’t travel.”

Bute Kidney Patient Support was community and trust-funded. This is a resource that was created through the help of Dr Marshall Trust contribution as well as the campaigning and fundraising of Bute’s community and businesses. Without either — this resource may never have come to fruition.

The spokesperson also confirmed that: “… the mainland does have higher quality resources. The unit on Bute is classed as a satellite unit so if a patient has other health issues etc. then they may have to go back to receiving dialysis at Inverclyde.”

Finally, in regards to patient satisfaction it was believed that the island unit has been a “god send” to patients, however, “living on an island does have its limits” in regard to vital care services.

This leads to a very interesting point from the ‘anti-bridgers’ who believe that: “This is island life, if you don’t like it, move away. You chose to stay here. Move. Simple.” But is it really so simple?

Firstly, many islanders did not exactly choose to stay on the island. They were born here and as humans — they don’t get a say in that. Secondly, house prices are not as affordable on the mainland as they are on Bute— this is what constitutes part of the appeal for the ‘best place in Scotland’. As of November 2021 the postcode of PA20 (which covers the entirety of Bute) has an average house price of £109,906 compared to other areas merely across the water such as Wemyss Bay at £182,958 and Glasgow at over £200,000.

Another resident explained why it’s not as simple as just getting up and going: “Due to the boats being very unpredictable and my partner working on the mainland we are now looking to relocate, he lost thousands this winter due to ferries being cancelled. If there was a bridge I wouldn’t need to move away from the place I call home where all my family are.” 

Independence is another issue that was raised amongst those against a bridge. What would this mean for the independence of the island and would Bute still be able to hold onto its islander status? From the example of Skye, it would be safe to assume so, even if at very least by name. The logistics may be a little more complicated in terms of island benefits but it can be argued that island concessions would be far less needed with adequate accessibility to both essential and recreational facilities. Afterall, these island benefits are only in place for the sake of equity. It is accepted as a universal fact that rural communities are less advantaged than their mainland counterparts. However, politically, islands are synonymous with the character of ‘independence’ therefore a more compelling question posed to you reader is: Is the Isle of Bute ever truly independent if it is dependent on CalMac? Is it truly ever independent if its community is at the mercy of one company?

In media, we discuss the dangerous threat to democracy that media monopolies pose and that plurality and diversity are ways of maintaining democracy so best as we can as members of the Fourth Estate. Can this same principle be applied to rural communities where it is clear that business monopolies exist? These are certainly questions worth thinking about.

The vocal passion for the opposing side was so distinct in contrast to the ‘pro-bridgers’. In fact, so passionate that I had received a peculiar email in response to my proposition on the community Facebook group. The email address was generated from an encryption mail website named ‘Proton Mail’ and the sender was disguised with an alias. They had urged me not to take this investigation any further and linked me to a blog post that they seemed to create in direct response to my poll. It highlighted that any investigation for the sake of “journalism” would instead be “insincere” and “malicious”.

Though clearly not open for discussion, the sender made some fascinating and well-researched points that laid down the foundation of the anti-bridge argument. Some of which included the extortionate cost of such a project. If we disregard hypotheticals if only for a moment and move more to practicality, we can look at the case study of Skye.

The bridge cost £39 million to construct and not without great controversy initially. After a toll was applied to the bridge by the US company that owned it, protests arose and soon, the Scottish Government bought the Skye bridge, eradicating the toll which had generated criminal charges and public unrest. If the Scottish Government are struggling to finance and deliver new vessels on time, this certainly leaves room for skepticism when it comes to financing and delivering a bridge. 

Visual aesthetics, uniqueness of character and the enjoyment of remoteness were all other incredibly valid points brought up amongst the Facebook comments. Many were also concerned about the environmental impact and rightly so. The anonymous author of the blog who stated that if the bridge were to be built at Colintraive and Rhubodach: “[they] are within a National Scenic Area (and one of only seven in the Argyll and Bute region) so development of any kind would face tremendous roadblocks from communities, authorities and environmentalists.” 

You can view their extensive points against the idea of a bridge on Bute here.


This investigation concludes that it isn’t so much ‘pro’ or ‘anti-bridge’ so much as it is ‘pro better services for islands’. Though the debate is shrouded in hypotheticals, there is value in looking at its practicality which case studies such as Skye can provide, albeit with its differences. There is no doubt that those in favour of a bridge are not necessarily calling for a bridge as much as they are calling for better, more modern and reliable services, better governance and more freedom of choice for their island. There was a real impression that this is a community that has exhausted all other options when it comes to pleading for better. The practicality of such a huge endeavour will forever remain debatable.

Finally, though much of the community did not feel compelled to speak out on this topic when approached, it is clear that it’s a touchy subject for some islanders. And often the things that aren’t talked about are certainly the things that need to be talked about. Divorce, death, illness and sex. They’re all difficult topics. And for islanders — bridge building seems to be one of them. 

Author’s Note:

The voices of Bute’s community matters – after all, it is the people of Bute who these council-centred issues affect. If nothing is said, nothing can be done. Some islanders were agitated or fed up by the proposal of such a question regarding the bridge with remarks such as “not this again”. But actually — yes, this again. Yes, ‘this again’ because it is a question that has been left unanswered. If it was a problem that possessed a solution, it wouldn’t have to be solved. And until there is an answer or solution, you can expect to see the ‘bridge debate’ continue to arise in conversation. Whether you choose to partake in it or not is purely personal choice, but those who want to be heard should be heard.

My aim was to move this debate along and to provide at least *some* answers to its surrounding questions. And sometimes investigations can pose more questions than it does answers. That rings true for this. I went into this investigation with a curious mind and a genuine desire to find an answer to this age long debate. However, being raised on Bute, I also wanted islanders to think about the institutions that they are governed by and the way their community is run. Knowledge can only be gained through the provision of information and only then can productive action be taken with that knowledge.

Thank you to all who have collaborated with me on this piece and to the community for providing me with insightful data. Your voices and opinions are incredibly important to the progression of rural communities.

Feature Photo Credit: Isle of Bute by John Williams, 2016.

The Chronically Misplaced Woman

Home is wherever I’m not. Home is Stirling when I’m on Bute. Home is Bute when I’m in Stirling. The peculiar irony is that home does not follow me everywhere I go — it only exists where I don’t. Home was once Lochgilphead when I was fifteen-years-old. Home was once Fauldmore on Bute’s Serpentine Road for the fifteen years I ran through its hallways and climbed its weather-worn brick-red stairs. Home was the quaint little cottage that stood at Townhead. Home has been anywhere that I’ve shared love. It wasn’t behind the cold steel doors of H H Donnelly when I began University nor in the towering townhouse of Causewayhead that I shared with a different set of strangers each year.

Emerging into my twenties, I could only reflect on why I’ve felt like a ‘rambling woman’ persistently throughout my teens. The Allman Brothers and Hank Williams could sing all they like about what it’s like to be a ‘ramblin’ man’, but I always wondered if my equivalent was a chronically ‘misplaced woman’. Perhaps I was destined to never find a sense of belonging up until now.

What if I was destined to be forever lost? And yes, reader, I say ‘now’ because the epiphany of finding belonging in oneself has meant that no matter how much I move, how far I roam and the distance that lays between me and where I always thought was ‘home’, I am eternally found— even if only by me. I carry it like a rucksack wherever I go and it’s been the lightest load I’ve ever carried. Finally my steps have faded from thick trudges into the echoes of light whispers.

I didn’t belong on Bute or at Rothesay Academy or at my job as a waitress in Stirling. I didn’t belong in groups who thrive off of pecking orders or behind the walls of rigid institutions. And I always thought: ‘Well, if I can’t find it there, where and when will I find it? When will I finally belong?’ But it started by experiencing everything at least once. It began in the things that fed my curiosity.

It was in the widening of my perception, not the narrowing of it. It was in knowing that I know nothing so that there is everything to learn. It was accepting that I was always going to be a beginner at everything but still turning my hand to it. It was in what I believe to be the greatest knowledge that one can possess — experience. That is the only hunger I’ve never been able to satiate and instead of winding up in the chaos of that, I have learned to embrace it.

At fourteen, I disappeared for a night off of the island to stay in Dunoon. A decision that left my mother petrified. It was one night of psychological torture for her and the real sad thing about it was that I had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I finally seen something in my short life that wasn’t limited to the confines of an island.

Forgive me for being so candid:

I watched people pass out drunk, take lines of cocaine on living room tables and get blowjobs in bathrooms. I watched people puke after a ride on the waltzers, blitzed out their heads. I watched jaws wobble. I watched unfamiliar faces disappear up alleys and crowds gather outside of late night takeaways. I watched grown men throwing young boy punches and young boys throwing grown men insults. I made my way around three different houses that night, two to drink and one to pee in. Each house showcased the home of very different familial backgrounds.

I slept in someone’s aunty’s caravan that night (which she had no idea about) on a fold out couch that smelled of dust and regret. I watched my friends cuddle to sleep on a wooden shelf for luggage storage because there was nowhere else to sleep. We had £16 between us to get home with no one old enough to have a bank card yet.

And the next day, we lay on the side of a pavement, waiting for a bus and ferry home — exhausted and desperate. And I loved it. I loved my first glimpse at mainland chaos, albeit arguably a little too early. Chaos was something I was used to. It didn’t scare me and I certainly never ran from it.

Shortly after, I then moved from Fauldmore to Lochgilphead and then two weeks later, to Townhead back on Bute. My ‘home’ turf got shaken up by the only thing more turbulent than nature’s own catastrophes— a divorce. A divorce that happened to coincide with a time where my identity was vulnerable. ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I?’ had been questions that went hand-in-hand from that day on and what a powerful duo they were. Untamed, they raged throughout my teenage years. And so formed the chronically misplaced woman. It was the ultimate battle of the internal and external world of Ailsa Gillies.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There were times where being ‘misplaced’ ran with exuberance through my veins, pushing me in directions that the stillness of solitude had never placed me. I knew I didn’t belong here, or there or … anywhere — but it didn’t bother me. In fact, I wanted to be where I’d never known. Though sometimes that spiralled into risk as we have seen. On more than one occasion I found myself in dangerous situations that I soon wished I had never gotten into. On my quest to find my belonging in what can only be described as my free-spirited naivety, I, rather ironically, often became trapped. I was no longer ‘free’ at all.

So, I have now come to understand that there’s value in taking calculated risks. There’s value in being led by the threads of curiosity that are sewn with wisdom and courage, rather than rebellion and naivety. And only then did I become truly ‘free’. When I didn’t turn to the shoulder of someone else to cry on or somewhere else to fill me with happiness and I instead ran with that baton that I call ‘security’. That’s when I felt empowerment.

Power — It’s the one of very few things I will never share of my own with another. Why? Because I could be anywhere with anyone or nowhere with no one — but I still have the ever-growing and ever-changing me and that, reader — I decided —was always going to be enough.

I may be chronically misplaced in the external world — and I don’t think that will ever change. I will forever long to ramble and explore with my unquenchable mind. But for me, belonging really happened when I left the tangible idea of ‘home’ behind and started feeding the impalpable soul. That’s where home really is.

“I know only one thing: that I know nothing”


The Hands That Make a Home

In a city that I couldn’t call home, my hands were a resident all on their own. Hands that have made both friends and enemies with the liquid that protects them, the rubber that guards them and the 20 seconds that guides them. These hands of mine have become shy and introverted, quaking and unreliable in times when I’ve needed them most. To prepare a hearty meal, to work to pay my bills and to craft the art that swims marathons in my mind.

They have become stifled in creativity yet zealous in their new duties. No e-mail has went unread, no call has went unanswered. My hands stood like two vacant little armies, waiting for orders from their sergeant in charge. They were no longer the warm creators of my art but cool operators of my commands. They had become strangers of the world’s own making. Of my own making.

Though familiar with motions of mask-wearing, nose-blowing, hand-washing and computer- clicking, they had become strangers to the co-operative motions of the most precious task of all — home-making.

Home was a place that I had no business being at over the last few years and in its absence, I had— admittedly— neglected the hands of home that fed me, that warmed me and made me.

But now, I was ‘here’ and ‘here’ was where I could set those cold and tired little soldiers free to enjoy the home-grown and hand-cooked meals that filled the void of microwave dishes. To revel in the experience of my mother’s soft fresh, folded laundry. To feast on my no-longer-captive creativity and to allow my fingers to glide along the piano keys that stirs that forgotten feeling of ‘togetherness’. Most important of all was to realise that some of the most spectacular hands that make a home aren’t even hands at all — they are paws.

As my time on my little rural island draws to a close, there is just one thing that I will leave for the big city comfortably knowing and that is that my hands— alone—don’t make a home.

Author’s Note: This was a graded photo essay as part of my masters degree.

Climate Change Denialism

It was just shy of 6 months ago that I grabbed myself a taxi in Stirling city centre. It was the first day of many sweltering days this year. The driver locked eyes with me in the rear-view mirror where beads of sweat trickled from his face and said: “This isn’t a heatwave, this is the government.” This was not the first nor the last encounter I had this year with conspiracy theorists, but it was certainly the one that was firm in my memory as the UN’s COP26 event drew to a close in Glasgow.

On the 9th of November this year, CBS News reported that conspiracy theorists were taking to the internet after the event to encourage climate-change denial.

I thought back to that day in the taxi and of course, I couldn’t help but wonder. This was one man and his theories. Theories that were conveyed with such conviction that you would be forgiven for believing them. And a man whose job required him to come into contact with countless people a day, possibly spreading these theories like wildfire.

The scope of misinformation is frightening enough via the old-school channel of word of mouth, but not arguably as speedy and as accessible than through the much-loved modern channel of the internet.

Subsequently, two questions plagued me: What are the catalysts for climate denial and does this impose real life dangers?

The immense amount theories that have been circulating recently, included climate-change lockdowns were approaching, that climate change is exaggerated, not man made and it is the result of secret government experiments.

In a blog post from the University of Hull, Professor Mike Rogerson who is also a palaeo scientist made it his mission to debunk the circulating theories, emphasising the dangers of misinformation:

“The problem is that society gets climate information from the media, not from scientists. And the media, in an effort to seem unbiased, often line up one climate scientist against one denier to debate their point.”

However, Mike continues:

“But that doesn’t mean that the scientific community is split 50/50 on climate change. Actually it’s more like 97/3” and we all know which way is likely to be which.

However, climate denialism has worked in pursuit of one goal and one goal only since at least the 1980s… profit.

EXXON, an energy company founded in the 70s, were obsessed with innovation.

With this, they decided to invest in science. It was actually their very own scientists that were the first to present original papers explaining how the burning of fossil fuels will influence the climate.

This discovery was made in the early 80s just as the price of oil was decreasing, so the higher-ups at Exxon decided to ignore the information and turned to their business growth.

The scientists came back with more, in-depth research and told them that it was worse than they had originally thought.

“If Exxon wanted to be innovators so bad, maybe they would have taken this moment to diversify the energy sector, invest in alternative energy sources, but instead they decided to lie to you, to me and to your mom.”

So, EXXON being EXXON decided in the late 80s, when climate change was being accepted as an issue publicly, that it was time to instil doubt.

They set about doing this by making the apolitical nature of science… you guessed it— political, creating divisions, controversy and most importantly…doubts among the public.

As David Puttnam highlights in a Ted Talk on the reality of Climate change in 2014:

Humans used slaves as a source of energy and as it was fought to be abolished, the opponents argument was centred on profit. Then came the industrial revolution where years of innovation produced a new form of energy and so we progressed, we did better.

Notice any correlations here? This has been seen throughout history time and time again. Meeting expectations for profit is far more dangerous than exceeding expectations for a better future.

Dr Guy McPherson once said: “If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

So what are the real life dangers of conspiracy theories and climate denialism?

Well, let’s sum it up like this.

The wider spread of misinformation, the more doubt is created, the more instilled denial becomes and the less meaningful, moral (and in this case) pro-environmental action is taken against REAL life issues. And this becomes even more harmful on social media where 54% of our youth consume their news. The youth that is essentially carrying our future.

A paper on why conspiracy theories are dangerous by Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Hutton revealed in 2015 that: “Exposure to conspiracy theories reduced people’s intentions to reduce their carbon footprint.”

The authors claim that conspiracy theories: “cannot be dismissed as trivial or harmless.” And that they pose a great threat to societal behaviours. 

So the disregard for human suffering in the pursuit of profit from huge corporations combined with the spread of misinformation creates what we know as climate denialism. What can we do?

Do your research, check your sources and always, always, always choose consciousness over ignorance.

In regards to the corporations, I’ll leave that to David Puttnam to tell us:

“We’ve been sucked into the belief that an economic system is the only possible way forward and in truth, unless we alter the system, it is the absolute certainty that it will see the end of us as a species.”

A Lonely Little Girl

to dance a million dances,
to sing a thousand songs,
to laugh and cry in places
in which I don’t belong, 
I force polite smiles to creatures
that warrant my distaste, 
but I still show up,
I do the work
and put on my best face,

but behind the row of houses
and buildings that touch the sky,
I often sit at river edges
and begin to ponder why,
why my best friends have branches
and my enemies have hands,
why my soulmate speaks in whispers
and grows upon the land,

why currents swirl like little dancers
whirling down the stream,
why the last time my feet touched water
was merely in a dream,
why mallard ducks sit distanced
perching on the rocks,
and of course it’s human nature
that wedges as it knocks

the trees they do not discriminate
even when out of line,
they’re the only friendship that I have found
that stands the test of time,
the leaves do not hold grudges
as they allow themselves to grow,
they do their duty, they say ‘goodbye’
and once again ‘hello’,

when asked if I am lonely
as I spend my time alone,
I am comforted every day
by the things that I’ve never known,
I have found my peace inside myself
and that in which I know,
And more so in the things I don’t,
aware that they’re soon to show,

I find my friends in the soil
that caress my feet below,
not in the pubs with strangers
whose stories are of woe,
and if that makes me lonely
and distanced from this world,
I remember I was closer to the earth
when I was once a lonely little girl.

Top 5 Famous Brandanes You’ve Never Heard About

If you’re a Brandane (a native or inhabitant of Bute as defined by Wiktionary), you might be wondering if such a thing exists: another Brandane you’ve never heard about. It is Bute after all and everyone knows everyone — or at least likes to think so. There’s only 122km² and a population of approximately 7,000, amongst which someone of great notoriety could dwell unnoticed. In fact, it hardly seems likely. That’s because the people on our list today were not famous for singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ in the Palace Bar on a Friday night or a viral video on TikTok. In fact, they’d probably be perplexed that either exist. The Brandanes on this list are known mainly to scholars and historians for their innovation, intelligence and contribution to the arts and sciences throughout the 19th and 20th century. For this reason, I want to bring that notoriety and knowledge forth into 2022 so that these great Brandanes become part of, not only scholarly, but local knowledge. Today I bring you the Top 5 famous Brandanes You’ve Never Heard About:

1. Montague Stanley (Actor and Artist) 1809-1844

Source: National Galleries Scotland

Though born in Dundee in 1809, Montague Stanley would later take residence in Bute at a quaint house in Ascog which was known as Ascog Towers (no longer there) with his family. This was under the recommendation of his doctor who suggested Stanley resided in milder and healthier conditions after coming down with a serious condition in his lungs. This was speculated to be tuberculosis. Stanley was an avid traveller and worked as both an actor and artist throughout his life in various places, though mainly in Edinburgh where he met his wife Mary Susan Eyre. It was here that he became a well known landscape artist and by 1838, he decided to leave the stage as an actor for good to focus on his paintings.

Bute appealed to Stanley’s artistry and the move appeared to be incredibly beneficial to his creativity. He was remote enough to care for his sick lungs but close enough that he could visit Edinburgh on occasion, continuing to teach and sell his art work. This positive change did not last for long as his health rapidly deteriorated and Stanley was restricted to Bute and Bute only.

Stanley was also a Sunday school teacher and regular attendee of a new church that had been erected at Ascog in 1843, however, in the next year his condition worsened and he no longer could attend church. Death became almost inevitable to Stanley at this point. Shortly before his passing, he told Rev. James Monteith that his desire was to be buried within the grounds of Ascog Church. This wish was followed through after his passing on May 4th 1844.

The grave took a week to excavate, with ‘cartloads’ of soil being brought to fill it in according to Bute Connections. It’s also interesting to note that just 10 years later, there was a prohibition of burials drawn up within the grounds of Ascog Church, so as it stands, Montague Stanley’s grave is the only one there.

Tragically, Stanley’s remaining unsold artwork was destroyed in a fire enroute to auction.

2. William Low (Civil Engineer) 1814 – 1886

Source: Wrexham History (www.wrexham-history.com)

Born in Rothesay in 1814 to a seaman and a tanner’s daughter, William Low’s family soon made their move to Glasgow a year after his birth. This is where he began his career as a civil engineer in 1830. Low worked as an apprentice to Peter MacQuisten in Glasgow before securing his first job as a surveyor for the Duke of Argyll. He then moved to Bristol in the 1830s to work on a rail route between London and Bristol and was also working for Isambard Kingdom Brunel (who was considered one of the most ‘ingenious’ and ‘prolific’ figures in engineering history) on the Great Western Railway.

Low made a return to Glasgow in 1836 and for 3 years worked in various different partnerships. By now, he was a well experienced engineer and in 1843, he had published proposals for advancements to the Caledonia Railway line situated between Glasgow and Carlisle. It was then that he had really established the accolade as a tunnel and bridge specialist, working on huge projects all over the United Kingdom.

In 1846, Low moved to Wrexham and decided to build a home here. It was in this home that he drew up the ideas for a tunnel under the English Channel. It is important to note that the idea for a Channel Tunnel was not original or unordinary at this time, however, Low was the first to propose a double tunnel with cross ventilation branches. In April 1867, his plans were published and presented to Napoleon III and Queen Victoria’s Government. They were approved.

As companies were formed in 1868, Low apparently spent £5,000 of his own money buying land at Dover and near Calais. The channelling had begun. However, it wasn’t before long that the plans were halted due to the effects of the Franco-Prussian War, where the British Government withdrew support. Work was eventually restarted but arguments ensued between Low and another engineer which forced him to abandon his plans.

Low’s plans were revived once again in 1881 continuing through to 1884, but confidences were lost along the way and the plan, finally, was altogether abandoned after a turbulent history. At this point, Low was 70 years old and had lost a huge amount of money on the project but reports claim that this did not prevent him from being a very charitable man and great contributor to many charitable causes.

Low died in London in 1886 having never seen his plans come to fruition. In 1961 discussions surrounding bridges, immersed tubes and tunnels were revived and by the 80s, it was decided that a triple tunnel would be built and was achieved in 1991. The Channel Tunnel as we know it today was opened in 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II.

3. The Marshall Family (Physician, Nurse, Biologist & Archaeologist) 1860 – 1992

Sheina McAlister Marshall (1896 – 1977) Source: National Portrait Gallery London

The Marshall’s are one of the most historically remarkable families associated with Bute and for this reason, there’s a real injustice of placing each of their stories under just one heading. They really are a family of many talents and each deserves, at very least, their very own subsection within number 3.

Let’s begin with John Nairn Marshall (Physician) 1860 – 1945.

Born in Pollokshields in 1860, John was said to have had a great fascination with natural history from a very early age. It was this interest that remained as the catalyst for his future career in medicine. After graduating from the University of Glasgow in 1885, John took his practice to Galston, Ayrshire and thereafter, moved to Rothesay in 1892. He resided first in Battery Place before moving to ‘Stewarthall’.

He was an immensely well-known and respected G.P and surgeon on Bute who was described as a ‘striking figure, tall, placid, well-read and much travelled, who inspired complete confidence when treating his patients’.

John’s skills were not just limited to medicine either as he had profound knowledge of Bute’s flora and geology, as well as adding archaeology to the list after publishing a paper in 1914 on the excavations at Dunagoil. It was hugely through these efforts and passions that the present Buteshire Natural History Society was created in 1905 and John continued to be a huge supporter of the society throughout his life, even serving as its President from 1905 to 1920.

In 1934, John retired from medicine though kept his keen interest in Bute’s natural history flourishing. After a long and successful career, he passed away on the 15th March 1945 in ‘Stewarthall’.

Dr. Marshall and his wife Jean Colville Binnie had four daughters which, unfortunately, only three survived into adulthood after the tragic loss of their youngest — Alison Binnie Marshall. Margaret, Sheina and Dorothy were all encouraged from young ages to pursue an interest in natural history and science. All three daughters went on to become successful in their chosen fields.

Margaret Marshall (Nurse) 1895 – 1995

The eldest of the Marshall daughters, Margaret, was born at 5 Battery Place. Her nursing career was kickstarted when she served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment or VAD at Mount Stuart Naval Hospital during World War I. She was then accepted as a staff nurse in 1917 at the Royal Naval Hospital at Grantown and when World War I came to an end, she returned to Bute as a relief nurse based at the local hospital.

Margaret left Bute for Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary and trained as a qualified nurse under the Lady Superintendent Miss Gill whom was a pupil of Florence Nightingale. She then progressed onto her midwifery training in Dundee, returning to Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary as a ward sister and then later becoming Night Superintendent. She was then appointed as Matron at Beechwood Hospital, Edinburgh and became involved with the early work of treating cancer with radium therapy.

As World War II escalated, Margaret became acting Principal Matron of the Emergency Hospital Service and later as Chief Nursing Officer superintending the conversion of buildings into hospitals. Some of these included Gleneagles, Turnberry and between 80 and 90 private homes. In November 1944, Margaret was then appointed as Lady Superintendent of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary which seen her with 700 nurses under her supervision and control. These consisted of staff that were both undergoing training and fully qualified.

Margaret eventually retired in 1955, continuing to live in Edinburgh for a while before resettling in Bearsden. Some of Margaret’s great achievements included an OBE in 1947 and a Doctor of Laws from St Andrews University in 1975. She was just short of her 100th birthday on the 25th January 1995 when she passed away at Mount Carmel retirement home in Rothesay.

Sheina McAlister Marshall (Biologist) 1896 – 1977

Born in 1896, Sheina began her early education at home, then at Rothesay Academy before finally finishing at St Margaret’s School, Polmont. Sheina had said that her interest in biology had began when she was reading through many of Charles Darwin’s books when she was ill with rheumatic fever.

In 1914, she attended Glasgow University but took a year out to work with an uncle in a factory in Balloch which extracted radium that was used in clock faces and instrument dials. In 1916, Sheina returned to university to study Zoology, Botany and Physiology, graduating with a BSc with Distinction in November 1919.

In 1922, Sheina began investigating micro-plankton under the job title of Naturalist at the Marine Laboratory in Millport. From here, she pursued an interest in ecological biology, studying the food chains of marine species. Sheina took part on several significant scientific expeditions, including one to the Australian Great Barrier Reef in 1928. In 1934, she was awarded a DSc and in 1949, Sheina Marshall became one of the first women elected as Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh having been awarded the Society’s Neill Prize for the period 1969 – 1971. This was because of her publications and contributions to natural history.

After being appointed deputy director of the Millport Marine Station in 1964, Sheina was also awarded an OBE and just before her passing, she learned that she had been given an Honorary Degree from the University of Uppsala.

Sheina lived out the rest of her life on Millport, working and writing scientific papers until her death in 1977.

Dorothy Nairn Marshall (Archaeologist) 1900 – 1992

Similar to her sister Sheina, Dorothy was educated firstly by a governess at home before attending Rothesay Academy and then finishing her Scottish education at a boarding school in Edinburgh. In her early 20s, Dorothy left for Paris to study art.

During the First World War, Dorothy served as what is known as a ‘lumberjill’, cutting timber at Colintraive and was involved in many voluntary activities such as Guiding and the Red Cross. It was after her father’s death that Dorothy pursued her passion for archaeology by leaving for London to study with Sir Mortimer Wheeler, a profound and famous archaeologist. She took part in a large amount of excavations both nationally and abroad. This included excavations in Cyprus, Mersini, Jericho, Petra and Jerusalem. Dorothy was deeply involved in the Buteshire Natural History Society, acting as organising secretary and as President as well as running a Junior Naturalist section.

Dorothy Marshall was awarded an MBE in 1981 and elected an Honorary Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London — an incredibly rare honour. She even continued to take part in archaeological digs right up until her 90s, before passing away on the 3rd of September 1992.

Today, you can visit the commemorative bench at what is considered one of Dorothy Marshall’s favourite view points near Brigidale, facing South-West.

The Marshall family’s graves are also in Rothesay’s High Kirkyard.

4. Allan Wilkie (Actor) 1878 – 1970

Allan Wilkie. Source: Shakespeare and the Players. https://shakespeare.emory.edu/allan-wilkie/

Allan Wilkie’s father James was an engineer that lived in Victoria Street, Rothesay until he moved to Liverpool. He became a Marine Superintendent with the Elder Dempster Line and established a trust fund of £20,000 to build the group of Wilkie Houses at Townhead in 1929, for widows and spinsters of Rothesay to live rent-free.

James Wilkie’s son Allan was born at Toxteth Park, Lancashire in 1878 and was educated at Liverpool High School. He saw his first play at the age of 16 which was called A Bunch of Violets and seized every opportunity to visit theatres thereafter. According to records, Allan used the excuse of going to a chess club so that he could go see various plays without the watchful eye of his strict father, who restricted Allan’s play viewings to once a month.

Allan Wilkie moved to London and secured the part of a ‘walking gentleman’ and understudy in A Lady of Quality at the Comedy Theatre in Cambridge in 1899. Over the next few years, he played Shakespeare, melodrama and farce around Britain with different touring companies. It wasn’t until 1905 that Wilkie became head of his own touring company and acquired the title of ‘actor-manager’. In 1909, he married one of the stunning leading ladies in his touring company Frediswyde Hunter-Watts and over the next 6 years, they successfully performed in London Theatres.

It was in 1911 when Wilkie took the first Shakespearian repertory company abroad to India and over the next few years, they also performed in Ceylon, China, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, Malaya. Wilkie was in South Africa when the First World War began so decided to move to Australia with his wife in 1915, as she had family connections there. It was here that they started their own Shakespearean Company there which was rumoured to have huge success.

Wilkie was then awarded a CBE for services to the theatre in 1925 before returning to London, where he would retire. After his retirement, he spent several years in the USA and Canada, though in his last few years resided at Montford House in Rothesay. He began to take a great deal of interest in the Wilkie Houses that his father had invested in. He died on Bute on the 6th of January 1970.

5. William Macewen (Surgeon) 1848 – 1924

At ‘Woodend’, Rothesay, on the 22nd June 1848, William Macewen was born. This was at the first house past Skeoch Wood toward Ardbeg. It’s important to note that the house now on that site replaced the Macewen home in the 1860s. William was the youngest of 12 children and moved to Glasgow with his family when his father retired in 1860.

William Macewen is another on this list who attended Glasgow University. He studied medicine there from 1865, graduating in 1869 before completing his surgical training in 1872. After this, he became a surgeon at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow and then eventually moved to the Royal Infirmary where he stayed until 1892. Macewen became Regius Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University, while also operating at the Western Infirmary and at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.

Macewen is a personal favourite on this list as I’ve mentioned him in my previous article ‘5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mount Stuart’. It was here at Mount Stuart that he was a sure aid for servicemen in the First World War. Macewen had an outstanding career, making major advances in the field of surgery and being widely regarded as the ‘father of neurosurgery’. He was the pioneer of brain surgery, being able to successfully locate tumours through the analysis of symptoms and subsequently removing them by surgery. Something that was rare in his time.

Macewen was also fascinated by joint and bone surgery, going on to invent a technique for straightening the bones of rickets sufferers. This was a condition caused by poor nutrition and was hugely common amongst children of the poor at this time, so this advancement was a significant one.

Though the use of antiseptic was pioneered by Joseph Lister, Macewen took this a step further. He insisted on the complete avoidance of infection by the washing and wearing of clean gowns by surgeons, thorough cleaning of theatres and the sterilisation of equipment. He also advocated for the use of anaesthetics which, at this time, was still considered a novelty. Macewen’s reputation was international and in 1902, he was knighted.

Macewen passed at his house ‘Garrochty’ on the western side of Bute in 1924.

A huge and special thank you to the Bute Natural History Society and the authors of ‘Bute Connections’ which include Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin. This is where I gathered most of my sources and my research and without it, this article would not have been possible. These are just a select few of the wonderful significant connections that Bute has and I would highly recommend discovering more.

Recommended Further Readings:

‘Bute Connections’ by Jean McMillan, Margaret Lamb and Allan Martin is available on Amazon.