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 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.
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
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 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
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.