A rainbow over Rothesay and the Isle of Bute. It was an appropriate image for Herald photographer Jamie Simpson, accompanying columnist Kevin McKenna on a visit there in 2016 to report on a grassroots campaign to revitalise the town and (following the logic that what’s good for Rothesay is good for Bute) the island itself.

Has Rothesay risen again? Has it re-established itself as the luxurious, palm tree-strewn holiday spot it was for much of the 20th century, when visitors came in their thousands by ferry from Wemyss Bay or down the Clyde on steamers from Glasgow?

Up to a point. Certainly the palm trees are still there, and the views and vistas are unchanged. The genteel waterfront area has been enlivened by the recently-renovated Winter Garden, a category A-listed building which re-opened in 2019. But the much-anticipated re-vamp of the town’s wonderful Rothesay Pavilion is still on-going, depriving the town of a powerful cultural engine: designed in 1938, the Pavilion is a gem of the so-called International Style, of which there are scant examples in Scotland (Edinburgh’s Ravelston Garden flats is one of a very few others).

It’s due to finally re-open this year. Until then, perhaps part of Rothesay’s 21st century appeal is still grounded in its faded grandeur, in a memory of how things used to be. The town still looks great on Instagram, though, so who cares either way?

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In fact if it’s history you want, both town and island have it in spades. Humans have lived on Bute since at least 2000 BC, the fifth century Irish missionary saint Maccai is said to have established a monastery on the island, there’s a 6th century chapel at St Ninian’s Point and on Bute’s southern tip you’ll find St Blane’s Church, raised in the 12th century to commemorate the Bute-born 6th century saint for whom Dunblane is named. Blane’s uncle, Catan, had established a monastery on the same site six centuries earlier, though it was destroyed by Vikings in the 8th century. Back in Rothesay, the 13th century Rothesay Castle still looms over the town.

And of course, no visit to Bute is complete without a trip round Mount Stuart House, the massive, Gothic Revival pile built for John Crichton-Stuart, third Marquess of Bute, in the late 1870s. Currently open to the public, its interior is even more breath-taking than its exterior – the painting collection boasts works by Gainsborough, Ramsay and Reynolds alongside Dutch and Flemish Old Masters – and the progressive and imaginative programme of arts events adds to its feel of being somewhere just a little bit special.