Mount Stuart

Isle of Bute

The arrival of spring at Mount Stuart is marked by primroses and wild violets. These modest little plants of woodland edges and damp grass will soon be followed by rippling waves of bluebells that will perfume the air with their hyacinth scent.

Surrounding one of the most impressively designed landscapes in Scotland are acres of woodland where native species flourish undisturbed in the mild climate created by the Firth of Clyde.

Mount Stuart itself is one of the most remarkable great houses in the country, renowned for its elaborate interiors and the early 20th century technology that provided electric lights and an elevator at a time when such developments seemed impossible.

Outside too the landscape was developed on a large scale and one of its most ambitious features is the Calvary Garden that was laid out in 1896 by celebrity garden designer Thomas Mawson for the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

The garden surrounds a small stream that runs from the hill above Mount Stuart to the sea. Dams and pools were created and Mawson used rocks to produce cascades while a 30ft high crucifix erected at the end of the trail was clearly visible from the Firth of Clyde.

Work was still underway when the Marquess died and over subsequent years the crucifix was removed and nature took over, covering the route in brambles and self-seeded trees, while new plantings of commercial woodland almost smothered it completely as they grew.

The Herald:

Now those trees have been felled and the garden has been reclaimed from the undergrowth. Paths have been cleared, the waterfalls restored and the area at the top around the Calvary Pond has been replanted with new trees and wildflowers so that visitors can once again make a pilgrimage from the shoreline to the hilltop, finding tranquillity along the way.

Elsewhere in the gardens rhododendrons and magnolias are providing a vivid show of colour and soon the estate gardeners will be planting out the young vegetables that, this summer, will provide the estate’s cafe with an endless supply of fresh produce.

Mount Stuart is so big that an area filled with southern hemisphere plants is known as The Wee Garden, while the pinetum is home to more than 800 towering conifers, many of them endangered in their native lands and grown here as part of an international conservation programme.

The Rock Garden next to the house tumbles down a steep slope where Asian plants and pools of clear water soften the impact of the giant boulders that were placed, at the direction of Thomas Mawson once again, to create a Himalayan-style landscape.

Mount Stuart has many beautiful trees including many Champions, which have grown to epic proportions thanks to the benign climate and the dense shelter belt of woodland and forestry that protects them from the gales that can come racing up the Firth of Clyde.

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Some of the trees form impressive avenues through the estate and several paths lead to the beach from where, as well as dolphins, seabirds, otters and seals, whales have also occasionally been sighted.

Back on land, an island-wide conservation project is attempting to increase the population of red squirrels on Bute, while the bird population includes wildfowl, peregrine falcons and even Black Grouse.

Mount Stuart is open until Sunday, 14 April and then it reopens on Tuesday, 30 April.


House and Garden: £17/£15/£9.50/£1 (Young Scot)

Gardens only: £7.50/£1