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Gaelic: Baile Bhòid
Rothesay Pier - - 31029.jpg
Rothsay Pier
Location: 55°49’48"N, 5°4’12"W
Population: 4,850
Post town: Isle of Bute
Postcode: PA20
Dialling code: 01700
Local Government
Council: Argyll and Bute
Argyll and Bute

The town of Rothesay is the principal town on the Isle of Bute and the county town of Buteshire. It gives its name to the Duke of Rothesay; the title born by the heir to the throne when in Scotland.

Rothesay stands in the middle of the Isle of Bute's east coast, in a natural harbour around which the town has grown. It is the island's main ferry port.

The town is characterised by its jaunty seaside houses from its 1930's heyday. It possesses a classic Victorian seafront façade with a promenade and pier all on land reclaimed from the sea, and at the highest tides the sea occasionally seeks to take its own back. The Pavilion standing out on the seafront is an impressive bauhaus-inspired edifice built in 1938.

Rothesay began as a fishing village, but became a popular holiday resort and a "doon the watter" destination for Glasgow trippers until the 1960s. "Doon the watter" trips are reviving, the town retaining its charm and accessibility. From the mainland it is reached by ferry from Wemyss Bay, Renfrewshire to the east, or from Cowal to the north, a five-minute ferry voyage to the island and down the short coast road.

The sea front at Rothesay

Rothesay Castle

Rothesay Castle once stood on the sea, though since the land reclamation it has been inland and stands over the centre of the town. The castle dates from the 13th century, and is unique in Scotland for its circular plan. It is now in ruins, no less impressive for it, providing a solid backdrop to Rothesay.


During the Victorian era, Rothesay developed as a popular tourist destination. It became hugely popular with Glaswegians, and its wooden pier was once very busy with steamer traffic. Rothesay was also the location of one of Scotland's many hydropathic establishments during the 1800s boom years of the Hydropathy movement.[1][2]

An electric tramway, the Rothesay and Ettrick Bay Light Railway, once stretched across the island to one of its largest beaches, but closed in the mid 1930s. The centre of activities was the Winter Gardens building (built 1923) which played host to some of the best known music hall entertainers of the day.

As a holiday destination, Rothesay declined from the 1960s with the advent of cheap foreign package holiday. The Winter Gardens closed and lay derelict for many years. In the 1990s, Winter Gardens were redeveloped and are now a tourist information and exhibition centre.

Duke of Rothesay

The heir to the British throne when in Scotland is known as the Duke of Rothesay. The practice of granting this title to the heir was begun by King Robert III, who regularly resided at Rothesay Castle, and first granted the title to his son David in 1398. Unlike the equivalent English title, "Duke of Cornwall", no land attaches to the title. The main landowner on the island is the Marquess of Bute, whose principal seat, Mount Stuart, is a few miles to the south of Rothesay.


The most successful sporting club on the island is Bute Shinty Club which plays at the highest level of the sport (the Marine Harvest Premier League). In 2006 Bute won promotion to the Premier League by winning the South Division One. Bute also won the Ballimore Cup and was runner up in the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup in 2006.

The town has a senior amateur football club called Rothesay Brandane FC which plays in the Caledonian Amateur Football League, and an under 15 youth team called Rothesay Brandane Rovers which competes in the Paisley & District Youth League.

The Isle of Bute has three golf courses: one lying on the outskirts of the town, the 18-hole Rothesay Golf Club; another, the nine-hole Bute Golf Course, near the sands of Stravannan Bay on the west coast of the island; and the other, the rather unusual, 13-hole Port Bannatyne Golf Club, situated on the hills behind the village.


  1. Bradley, James; Dupree, Mageurite; Durie, Alastair (1997). "Taking the Water Cure: The Hydropathic Movement in Scotland, 1840-1940". Business and Economic History 26 (2): 429. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  2. Shifrin, Malcolm (Last updated 3 October 2008). "Victorian Turkish Baths Directory". Victorian Turkish Baths: Their origin, development, and gradual decline. Retrieved 12 December 2009.