Magnificent Mount Stuart
Aside from the natural beauty of Bute, one of its most awe inspiring attractions is Mount Stuart. It is a short drive from Rothesay, but it feels like you have entered another world. Mount Stuart is a Victorian gothic masterpiece, surrounded by 300 acres of maintained grounds and gardens. It is stunningly beautiful and a physical manifestion of the artistic, religious and astrological interests of the 3rd Marquess of Bute.
As a history buff, I was enthralled by everything that Mount Stuart had to offer. It is the home to the Stuarts of Bute, descendants of the Royal House of Stuart. And once you absorb its grandeur, it is hard to believe that it was once a family home. It is now owned and run by Mount Stuart Trust, a Scottish registered charity.
The current Mount Stuart was built in 1880 by Sir Robert Anderson for the exceedingly wealthy 3rd Marquess of Bute. The previous building was designed in the early 18th century and greatly damaged by fire.
At the tender age of 6 months, John Patrick Crichton-Stuart, succeeded to the marquisate and became the 3rd Marquess of Bute. His ridiculously vast inheritance reportedly made him instantly the richest man in the entire world. His father, the 2nd Marquess was an industrialist who made an enormous fortune exploiting the mineral wealth of Cardiff, Wales. But it was his son, who enjoyed spending the fruits of his labour.
By all accounts, he was a remarkable man who was not idle and made good use of his inherited fortune. He was an aristocrat who supported women's rights, supported striking miners, and was a Welsh speaking Scottish nationalist. He was an intellectual, who believed in ghosts. He built Cardiff Docks, and restored Cardiff Castle. In his wake, he left a dazzling architectural legacy in both Scotland and Wales - and Mount Stuart is but one of his creations.
As a recent convert to Catholicism, the 3rd Marquess of Bute wanted a house that combined Venetian style with Gothic ideals. The result is a very Victorian mansion in red sandstone. Throughout the house are endless religious and astrological symbols, which evoke a very spiritual, yet wildly extravagant, air.
The Marble Hall rises up to an enormous domed ceiling, where glittering stones map the stars in the heavens. The stained glass windows around the dome depict all of the astrological signs. It is impressive - there is even a sheepskin covered chair for visitors to recline on and enjoy the view. And of course, I was happy to indulge.
Mount Stuart claims to have the world's first heated pool in any house and it was also the very first home in Scotland to be lit by electricity. It was not only an incredibly grand realisation of a creative vision, it was technologically streets ahead of its time.
The Bute Collection at Mount Stuart features a world class collection of fine art and artefacts, including a handwritten account of the execution of Mary Queen of Scots (blimey!) and a Shakespeare First Folio. And apparently there is a private house tour where you can go behind the scenes and visit the Smoking Room and Burges Chapel, which showcases a spectacular mirrored floor. Next visit, that will be on my to do list!
Personally, I loved the library, the dining room and the bedrooms. I did wonder how many staff were needed even just to keep all of the fireplaces going. Apparently, many of the folk from Rothesay were employed at Mount Stuart - for building, gardening, cooking and domestic duties. It would not surprise me in the least if some of my ancestors worked there, as it would require a small army to keep things running, such is the magnitude of the estate.
Nowadays Mount Stuart offers everything from special exhibitions, lectures and events - from pop up supper clubs to contemporary dance performances. And weddings at the White Marble Chapel are accessible to all. Indeed, it would be an incredibly special place to marry your beloved.
But possibly few weddings there would be as impressive as that of Stella McCartney (daughter of Sir Paul) and Alasdhair Willis in 2003.
More than 100 guests attended - with notable names including Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Liv Tyler, Kate Moss, Chrissie Hynde, Chris Martin, Gwynneth Paltrow, Naomi Campbell and Pierce Brosnan. I wonder what they thought of Bute? According to newspaper reports at the time, Sir Paul and Chris Martin were seen hanging out together at the Kingarth Hotel. Nice!
The Round House at the entrance provides plenty of handcrafted gifts from local artisans - including jewellery, textiles, glass art and cards. I was thrilled to see some unique pieces from Bonnie Bling on display there.
On my first visit back in June 2022, I bought this little treasure - which made good use of Bute driftwood and stones from the beach. It is a lovely reminder of Mount Stuart and Bute that now hangs proudly on the wall at our home in Australia.