Mount Stuart, Isle of ButeMy fondest memories of Scotland are all tied to its islands. Most recently, the Isle of Skye converted my children to the beauty of the west coast and an extraordinary landscape where the mountains really do meet the sea. The views out across the isles and inlets are always mesmerising, and the beaches of Skye are unlike any that I have ever seen, with the exception perhaps of Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania.
The Isle of Bute manages to combine striking natural beauty with two of my favourite buildings, both from very different eras. Mount Stuart is a flamboyant four-storey gothic fantasy dating back to the 1870s, commissioned by the third Marquess of Bute, who also transformed Cardiff Castle into a personal dreamland. At Mount Stuart, Scottish architect Robert Rowand Anderson was tasked with the job of creating a grand new country retreat after the original Queen Anne house on the site was largely destroyed by fire.
The house is truly a fantasy, full of colour, pattern eccentricity and delight, with interiors by H.W. Lonsdale and others. But at the same time this was also a ‘modern’ home with a lift, electric lighting and one of the world’s first heated indoor swimming pools.
The house was literally whitewashed during the First World War, when it was used as a military hospital, but it has been lovingly and sensitively restored by the Bute family, particularly Johnny Bute, the seventh Marquess.
He and his wife Serena also commissioned a striking and contemporary visitor centre by the architects Munkenbeck & Partners. The combination of old and new, set some respectful distance apart, adds another level of delight to Mount Stuart and helps take the house and the island into a new era.