Mount Stuart’s new homes away from home

Guest Neil McArthur from Oyster Eco Build Ltd receives a guided tour of Kerryniven - one of four new self-catering properties in the grounds of Mount Stuart.
Guest Neil McArthur from Oyster Eco Build Ltd receives a guided tour of Kerryniven - one of four new self-catering properties in the grounds of Mount Stuart.

BUTE’S visitor accommodation offering has taken a big step forward with the completion of four new self-catering properties on the Mount Stuart estate.

Members of the public were given the chance to look round two of the four properties – the converted Stables South and the new-build Kerryniven – this week as the island looks forward to the start of a new tourist season.

Internally the properties combine themes of modernity and simplicity, making them ideal both for visiting families and for the Mount Stuart housekeeping staff who have to ensure the accommodation is spotlessly clean for new arrivals.

The local touch is much in evidence, too, with seat and cushion covers and throws supplied by Bute Fabrics and mirrors by island craftsman Ray Beverley.

Head of housekeeping, Agnes Lyons, is clearly proud of her new responsibilities – as well as being ready with an answer to any accusations from elsewhere on the island that Mount Stuart is taking business away from others.

“People might say oh, there’s Mount Stuart doing people out of business again,” she acknowledged during our brief visit, “but we also have to look very carefully at the business we are doing, and we have found that we are losing out on wedding bookings simply because there isn’t enough accommodation on the island for that kind of event.

“We’ve also found that if people are booking one of our self-catering properties for an event like a wedding, they often decide to book for seven days, rather than just for the weekend, and the island will get business out of that too.”

The four new properties add to the self-catering accommodation already offered by Mount Stuart at two properties at Nether Stravanan, which were opened in 2009.

Those have proved consistently popular with visitors ever since, though as you’d expect, one or two small lessons have been learned from the Stravanan experience in the fitting-out of the four new properties, among them the installation of granite worktops in the kitchens rather than the timber ones at Stravanan, which proved vulnerable to the occasional hot saucepan and kitchen knife.

One ‘mod con’ lacking in the new properties is a freezer, although Agnes has already raised the omission in a staff debrief on the new facilities.

At the other end of the temperature scale, all four of the new properties have log burners from the sawmill on the edge of the Mount Stuart estate – and there’s no shortage of those following the January storms which brought trees all round the island crashing to the ground – while the Kerryniven new build has a wood-fuel biomass heating system for the whole building.

The Kerryniven property is a very different kettle of fish to the Stables, and not just because it’s a new build. It doesn’t look much from the outside – not our words but those of the very first guests, as written in the visitors’ book – and indeed, as you approach from the drive outside it could easily be mistaken for a humble storage barn.

Inside, though, it’s very different. Though only a single storey building, the ceilings are high and the windows large enough to let in plenty of light, and the open-plan living and kitchen area makes it ideal for party groups.

The walls are lined by wooden panelling, which made for quite a poser when Agnes and her team decided how best to hang the large and imposing mirror which dominates one corner of the living space (they eventually settled on a couple of hefty chains); Roisin Cameron, from Mount Stuart’s events team, admits that such an arrangement might not be ideal if this were your full-time home and you wanted to hang all your pictures on the walls, but as the building is designed as holiday accommodation, it comes across as a pleasingly original touch.

The appetite for quality self-catering accommodation on Bute is confirmed by the fact that while four properties were meant to be available for the public to view at the open day, two – Stables North and The Kennels – were the subject of late bookings from visitors. And while that may have meant the curiosity of some open day visitors went at least partly unfulfilled, in the current economic climate any and all signs of Bute’s popularity at the start of a new tourist season can only be a good thing.