Posted by: Shanna Germain | 05/09/2009

Pg. 39: The Bute Museum


It’s so so so pretty when it’s sunny…


  • Weather: Hail mostly. A bit of icy snow. And then some rain. Actually, I can’t lie: As I write this, the sun is playing peek-a-boo in my windows, beckoning to come out and play. Of course I know from experience that as soon as I get all the way down the stairs, it will be pouring again.
  • Mileage: Five or so.
  • Discovery: The word ‘rainpants’ in Scotland does not mean the same thing as it does in the States…Oops.
  • Media: Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, Michael Chabon
  • Worst Thing: See below, about the noise.
  • Best Thing: Listening to the crowds of people celebrating for their winning team. I don’t know who’s playing (I hear rumors of Rangers and Celtics, or something like that), but they’ve been shouting and singing in the streets for hours. I could do without those New Year’s Eve-style blowable noisemakers though…
  • Quote of the Day: I can’t even recreate it here, but it was at least twenty minutes of discussion at the local coffee shop, where a delightful couple and their baby shared my table and made me nearly pee my pants laughing. Why don’t Americans use this off-the-cuff, witty sense of humor more often?
  • Word of the Day: Blootered, Steamin, Wrecked, Bladdered, Hammered, Smashed. All mean drunk. Whether they’re various levels of drunkenness or not, I’ve yet to find out.


There are lots and lots of things to do on this island, I’m coming to realize. It’s not very big — only about fifteen miles long, but it carries a rich history, a thriving culture of the moment, and a great deal of forward-looking innovations (including awesome recycling programs, land-use education and physical health movements). Of course, many of the things that I want to do and the places I want to visit are best done during decent weather. Rothesay castle, for example. Mount Stuart. The various cairns and standing stones that dot the island.

Since it was raining again, I decided to forgo all of that for the moment, and visit the Bute Museum instead. I should say this: I’m a speed-demon when it comes to most museums. Meaning, namely, that I like what I like and I can look at those things for ten minutes or so. The rest, I browse through, reading here and there, seeing what catches my eye, and then I’m done. I used to drive my friend Robin crazy — she could stare at art forever and ever, the same painting, and I’d be done with the entire museum in about an hour.

Now, if the museum is something that really interests me — namely, science. Or odd curiosities. Or psychology. Or torture devices. Or mummies — I’m all there. I can spend hours gawking at things. My favorite museum exhibit in all of Rome was one about some obscure writer, where they showed all his writing implements, his journals (which I couldn’t even read) and his writing desk. Forget the gilded statues and the golden ceilings… I’ll take the mundane, the shattered pots, the mourning brooches, the broken pen nibs, the unreadable scraps of paper, the bird wings and the badly stuffed mountain lions…

I say all of this only so you can understand my joy at the exploring The Bute Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, to be honest. A tiny building on a small island, how much could be in there? But this was my kind of museum. First, it’s divided into two parts: For want of a better name (and because I didn’t take notes and couldn’t take pictures while I was there), I’ll call one side the People Part and one side the Animal Part.

The People Part was good — cairns and burial sites, ancient jewelry and pottery, bits of recent Scottish history, of course, but mostly stuff that belonged to the people who lived on the island forever ago. The archaeological finds that the museum houses are pretty amazing; it turns out Bute is full of artifacts from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, including some really gorgeous burial necklaces, intricate pottery and amazing tools. There are also any number of Christian finds, including burial signs, saints in various forms, and elaborately carved stone crosses.

The Animal Part was even better. Tons and tons of birds, deer, small mammals. Displays of mosses and wild flowers. Of course, I found the sea creatures most fascinating — the way they look like the creatures that I’m used to, but also don’t. The spider crabs. The whelk eggs (which I saw later on a beach walk and was able to start ranting up and down, “Ooh, I know what those are! Whelk eggs! I saw them in the museum today!” Thanks goodness a storm was coming and it whipped my ridiculous words right out of my mouth before anyone got close enough to hear!).

I touched all the stuff on the Touch Table like the little kid that I am: stuffed bats and cracked eggs and dried moss and empty shells and various other furry, shiny and spiny things that I couldn’t name beyond “Ooh, soft,” and “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

All in all, the museum was a hit. If I could buy a season pass, I would, and use it like a great research book, dipping into it again and again to help guide my way through this island life.

Far and fast, s.



Wildlife, but not the kind you can keep in a museum.


“Things are always best seen when they are a trifle mixed-up, a trifle disordered; the chilly administrative neatness of museums and filing cases, of statistics and cemeteries, is an inhuman and antinatural kind of order; it is, in a word, disorder.” ~Camilo Jose Cela quotes (Spanish writer, 1989 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1916-2002)



  1. *whispers* season ticket for the museum: £3!

    Good drunk words. They don’t work in a particular hierarchy. My favourite is ‘moroculous’, derived from ‘miraculous’.

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