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Island hopping by bike in the Inner Hebrides – West Island Trail

DavidInc (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Island hopping by bike in the Inner Hebrides – West Island Trail

Bike Touring Collection by Katherine Moore

7

Tours

24:40 h

225 mi

11,450 ft

A route created by Bikepacking Scotland’s Markus Stitz in association with the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, the West Island Trail is a circular bikepacking route from Oban on mainland Scotland to several islands of the Inner Hebrides: Arran, Islay and Mull.

Quaint fishing villages, chains of whitewashed whisky distilleries, ancient Celtic carvings and wild, rugged moorlands await on this diverse and beautiful loop of the islands. A ferry trip always adds an element of adventure to a bikepacking expedition, and here you’ll have many to give your legs a break and enjoy an alternative view of the terrain you’ll be covering.

Totalling 207 miles (333 km), the route is circular and designed to be ridden over four days, overnighting at the Youth Hostels in Lochranza, Port Charlotte and Tobermory, with the start and finish point at Oban Youth Hostel. Whether you choose to use these for overnight stays or devise an alternative itinerary, such as including wild camping or a stay on Mull’s Tomsleibhe Bothy, is up to you.

Although accommodation might be fairly straightforward on this trail, you’ll need to bear the ferry times in mind to complete the trail in four days, particularly the Port Askaig to Oban crossing, which only runs twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. An early start should give you a better chance of reaching Port Askaig if you’re taking the Wednesday ferry. In total, you’ll take six ferry crossings: Claonaig to Lochranza, Lochranza to Claonaig, Kennacraig to Port Ellen, Port Askaig to Oban, Oban to Craignure and Craignure back to Oban. For full information on ferry times, visit: calmac.co.uk.

To complete the West Island Trail in four days, combine stages 2 and 3 to form the second day (Lochranza to Port Charlotte) and then stages 4, 5, and 6 to make the third day (Port Charlotte to Tobermory via Oban). You can also ride the route in five days by including an overnighter in Oban before the ferry to complete the last two days on Mull. To extend your trip even more, why not stay two nights at Lochranza and explore the Isle of Arran?

Although these stages linked by hostels might seem like an excellent choice for novice bikepackers, they are actually more suited to intermediate and experienced riders, as there are some technical parts of the trail and remote sections too. A GPS device for navigation is highly recommended, as well as a SPOT tracker for the most remote sections, including the mountain traverse on Islay.

There are considerable sections of road along the route, but you’ll need chunky tyres (ideally 40 mm width or more) for the rougher gravel roads and mountain trails, which means either a MTB or gravel bike will typically be best. Mountain bike shoes or flats are ideal as you might have to get off and push from time to time.

The West Island Trail promises to be a real adventure, combining wild and remote island landscapes with local hospitality, delicious delicacies, and many opportunities to pause along the way to learn about the fascinating natural and industrial history of these rugged islands.

On The Map

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors
    Difficult
    07:18
    72.3 mi
    9.9 mph
    3,775 ft
    3,750 ft
    Ferry
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    The first stage of the West Island Trail starts in Oban at the Youth Hostel along the promenade, which makes for a good overnight stay before you get started. This first stage takes you south down the Kintyre Peninsula for 67 miles (108 km) before catching the ferry crossing from Claonaig to Lochranza, to overnight on the Isle of Arran. …

  • Easy
    00:56
    11.0 mi
    11.7 mph
    475 ft
    525 ft
    Ferry
    Easy bike ride. Great for any fitness level. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    Stage 2 is the first part of the second day, stretching from the Youth Hostel in Lochranza (Isle of Arran) to Kennacraig on the mainland, where you take the ferry to Port Ellen (Isle of Islay) to finish at Port Charlotte’s Youth Hostel (see Stage 3).

    From the Youth Hostel on Arran to the ferry is a short 0.6 mile …

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  • Difficult
    03:24
    29.6 mi
    8.7 mph
    1,625 ft
    1,600 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    The second part of day two, this stage will take you from Port Ellen to Port Charlotte, taking in both the south-east coastline of the Isle of Islay with a string of white-washed distilleries, before a challenging mountain crossing over Beinn Bheigeir through the island’s interior.

    Although it might be tempting to start your trip across Islay with a whisky …

  • Difficult
    02:41
    24.5 mi
    9.1 mph
    1,175 ft
    1,175 ft
    Expert bike ride. Good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    Stage 4, combined with stages 5 and 6, make up the third day of the West Island Trail ending in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. If you’d like to take more time over these stages, combine stages 4 and 5 to finish the day in Oban before taking the ferry to Mull on the following day.

    The crux of …

  • Easy
    00:12
    1.43 mi
    6.9 mph
    200 ft
    200 ft
    Ferry
    Easy bike ride. Great for any fitness level. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    In the middle of the West Island Trail, Oban features again as a transfer town, with ferries to connect Port Askaig on Islay to the Isle of Mull. You can either choose to link these three stages (4, 5 and 6) in a single day on a four day completion, or overnight in Oban for a five day Tour.

    Stage …

  • Intermediate
    03:15
    27.0 mi
    8.3 mph
    1,225 ft
    1,225 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final two stages of the West Island Trail are on the Isle of Mull, from the port of Craignure in the east up to colourful Tobermory for an overnight stay and then back again to complete the loop to Oban.

    From the port at Craignure, take the road to the north, with a short diversion through Java before following …

  • Difficult
    06:55
    58.8 mi
    8.5 mph
    2,975 ft
    2,975 ft
    Ferry
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels. The Tour includes a crossing by ferry.

    The final stage of the West Island Trail starts in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and follows a route back to Oban via the ferry crossing at Craignure, but not before a visit to the island’s bothy on the Glen Forsa Estate, Tomsleibhe Bothy.

    After waving goodbye to the gorgeous harbourside in Tobermory, head out of the village to …

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    225 mi
  • Duration
    24:40 h
  • Elevation
    11,450 ft

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Island hopping by bike in the Inner Hebrides – West Island Trail