The West Island Way winds through the ever-changing, utterly-enchanting and wildlife-rich landscapes of the Isle of Bute. Wonderfully varied throughout, the mid-distance hike traverses rocky coastline, golden beaches, wild moorland, rolling farmland, large forests, lochsides and traditional seaside settlements.
As the Way explores the length and breadth of this rugged little island, wildlife-spotting opportunities are abundant. You can observe basking sharks and seal colonies along the coastline. Roe deer, rabbit and hare skip merrily inland. No less than 200 bird species have been recorded on the Isle, including osprey, little and snowy egret, black-throated thrush, common cuckoo and swallow.
The 30-mile (40 km) route begins with a loop of southern Bute from Kilchattan Bay, which is hailed as one of the best starts to any long-distance hike, and then heads west to Stravanan Bay. The trail continues northeast to Rothesay and onto Port Bannatyne. The final section loops the wild northern end of Bute, characterised by rugged moors and far-reaching views.
Highlights along the Way include: Rubh' an Eun Lighthouse, a small lighthouse on Bute’s rocky southeastern corner with great views; St Blane's Chapel, an atmospheric 13th-century ruin nestled in a picturesque valley; Stravanan Bay, a golden beach with glorious views of Arran; Rothesay Castle, a magnificent ruined fortress; Balnakeilly WW2 Bunker, an interesting historical site with jaw-dropping views; and Kames Hill, a wild and remote moorland summit with views of Inchmarnock and Arran.
In this Collection, I have split the route into two stages, 13.8 miles (22.2 km) and 16.6 miles (26.7 km) respectively. This is a fairly ambitious itinerary. Of course, you can divide the Collection into as many days as you feel comfortable with or walk single stages. Both hikes finish near accommodation and places to eat and drink.
The walking on this trail is as diverse as the landscapes it explores. For the most part, the route is moderate and suitable for all abilities. There are some steep climbs (although, none that are too sustained), as well as occasional rocky and technical sections, and parts that can become boggy underfoot. However, those with some hill walking experience should have little trouble.
Navigation is fairly easy throughout. The final high moorland section to the finish at Port Bannatyne can be tricky, especially in poor visibility. As such, navigational aids and experience using them are required. Sturdy footwear, waterproofs, sunscreen, a first aid kit, and enough food and water for each stage are recommended, too. Whilst the trail does not stray too far from civilisation, there are some remote sections with little in the way of shelter or opportunity to resupply.
The West Island Way can be completed in all seasons. However, be aware that the wetter winter months will bring more bog potential and will leave you more exposed on the high and wilder sections.
The best way to get to the Isle of Bute is the car and passenger ferry from Wemyss Bay (connected via rail to Glasgow) to Rothesay. The crossing takes 35 minutes and the boat sails every hour. Once on Bute, the near-hourly 490 bus links Kilchattan, at the start, and Port Bannatyne, at the finish, with Rothesay.
You can expect wonderfully varied walking on Stage 1, which explores rocky coastline, sandy beaches, rugged moorland, rolling farmland, woodland, lochsides and finishes in a picturesque Victorian seaside town.
The final stage rises through atmospheric forests and into wild moorland with magnificent views over the Kyles of Bute and the Isle of Arran.
You begin along Rothesay seafront, famous …
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