Read other users walk reports for the long distance trails - and add your own.

NB. This board is for reports on multi-day long distance routes - reports on simply long walks should be added to the standard boards.
Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.

West Island Way: wild camping and wildlife

West Island Way: wild camping and wildlife

Postby Lorna25 » Wed Jul 21, 2021 5:26 pm

Route description: West Island Way

Date walked: 07/07/2021

Time taken: 2 days

Distance: 55.5 km

5 people think this report is great.
Register or Login
free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).

Day one: I arrived around midday into Rothesay, all set for a long hike to Glencallum Bay for my first night of wild camping. After picking up a copy of a map produced by Footprint from the visitor centre, my feet were soon climbing steadily uphill, past the castle and leaving the town behind. The first point of interest was Kirk Dam and Loch Fad after half an hour or so.


I couldn’t resist the bird hide and enjoyed a breather from the hot weather here. As I looked back over the loch after leaving, an osprey casually glided past and out of sight. I was fairly nervous about Bute’s cows having seen Hound’s of Howgate’s encounter in his Walk Highlands Vlog, so took advantage of a parallel field minutes later when I was face to face with the first of many fields full of mothers and calves. However, exiting the alternative way was a tight squeeze between the fence and wall which involved the arduous task of removing my heavy rucksack. I’ve had worse though and it still felt worth it.

I enjoyed traversing Scoulag Moor on the farm tracks and well-made paths, especially at the Lord James’ Ride viewpoint which offered the first views to sandy bays beneath. It would also have been an ideal vantage point for raptor spotting, a worthy destination in itself for this reason on a different day.


From here to Stravanan Bay my body was craving shade. I was even tempted to pitch up for the night here instead but that would have implications for the remainder of the trek. I could see someone else with a much bigger tent had done the same. I shall add it to my list of future wild camping spots on the island.



Alas, I pressed onward, across the quiet Bute Golf Club which presented no threat at all and eventually past the corrugated hut that has featured in other users’ reports. It would certainly make a great storm shelter and has a bench for resting if time allows. Completing this walk in July, sections of the trail were quite overgrown; this was one of them, but not a problem. Let it grow, I say (except for the bracken which accompanied me at later stages - I was lucky, but bring tick tweezers just in case!). After Suidhe Plantation, I quite suddenly emerged at the back gardens of Kilchattan Bay’s quaint houses, following the waymarker to cut down a tiny side street shortly after. Make sure you see both the back street side and the bay on your walk as just the houses would have felt a shame but were interesting enough to make it worth it. A little further along the bay a single public toilet cubicle was open for business (it didn’t look like the sort with opening hours) as well as a healthy assortment of benches to choose from for a seat. However, I pushed ever onwards, the close proximity to the coastline now luring me on.

Very quickly the village was left behind and so too the ease underfoot! The last three miles were a rocky obstacle course, much better left for the start of the day rather than the end. It was a huge relief to finally glimpse Glencallum Bay’s Lighthouse, my resting point for the night, and one I can highly recommend.



Leave the path and walk towards the lighthouse where there are at least two flat spots for pitching up. Watching ‘my’ and Little Cumbrae’s lighthouses blinking across the bay after tea was magical and comforting in the otherwise complete darkness and isolation!


day 1 Bute 2021-07-07_12-07-30.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Day two: My plan for my only full day on Bute was to complete the Kilchattan Bay circuit and catch the bus to Ettrick Bay to then walk the entire North Bute loop in the afternoon. The remaining half of the Kilchattan walk took about half an hour longer than the first, mostly because of the splendid rugged coastline scenery which demanded the attention of my binoculars and camera!


The going was quite steep sometimes with a tent in tow too. There was another herd of cows at St Blane’s Chapel which were unavoidable except for a brief detour up the side of their hilly field where I couldn’t imagine them following me. I was probably being over-cautious, but you just never know when there’s calves around. The chapel itself looked worth a visit, but with a bus to catch in 90 minutes, I settled for a photo and carried on.


I liked the combination of farm and grassy tracks on this section. More farmland was crossed, an unavoidable hilly field with cows, as this time the adjacent one only had more cows inside! Don’t be put off by this - I’m just particularly nervous about it. It was around this point that I realised I wasn’t going to make the bus, so with an hour extra on my hands, I went off track to the trig on Suidhe Chatain which had panoramic views of the southern end of the island. I left my rucksack at the bottom of the hill for a few minutes of freedom. Before long, I was once again descending into Kilchattan Bay through woodland and bracken, emerging at the back of the little houses (again). I was disappointed that my perfectly timed arrival was not so perfect after all - the tea room opens at 10.00 not 9.00, which meant there wasn’t time for a hot drink and water refill before the bus arrived. Nevermind!

Sitting on the West Coast Motors service, it felt strange to be using any mode of transport other than my own two feet during a long-distance hike. I pored over the map beforehand and couldn’t find a way of avoiding it without road walking or repeating large sections of the route. Back at Rothesay, there was time to hop off the bus and into the Co-op for a lucozade top up! I just left my rucksack on the seat and am pretty sure it would have made it to Ettrick Bay without me if I’d not been back on time! It was a relief to see the cafe at my destination open and ready to supply a hot cup of tea and water refills from the toilet tap at the back. I was expecting to see plenty of campers already pitched up, but was the first person there, at least without a motorhome or camper van. After a bit of deliberation, I chose another flat spot on the grass behind the beach about half a mile along, although others are available closer to the main visitor hub. This camping spot had a completely different feel to it, with a steady flow of day trippers and dog walkers ambling and paddling along the sandy shore. I was surprised to discover that this didn’t bother me as much as I would have thought, apart from a few particularly exuberant dog walkers the next morning. Fellow ‘campers’ were friendly and it was just the right balance for me of solitude mixed with the comfort of being in proximity to others. The beach was alive with the piping calls of oystercatchers, common sandpipers, and ringed plovers.


West_Island_Way_Day_2-_Kilchattan_circuit_pt_2.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Once pitched and fed from my picnic, it was another fairly late start but I was soon ascending up the road past the Lower and Upper Ettrick farm buildings. I found the going a bit monotonous until I’d passed Glen More and was walking on soft ground again. I also had the first and last cow field of the day to navigate, which I managed to avoid by crossing into an adjacent field and climbing the fence at the other side to cross the Glenmore burn. I appreciated the wooden info posts along the North Bute circuit informing passers by of the now foggit stone relics from ages past.


After a bit more gentle, and at times squelchy climbing above heathland, I entered a large plantation which made for easy walking, apart from the gauntlet of tiny toads just emerging from their birth pools. I normally painstakingly move these helpless creatures to safety but there were so many it would have been impossible and my clambering feet may well have done more harm than good. After what felt like a slow couple of miles from such careful treading, the smell of chopped wood filled the air and the option to take the Balnakailly extension route. Since I was planning on shortcutting the route at the end to avoid the road walk back from Port Bannatyne, I decided to embark on this extra few miles in favour of reaching the coast again sooner and catching a glimpse of the Calmac ferry crossing the Kyles of Bute to Colintraive. An information sign highlighted the special birdlife on offer in this ancient oak woodland, including pied flycatchers, wood warblers, and redstarts. Being mid-afternoon, the woods weren’t singing for me sadly, but there was a bit of a flurry upon reaching the bay, with a great-spotted woodpecker and pied wagtails making their presence known.



At the earliest opportunity, I plonked on some rocks at Rubha a’ Bhodaich. Bare-footed and weary after snacking on the go thus far. I even began to wonder however I would manage an equal distance back to my tent at Ettrick Bay before the day’s end! There were definitely opportunities for wild camping on the large grassy expanse by the shore. Just offshore I could hear a colony of gulls which added to the atmosphere, and have since read that one of the UK’s largest herring gull colonies nests in this area.



Feeling like I’d had my share of forestry plantations for the day, I chose to begin my long return along the A886 road, aiming for a tiny dotted track showing on my OS Map. I always prefer to stick to the coast if possible. The road was quiet enough apart from the occasional burst of vehicle activity presumably ferry-bound. It was easy enough to move onto the grassy verge when required. I welcomed the turn-off when it came and was surprised to find a poetry trail waiting for me. Beautiful prose very appropriate for a walker climbed with me through the steep Moss Woods and up the Stag’s Trod until I finally rejoined the West Island Way, hot and sweaty.



I had to quickly accept the absence of the seat I was sure would be waiting for me, and plowed on to soon emerge onto a much more open landscape of moors and modest hills. The path wound round hill flank after hill flank with spectacular views over the North of Bute and the hills on the mainland. After waiting for a break, I eventually had to stop on a small wooden bridge in the middle of the path between Windy and Kames Hill. I couldn’t stop for long though as the minutes ticked away and Ettrick Bay seemed ever distant! Approaching the final ‘summit’ of Edinbeg Hill, I was amazed to see the only other walkers bar two much earlier in the day, making steady progress over the moorland. I watched them descend towards Port Bannatyne via the conventional route until they were no longer visible, while I searched for another dotted line marked on my map. The long grass and boggy terrain led me to continue on easier footing until a narrow farm track which joined the West Island Way closer to my destination - a shortcut! I pushed on past two farm buildings, the first of which warned of machinery and livestock, deeming the passage ‘unsuitable’, but my combination of blisters and determination forced me onwards, and I thankfully emerged unscathed.
A well-placed bench at the road junction gave me some relief for a few moments, with an old cemetery behind me. From here I hobbled the last mile back to Ettrick Bay and the extra distance to the tent. Bachelor’s pasta has never tasted so good!



My feet were also greatly appreciative of a short paddle in the crystal waters that evening. I discovered later that I had walked 15 miles compared to the 10 or so I’d had in mind, and in the seering heat as well - no wonder I was exhausted!

West_Island_Way_Day_2-_North_Bute_circuit_with_extensions__02.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

Before leaving on my final morning, I walked a 3.5 mile round trip up the tiny road towards Glecknabae, about as far as Port Glas. It was a particularly pristine day, with sea like glass, and glimpses of two porpoises frolicking offshore. Before hopping on the bus back to Rothesay, I enjoyed another cuppa and a hot roll from the tea room, taking a delicious cold roll for lunch later on.



West_Island_Way_Day_3-_towards_Gleknabae.gpx Open full screen  NB: Walkhighlands is not responsible for the accuracy of gpx files in users posts

If I was visiting Bute again I wouldn’t repeat the full day’s route the same way. If you’re willing to carry your tent for an extra few miles, you could camp at Balnakailly and finish the route the next day. All in all it would be very difficult to complete the West Island Way without the aid of public transport at some point in the journey, but there is plenty of scope for creativity.
Hill Bagger
Posts: 1
Fionas:3   Donalds:1
Sub 2000:15   
Joined: Mar 31, 2018

5 people think this report is great.
Register or Login
free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).

Can you help support Walkhighlands?

Our forum is free from adverts - your generosity keeps it running.
Can you help support Walkhighlands and this community by donating by direct debit?

Return to Walk reports - Long Distance routes

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest