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A weekend hiking the West Island Way

A weekend hiking the West Island Way

Postby Robbiemo10 » Tue Oct 03, 2023 10:18 pm

Route description: West Island Way

Date walked: 29/09/2023

Time taken: 2 days

Distance: 48 km

Ascent: 690m

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The West Island Way

Looking to complete another one of Scotland's Great Trails before winter truly set in, I settled upon the relatively straightforward West Island Way, located on the island of Bute. After completing the West Highland Way in 2022 and the Great Glen Way in Spring of 2023, I assumed (foolishly) that a 30 miler would be easy and not require a lot of planning or forethought. That was a mistake.

This would be my first trail that I would not be alone, and I looked forward to having some company to keep morale high if the weather was rubbish.

I was to finish work at 1630 on the Friday, and we would set off from Edinburgh across the M8 (during rush hour no less) to arrive at Wemyss Bay to catch the short CalMac ferry over to the island. We made good time and managed to get the second last ferry over, I was surprised by this as not only was the traffic hellish but my mate left his hiking boots in the boot of his car meaning we had to detour into Glasgow to stop at Sports Direct so he could buy another pair. We also made a stop in Port Glasgow to get a chippy.

The ferry left Wemyss Bay at 2005, and we landed on Bute at around 2040. As none of us had been to Bute before, instead of setting off for the trail we stopped in Rothesay and went for a pint in a local pub called The Grapes Bar.

One pint later we drove to Kilchattan Bay to leave the car and get onto the trail, with the goal of reaching St. Blane's Chapel where we would set up camp for the night. I didn't fancy stopping near the lighthouse due to the chance of inclement weather and the exposed nature of the lighthouse.

With our headtorches on and our spirits high we set off, although it was now near 2200 and very dark, it was not cold nor was it raining. The route to the lighthouse is very rocky and slippery in some places although we made good progress. It was however difficult to spot the waymarkers at some points which slowed us down. It was nice to see some wildlife on the trail, endless toads, a hedgehog and even a newt! We arrived at the chapel for 2355 after walking 6.85km. The grass had just been cut at the chapel which was a bit of a nuisance as the grass stuck to everything, but it did ensure the ground was very soft and spongey for our tents. Peaks and troughs. We pitched our tents and went to sleep.

Breakfast at St. Blane's Chapel

After a decent nights sleep we were back on the trail at 0905. The plan was to finish stages 2 and 3, leaving the short stage 4 to be finished on Sunday (note: we were going by the official West Island Way website stages, not the walkhighlands stages). In hindsight this was probably a tall ask, my two friends had not completed any trails before and all of us had heavy packs. I was also not aware that a lot of the route involves very boggy ground which slows progress. We did well early on, passing the airfield and the golf course fairly quickly. After passing the causeway at Loch Fad we decided to venture into Rothesay again so my friend could buy gas for his stove (he packed the incorrect type). The detour probably added an hour to our day and after stopping in the town it was difficult to motivate ourselves to continue onto stage 3 and face another 13.75km. The rain started just as we began stage 3 and progress slowed down. This stage in my opinion was a bit of a slog, especially the farm tracks and the very boggy moor before the forest. With the sun setting we began the forest section, all of us a bit fed up although there was nowhere suitable to camp meaning the only option was to keep going.

The dark forest

We finally made it to the ferry terminal at Rhubodach and the end of stage 3. It was now around 2100, my Apple Watch had run out of battery at 1820 (by which point we had already covered 30.52km) so I am not sure how far we walked on the Saturday. At this point my two friends decided that they were not going to finish the route and after realising it was just too wet and dark to attempt to find a suitable camping spot near the ferry terminal, we phoned for a taxi to take us to the Bute hostel. Thankfully there were 3 rooms available, at a cost of £43 each (including £2 towel hire). The taxi cost £20. I was grateful for the hostel and after a warm shower, a nice meal and a good sleep I awoke refreshed and ready to finish the route (with my electronic devices again charged :lol:) even if it meant doing it alone.

My friends and I then got the bus from Rothesay to Kilchattan Bay on Sunday morning to collect my car, I then drove back to the point we stopped at on Saturday night and I began stage 4 alone. The benefit of this to me was that I was able to leave most of my gear in the car allowing for faster movement.

I completed the final section over very boggy and steep land in 1 hr 47 mins, covering 9.13km. I started at 1104 and was finished by 12:52. My shoes were absolutely soaked after this stage so I'm glad it was the final one. I was also glad I didn't foolishly attempt this stage the previous night in the dark as navigation would be impossible. Even in the daylight it was sometimes difficult to locate the waymarkers. Once in Port Bannatyne I was relieved to change into dry socks and shoes, and we made our way back to Rothesay for the final time. We were on the ferry back to the mainland by 1400.

Beautiful Sunday views from stage 4


Overall I was not blown away by this trail, although I am glad I finished it. I think it would be more enjoyable walking it in better weather as hopefully the moors wouldn't be so boggy, and you would be afforded better views without the rain and grey skies.

I think I will start to purchase better kit too as the entry level gear is heavy and cumbersome which then has an impact on your knees and feet due to the added weight. I will also think twice about going with my friends next time too! I fared better on my own the previous 2 trails I completed. If it ain't broke...


Instagram: Robbiemo10
Last edited by Robbiemo10 on Wed Oct 04, 2023 3:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Posts: 6
Joined: Oct 2, 2023
Location: Edinburgh
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Re: A weekend hiking the West Island Way

Postby Low Level Walker » Wed Oct 04, 2023 10:30 am

Hi there. The West Island Way is a difficult one logistically., with the 2 loop sections at north and south of island.

I done it earlier in year, at end of January. What I done though when I got off ferry was to make my way through Rothesay past the castle and police station and then done the southern section, doing it back to front theoretically. I then made my way past St Blanes chapel and then camped on beach at bay where lighthouse is.

The following morning I then finished the coastal part back to start at Kilchattan Bay, approx 3 miles or so. I then took bus back to Rothesay and then re-joined route where I started following day and then done the northern section.

The reason for this, was like you alluded to, I was struggling to find suitable wild camp locations for northern section on maps I was looking at.

I agree with what you say though, lots of the northern section were horrendously boggy, and the final section over the moors were quite challenging finding the way markers (I'm sure I went off route, but still made my way into Port Bannantyne). I was wearing trail runners when I done it also so that didn't help with the wet feet.

Well done on getting back out there and finishing. Yeah I wasn't totally enamoured with it either but glad I got it done also.
Low Level Walker
Posts: 63
Munros:12   Corbetts:8
Fionas:2   Donalds:1
Sub 2000:4   Hewitts:5
Wainwrights:9   Islands:3
Joined: Jan 30, 2019

Re: A weekend hiking the West Island Way

Postby Robbiemo10 » Wed Oct 04, 2023 7:30 pm

Thanks for the reply, yeah definitely a bit of a tough one to plan properly with regards to camping. If I was on my own chances are I would have attempted to walk to Port Bannatyne on the second day and find a spot to camp there until the morning instead of coming off the route at the ferry terminal. The football pitches across from the end of trail stone looked ideal however I would have really struggled on the final moor section, it would be nearly impossible to navigate there in darkness. As you said it was difficult enough to spot the waymarkers in daylight, never mind darkness.

During the final stage I stood in ankle deep water multiple times, with water covering the entirety of both feet instantly soaking them and my socks. Miserable but at least the end was in sight.

I knew I had to finish it regardless of the weather on the Sunday as I didn't want to have to travel back to Bute just for that short section! Well done to you for finishing it too, I can only imagine how grim it would be in January.
Posts: 6
Joined: Oct 2, 2023
Location: Edinburgh
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