The West Island Way
Running the full length of the Isle of Bute for approximately 40km (25 miles), the West Island Way embraces a variety of landscapes; seashore, moorland, farmland and forest. The natural history, geography, geology and ancient history of the island are revealed at every turn.
The route is well marked, with frequent fingerposts and waymarkers, but use of a map for navigation is strongly recommended. To find your way round the West Island Way and along other walks.
The path is mostly off-road and includes rocky coastline, beaches, farmland, moor and forest tracks. Only a few short sections follow the roadside but the roads are not busy and there is usually a grassy verge alongside. The thirty-mile trail divides naturally into 4 distinct stages, with the town of Port Bannatyne lying at its mid-point.
Many regard this circuit as amongst the best of starts to any long-distance walk. This circular Stage begins and ends at Kilchattan Bay. It offers amazing views across the Firth of Clyde to the Cumbraes and Arran – including the granite mound of Ailsa Craig, seen in the distance. It takes in the atmospheric and historically significant ruins of St Blane’s Chapel (Blane went on to found Dunblane Cathedral but he was on Bute first!). It is a convenient walk too, since the Rothesay bus service can be taken to and from Kilchattan Bay. Although short, it’s fairly strenuous and the terrain can be rough in places.
This highly varied section of the Way takes in farmland, woodland, rocky shore, sandy beach, moorland track, golf course links, lochside and even an airfield! Leaving Kilchattan Bay, the Way crosses the island from east to west and passes alongside the sandy Stravannan beach. Striking inland again, the route zigzags along country tracks until it reaches the broad track of Lord James’ Ride. Close to the track at the summit is a stone cairn from where are fine views of the isle of Inchmarnock and of Arran beyond. Turning North in the direction of Rothesay, the long Moor Road is mostly gentle descent, passing Loch Ascog and Loch Fad. The Way then skirts around the top of Rothesay before reaching Port Bannatyne and the end of Stage 2. The walking is easy – it has some long but gentle climbs and gradual descents.
Stage three opens by following the route of the old Tramway. It then turns northwards up a winding and peaceful glen. At the head of the glen the path enters the forest, then winds its way down to Rhubodach and the ferry to Colintraive.
Towards the end of the stage you have a choice of routes to the finish. One easy route along the forest track and a second option to visit the WWII decoy village and descend past the ruined Balnakeilly farmstead to the ancient oak wooded glen.
The first half of this Section is on gentle forest track and pathway. The second is across rough and steep moorland. In places the moorland grass and bracken path makes the route unclear without an obvious path on the ground. Additional fingerposts and waymarkers have been installed to keep you safe and on the correct route – careful navigation is essential so take care to scan ahead for the next waymarker or fingerpost before moving ahead. The extra effort of the high moorland walk will reward you with magnificent views in all directions.
NOTE: An alternative low-level route to the end of Stage 4 is via Rhubodach Cottage and the roadside verge alongside the A886 to Port Bannatyne.