For me, walking is by far the best way to explore and get a feel for a place. Following a long distance pathway can provide a sense of adventure and achievement while you are guided through fascinating and ever changing landscapes, often only accessible on foot.
The West Island Way on the Isle of Bute (not to be confused with the much longer and more arduous West Highland Way) leads you on a 40km (25 miles) walking tour of this west coast island. Easily accessible from Glasgow in under 2 hours, yet often overlooked, this long distance walk provides you with stunning and varied scenery as you cross the Highland Boundary Fault Line from Highlands to Lowlands.
If you want to really experience the beauty and diversity of a Scottish island, the West Island Way should be on your travel list.
You are frequently rewarded with spectacular sea and island vistas from rugged hilltops as the route guides you along coastline, through woodland and farmland and over moorland, passing several pretty lochs along the way. With part of the walk crossing Bute golf course and the island airfield you are never short of variety.
Curious livestock and an abundance of local wildlife from the birds of prey circling overhead to the hares darting across your path or the occasional shy roe deer peeping through the trees ensure you will never be short of company as you progress along your way. For bird watchers and nature lovers there are plenty of opportunities to observe the diversity of wildlife that inhabits the island.
Thoughtfully placed benches with a view mean you never have to walk for long without finding an idyllic spot to rest your weary legs, enjoy a picnic stop and contemplate the beauty of your surroundings.
For those interested in connecting with the history of Bute you can enjoy a stop at the atmospheric St Blane's Chapel, a 5 minute detour at the airfield will take you to the Kingarth Standing Stones, part of a Prehistoric Stone Circle, and on the south west of the island as you walk to Stravanan Bay there are great views of Dunagoil Iron-age Fort.
In fact this walk has something for everyone and although a moderate level of fitness is required the route is not overly demanding which adds to the enjoyment without taking away from a sense of achievement on completion.
The walk can be split into four obvious parts which start and end on bus routes and you can complete the entire walk or pick and choose as many sections as you like. Bus timetables can be downloaded from the West Coast Motors website and are also available at the tourist information centre in Rothesay.
You can buy a specific map of the route or use the Cowal West & Isle of Bute ordnance survey map 362 which has the West Island Way clearly marked.
Walk Highlands website has an excellent and thorough online guide which I found invaluable and accurate. You should also be aware that the walk frequently passes livestock and can be rough and boggy in places so appropriate footwear should be worn. Other than that don't forget to bring your camera and pack a picnic, enjoy!
The Isle of Bute is reached by a 35 minute ferry ride from Wemyss Bay, a train connection runs from Glasgow Central station, check CalMac website for train and ferry timetables. The VisitBute website has information on accommodation and other things to do during your stay on the island.
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