Today was the last day of hiking the West Island Way. We were planning for a long and hard day on the trail.
The day started early with the alarm clock going off at 5.30 am. It was still pitch black outside and we struggled to see if we had any snow. We chilled in bed for a few minutes before getting dressed. It felt cold and Eve got dressed in bed.
I drank 3 mugs of black tea and Eve downed loads of warm juice. At first light we were out and walking.
Last night we went to bed early but woke a few times with a feeling of excitement and nervousness about the potential snow that was forecast. We sat last night for a while watching the snow slowing falling outside in the light our head torches.
When we started walking there was no snow left on the ground as most of it had been washed away by the rain that we had in the early hours of the morning. There was a little bit left in some of the sheltered spots or within the long grass.
It wasn’t raining when we started walking which was a wonderful start, but we still had waterproofs on in expectation that the rain would start soon and not stop for the remainder of the day.
Surprisingly (we were surprised) after about 30 minutes walking we actually stopped to take our waterproof jackets off as we were starting to sweat and the rain hadn’t actually started yet!
Now, I have to confess that I committed a school boy error planning todays section. I took the weather forecast too seriously, getting hung up on its predictions instead of using it as a general guide. If there is one thing I have learned is that the only thing you can rely on with the weather is it to be unreliable.
We had about 11 miles planned for today to complete the West Island Way ending at Port Bannatyne on the shores of the Firth of Clyde. We were a bit unsure about the route because at the northern part of Bute there seemed to be some conflicting opinions. We had both routes mapped, but planned on following the signposts (if there were any) to keep us right. The difference in distance was just over a mile, so not huge but we wanted to get it right, following the correct route.
We started todays final section by retracing our steps for a few hundred metres to where we left the trail to go to the cafe and pods at Ettrick Bay for the night.
We spent last night at the pods. Our pod was lovely and huge!! Room enough for 6 people to sleep and comes with everything you need. The location was amazing and right next door to the cafe, perfect! If you’re heading to Bute, I’d definitely recommend a stop here! Here’s the link…
Reaching the start of the trail, we crossed the road and followed a tarmac farmers road, heading towards the north of Bute down Glen More. The clouds in the distance were low blocking the views, and it felt like we were walking into the wilderness. It felt good!
Passing a farm that looked like it had seen better days, a dog came running out and started to walk with us. It stayed walking with us for over 1.5 miles. Eve and I were having serious discussions about when or if it would turn around. We even discussed plans for if it didn’t turn around and what mummy would think if we turned up with a dog! Ironically we thought mummy would be shocked but okay with having another pet!
Reaching the end of the tarmac at a very muddy farm, we started walking on grass along the edge of a huge sheep field. It felt really nice to be off the tarmac and onto something softer.
I know I talk a lot about tarmac in my journal style posts, but that’s because we really don’t like walking on tarmac or roads. Please accept my apologies!
The grass was wet and slippy. I don’t think it helps that my trainers are slowly wearing out with limited tread. Eve was okay although she did slip and fall several times later on in the day.
As soon as we had left the tarmac road we had to stop and put our waterproof jackets and trousers on. The rain came and went for the rest of the morning before coming on in the afternoon and staying on until we got to Port Bannatyne.
The grass didn’t last long before we were walking in the long grass of open moorland, dodging bogs, sliding on wet mud and finding relief in the short sporadic sections of boardwalk that took us over some of the burns. Eve slipped and fell several times, each time getting up with a laugh and smile. The first few times I was worried Eve was going to get upset or hurt, but eventually we were both laughing at each other as we skidded and slipped across the moor.
Eve asked me why they built boardwalks where they did, as other areas looked more in need of a boardwalk. I didn’t really have a good answer except that I assumed the burns or deep area of mud/bogs had changed course or location over time. They were still a nice relief and made for a good spot to have a sip of hot coffee or juice from our flasks.
Reaching the edge of a forest was a welcome sight especially as the rain was getting worse, along with the wind, creating a sharp windchill. We found a sheltered spot to rest, drink and have a snack.
We were expecting the walking from here to be on forest paths, over roots and under fallen trees. However we were soon on wide open forest tracks, suitable for off road vehicles.
It’s not a criticism of the trail but Eve and I were a little disappointed as we we looking forward to walking through the forest. We both like forest walking. Eve and Sarah regularly go into the forest together for bushcraft sessions and campfires so the forests have a particularly homely feel for us. That might sound a little strange, but being in forests and woodlands is homely and comforting.
The trail was easy and we arrived at the point that we needed to make a decision what the correct route was to follow. Luckily the decision was made for us as, with the rest of the West Island Way, it was signposted with a map of the route! Perfect.
The views from here were spectacular and one of the highlights of the whole trail. However with so much rain and low laying cloud we could hardly see anything. It was a slight disappointment but has given us a good excuse to come back! From here you could be able to see Burnt Islands, a WW2 decoy village, and magnificent hills and mountains over the Kyles of Bute.
We also got talking to a very friendly man who stopped to say hi as he recognised us from social media. He was working with his staff planting the new trees as the whole area had been recently felled. I like talking to local people as they always know so much more than you can ever read in a guide book or on the internet.
We carried on walking, looking at the colours of puddles as we headed slowly uphill. We found another small area that was sheltered and stopped for a break.
The higher we walked the more open it became, but also the colder and more windy it was getting. We were walking passed frozen burns, puddles and even icicles!
One of the most fun sections of walking was just before we left the forest.
We walked over a small wooden footbridge and into a dark forest following a small ditch. It felt for a few minutes like we were in another world. It was warmer, the air was calm and it felt nice, Eve was definitely enjoying it!
At the end of the forest we stopped for another short break before we entered the moors to go over Windy Hill, Kames Hill and Edinbeg Hill. We knew this section was going to be the hardest. As we sat having our break we could see the trees swaying and the wind and rain going sideways over the long grass. It didn’t look inviting!
We walked out of the forest dodging a huge swamp, crossed a fence and headed uphill.
We had been warned this was a tough section covered in deep bogs and mud. It was tougher, wetter, muddier and more boggy than we ever expected!
We walked sinking into areas of bog up to Eves’s knees and my calves. Our waterproof socks were swamped within minutes and our feet soaked with smelly, cold water.
Getting wet feet isn’t bad and it is something not to be feared. Through trial and error we have learned to manage the wet, as we know it is impossible to prevent. We were going to get wet no matter what we did.
No waterproof boots would have kept us dry. Wellies would have resulted in cold feet and blisters and still would have been swamped. The only thing that would have worked would be fisherman’s waders. But then water would just run in from the top through sweat and rain. A good management strategy is the best strategy!
So, after getting the initial splurge of wet cold feet, we walked hard through the water soon warming up and having wet but warm feet.
We wear thin liner socks with a good pair of wool socks. We did have seal skins on that although failed help to keep our feet warm. Once saturated we could have taken them off if we wanted, but we opted to keep them on. The issue with waterproof socks is they easily fail and don’t dry quickly. We were better off having wet feet that can breathe and dry quickly! Today was our last day so it didn’t matter as much.
We ploughed on, avoiding the deep bogs and jumping over the burns. It was hard work, really hard work, but Eve seemed to be enjoying it, making a point of crossing the burns quicker than me and saying to “just get through it”
To help keep Eve motivated (not that she needed it) I promised Eve that if we got into Rothesay in time we could get a hot chocolate before getting the ferry. The thought of a hot chocolate also helped to motivate me!
There was little to no break from the wet all afternoon and because of the wet it made taking photographs on my touch screen iPhone nearly impossible.
At the high point of each hill, we would stop for about 5 minutes for a drink and to give Eve some chocolate. We really appreciated our flasks here and had made a point of saving warm drink for this section.
The views and scenery were absolutely spectacular from the hill tops and made the effort worth it. We would loved to have been able to just sit and admire the views but it was too cold, wet and windy. I did consider the emergency shelter for a longer break but we opted to just keep moving.
Once over the hills and starting to descend, the wind died down, the rain felt less aggressive and the temperature began to rise. The ground became firmer and the walking easier. It was quite a relief.
We walked through some gorse bushes, around a farmers field and onto a farmers track to arrive on the main road into Port Bannatyne.
We walked along the path around Kames Bay talking about how tough it was but with Eve defiantly feeling proud of herself, which I think she fully deserved to feel.
With no warning we reached a large stone that was the official end of the West Island Way. We took some photographs and walked a little further into Port Bannatyne.
Stopping at the toilets I decided to phone a taxi to take us back into Rothesay for a hot chocolate and to get the ferry back to the mainland.
To my amazement when I phoned a taxi (I already the number saved in my phone based on recommendations) the driver was already in Port Bannatyne. Before we could even sort our hiking poles and bags out he was there with the boot open!
The taxi driver recognised us and immediately told me he wouldn’t take payment for the taxi ride and even gave us £5 for a hot drink as I asked if he could drop us off outside a coffee (hot chocolate) shop! Thank you so much!
We went into a small shop that sold hot drinks and food. We dropped our bags at a table and ordered a hot chocolate each and Eve being Eve asked very nicely after seeing the ice cream if she could have some. She chose mint choc chip 😂. Thank you to everyone who has donated to our Buy Me a Coffee fund! We really appreciate it and it makes the world of difference to us. Thank you 😊
We sat in the coffee shop, cold, soaked to the skin drinking hot chocolate with Eve munching on ice cream! It felt very odd!
We were in no rush to get to the ferry to go back to the mainland, so with some encouragement from Eve we ordered a hot roll with egg and potato scone.
However the shop was closing in a few minutes and with it still raining outside I didn’t want to get stuck back outside with nowhere to got for an hour until the next ferry.
So we got the rolls as a take out and ran to the ferry with seconds left until the boarding closed.
My stress and anxiety levels were through the roof and I could feel a migraine coming on. I tried to ‘suck it up’ and get on with it but my gosh did I feel autistic boarding that boat. I hated it!!! Eve was epic and just went with the flow.
We got on the boat, sat at the first table we found to eat our food and I tried to put up another quick post on social media.
The crossing was quick but choppy and the boat bobbed up and down making my headache and nausea worse. I took some paracetamol and drank plenty. Eve played games on my phone.
Once off the boat we sat in the waiting room to await Sarah who was already on her way having left off work.
Meeting up again with Sarah was simply the best feeling and we cuddled and drove home talking about what we had seen and done. My headache disappeared almost instantly!
The West Island Way is an epic trail in every way. It’s often described as Scotland in miniature and I can see why! Despite the last day being tough, we can whole heartedly recommend it to anybody. The whole island of Bute is beautiful and very accessible. Don’t hesitate to visit if you get the chance, everybody we met was so lovely and friendly. It was a delight and pleasure.
Thank you Bute and the West Island Way for an awesome adventure.
If you’d like to donate we have a Just Giving page with all monies going to Scottish Autism
Next trail here we come, and we’re excited for the challenge!
Ian and Eve