West Island Way – 3/3

(Stage 3) Port Bannatyne Loop

Port Bannatyne Loop

After a superb (and I mean superb!) night’s sleep at our camp-spot, Sid and I woke to damp surroundings as it had been raining lightly through the night but not enough to wake us. I cooked us some slices of bacon, had a tea, Sid had a sniff around then I packed up camp and we headed off on what was going to be a tough day.

A dull start to the day

It was early, around 08:00 if I remember correctly, and we set off to complete the route. Our camp was only 1.08km away from the end point but it would take us 15 miles to actually reach there on the loop. The day started off cool and with heavy grey clouds parting slowly to allow some sun yo peek through.

St. Michael’s Chapel Ruins

A few miles after setting off we stumbled across a rather impressive set of ruins in the form of St. Michael’s Chapel. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t actually go in but I wanted to press-on and settle in to the hike. I’ve said that I will visit it on our return trip… and there will be a return trip.

Quickly, both Sid and I began to feel lethargic, partly because we had never done a lengthy hike and partly because our diet hadn’t been the greatest. So, having skipped the ruins I hoped that things would pick up in the way of views and scenery but sadly I felt it was getting a little worse.

B875 looking to Glen More

After turning off the B875 and heading into Glen More we bumped into a very friendly old dog that Sid had a short play around with. He was by far the friendliest of the two dogs we encountered this day but more about that later. After sniffing each other (Sid and the friendly dog) we carried on and began entering some fields full of sheep and then the tussocky grass fields. These were a nightmare!

As we continued I actually began to get annoyed with the monotonous views, and frankly boring vista of tree trunks and forest path, but held hope that it would get better. Now that I’ve finished the walk I can see that my lack of enthusiasm at this point came down, in a big part, to lethargy.

The sign of confusion

After about two hours of walking through commercial forest and seeing nothing but fir tree trunks we came to a quite confusing point in the route. The sign at a t-junction (grid NS 03234 72746) pointed south (shown as a dead-end path on the map) while the map pointed north, towards a coastal road. I believed then that someone had been having some fun with the sign, after experiencing a similarly boring few hours no doubt, and decided to follow the map.

Looking north to Rhubodach

About thirty minutes later I arrived at the A886 close to the grand looking Rhubodach house. I was gladly expecting some kind of pavement but there was none and I checked down towards the coast but all I could see was a rocky shore. My choices were this or the national speed limit road. Neither would have been my choice as we still had around five miles to push.

A886 has no pavement or path… beware!

With Sid’s little body now showing signs of having had enough I decided that the road was the lesser of the two evils, placed Sid on his lead and headed down the final push. The road route was really unnerving as we would either have to step to the side and allow oncoming cars, vans and trucks to pass before stepping back on, or we were suddenly surprised by vehicles approaching from the rear. All of which were travelling at a notable speed.

Sid was feeling it by now

I thought about jumping the field wall for some protection but this would have meant we would have then had to jump a great number of intersecting walls, so again the road route came out on top. With the end now literally in sight we passed Ardmaleish farm (NS 07267 69038) where the route had one last hurrah against us. (Actually there was two more punches to take before it all ended.)

As we passed Ardmaleish farm the resident Collie decided to dart out of the yard, fly across the road and immediately have a try at attacking Sid. I ended up in a battle with a frightened Sid pulling on his lead and a rogue Collie looking to bite something, anything. Luckily I done enough to scare it off to take another thought although it kept stalking for a while, waiting for another chance to run in when we weren’t looking. This resulted in me having to walk backwards for a short bit just to keep it at bay.

With the rogue Collie past us and a narrow pavement in sight we were both looking forward to the end. Entering Port Bannatyne, the coast rounded and I spotted a WIW sign directing people from a nearby track onto the path we were taking. Annoyingly, I learned that this was the route from where the sign of confusion I thought had been swapped came from (this was the second last hurrah of the route).

The rather camouflaged end marker

It was here, it was in sight, we saw the end… at least on the map. At NS 06843 67398 the end of the route was mapped so Sid and I looked for a plaque, board or sign to say that we had completed the WIW but nothing, not a thing. I asked a passing local who gave me a puzzled and confused look before saying “there’s a walk around the island?“. This confirmed that it wasn’t only me who hadn’t seen the end marker. Even locals had been passing it and it wasn’t until I got home and emailed the route organiser they sent a picture of the end marker…

A sleepy Sid

Tired, worn-out and excited about the prospect of a bath, Sid and I jumped on the bus and headed back to Rothesay for the return ferry to the mainland. His little legs and body slept the whole journey back to pick up the car in Wemyss Bay but now a hurrah from the mainland… a parking fine! I was parked in a dubious area (which was probably my first mistake) but chose to take the risk. A risk that cost me £30.00 in the end.

SO! Having read this far you’d probably think I’m going to say that I didn’t enjoy the route? Well, as I wasn’t having the time of my life on day two, day one was superb and I learned a few little hints that I will share with you now.

If you think you may use something, leave it. Take what you know you will use because the weight isn’t worth the possibility of using it. This doesn’t apply to medical and safety equipment. Secondly, and this is the one thing I feel is the most important and beneficial…

DO THE ROUTE BACKWARDS!

No, no, no… not walking backwards but tackle the route opposite the advised direction. Port Bannatyne to Kilchattan Bay is key. If you do the route this way you will have the monotonous part of the fir forest out of the way first and you will always be facing south towards various islands. That way you won’t have to keep looking back to see the great views across the western Kyles of Bute and down to Arran’s rugged peaks.

After learning all that I did, I will absolutely be heading back to the West Island Way when Covid-19 lockdown restrictions allow and I will absolutely be doing it backwards!

Let me know if you have walked, or are planning to walk, the West Island Way and let me know if you have any tips or tricks for distance hiking.

Keep safe and have fun… Bryan & Sid.

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