Helen Rose’s Outdoor Diary: West Island Way Completed
West Island Way – November, 2023
Island of Bute
The Isle of Bute, Eilean Bhòid or An t-Eilean Bòdach, known as Bute is an island in the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. It is divided into highland and lowland areas by the Highland Boundary Fault. Bute’s resident population was 6,498 in 2011, a decline of just over 10% from the figure of 7,228 recorded in 2001 against a background of Scottish island populations as a whole growing by 4% to 103,702 for the same period .The name “Bute” is of uncertain origin but could be Old Irish meaning fire, perhaps in reference to signal fires. This reference to beacon fires may date from the Viking period, when the island was probably known to the Norse as Bót.
West Island Way
Opened in September 2000, this long distance way marked path was the first on a Scottish island and encompasses some of the finest walking on the Island of Bute. For more detail visit the West Island Way website. It is not to be confused with the West Highland Way. To travel to Bute, we took the train from Glasgow to Wemyss Bay where we caught the ferry over to Bute. I love Wemyss Bay Station which is a glass covered arcade with a wooden floor down to the ferry and it dates back to 1865 . We travelled by bus from the ferry terminal at Rothesay to Kilchattan Bay in the south of the island. The bus calls in at Mount Stuart House which is well worth a visit.
This was a circular walk and started from Kilchattan Bay along a good path passing an interesting rock with a cave underneath. There is a story that back in the 1970’s a tramp from the island made his home in the cave and would be spotted regularly picking up supplies in Rothesay before heading back to his low rent accommodation..The path becomes very stony and care has to be taken in walking. We pass by Rubh an Eun lighthouse perched on the edge of a rocky promontory on Bute’s south east corner and stop for a coffee break at Glencallum Bay. The bay is now deserted but there are the stone remains of an old inn which once served islanders and maybe even the ramblers of the day!
St Blane’s Church
Suitably fortified after our refreshment stop, we headed uphill on a path eventually reaching St Blane’s Church and stones. When you arrive at the 12th century ruins, the atmospheric nature of the location becomes apparent. It is the perfect place for lunch and a chance to inspect the site and its gravestones one of which is a hog back stone placed for a Viking settler. Just as the lunch boxes came out the rain came down but it was only a 10 minute shower and we then had time to inspect the ruins and stones. Imagine the monastic life at a church founded on one of the earliest Christian sites in Scotland. St Blane’s Church has its roots in a monastery founded here in the AD 500s. This was the home of St Blane, ‘fair Blaan of Ceen Garad (Kingarth)’ who may have been buried here on his death.
The structures on this site belong to two eras: that early Christian monastery, abandoned during Viking raids around AD 790, and a later parish church, built in the 1100s and in use until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. The churchyards contain a number of weathered grave slabs including a distinctive hogsback gravestone from the time when Bute was part of the Norse Empire. The remains of a well and the foundations of a manse which was in use until 1587 can also be seen.
We walked from the church along a good grassy path looking out to sea and then through a grove of very high ferns. There has been a problem this year in Scotland with ticks as their bites can cause Lyme Disease so the tick must be removed swiftly. Walking through high bracken, care should be taken to cover exposed skin. We walked round some fields in farmland and then descended a very slippery muddy path where I slid but very gracefully! We reached Kilchattan Bay and made for the café for very welcome ice creams and coffee. We took the bus back to Rothesay to catch the ferry and then the train back to Glasgow. It was a long day but well worth the effort and length of travelling to walk on Bute.
A very big thankyou to Terry for organising and leading the walk and for giving me the anecdotes for this blog.
Coming Attractions; Langholm and Hampshire.
This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
Filed under: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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