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hiking bute

The West Island Way

To experience close up the Isle of Bute's stunning coastline, open
farmlands, moors and forest tracks -- just follow the walking path's
signs (and hope for clear skies).

BY PAUL STAFFORD

Why do we hike? Ask that question of anyone who loves the great outdoors and you are likely to receive answers that oscillate around the same core themes: encountering the magnificence of nature; enjoying health benefits, both mental and physical; and appreciating that we are a small part of a much larger, delightfully complex planet.

When my partner Helena and I arrived in Bute on a Saturday afternoon, the drizzle-kissed streets were empty. At times like this, I usually take refuge in those reasons to hike. They have enticed me to lace up my boots time and time again and press out into inclement weather. So it was that I conjured up this spark of enthusiasm, hopeful that the weather would soon clear up.

No sooner had we boarded the local bus to the trailhead than the rain decided to sneer in Sir Isaac Newton's face by falling sideways. When we arrived at Kingarth Hotel, hoping to have one last well-prepared meal before the wild, we were immediately turned away by the manager. Due to a wedding party having recently arrived, he said, the staff would not even be able to make us a sandwich. Silently cursing the institutions of marriage and climatology, we gazed out at the bedraggled coast.

Momentarily, I considered the foolhardiness of endeavours such as multiday hikes, especially when seen from the perspective of normal people -- people who tend to stay indoors when it's raining and follow the time-honoured impulse of self-preservation. I'd enticed Helena to join me on her first-ever multiday hike, promising it'd be a doddle, and I so badly wanted her to have the best possible experience. But what now?

"Cheer up, we've not even started yet," said Helena in a manner so upbeat that I feared she was already stricken with a bout of delirium. Clipping our bags around our waists, we set out towards the end of the road and the start of the trail. Bute was about to put those ideals to the test.

The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2019 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on The Warm Glow Of Kirkcudbrighte by Stephen McGinty.

Click here to preview our column on The Noble Instrument by Simon McKerrell.

Click here to preview our feature article on Master Of The Fiddle by Jim Gilchrist

Click here to preview our reviews of Scottish Books.

Photos: © Paul Stafford