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Have you tried?: The West Island Trail

Written by Fiona

October 09 2017

The West Island Trail is a new multi-day bikepacking route of 207 miles (333km) that starts and finishes at Oban. The project is a partnership between SYHA Hostelling Scotland and Bikepacking Scotland. I wrote about the new trail for my Sunday Mail outdoors column.

New bike packing route for Scotland

Bikepacking is a fast-growing activity that sees cyclists travelling with lightweight, made-for-purpose bikepacks.

The aim is to explore new places at your own pace, usually on off-road trails, and including at least one overnight stop.

While many bikepackers take their own sleeping equipment, others choose to stay in hostels or B&Bs en route.

Markus Stitz, who famously cycled around the world on a single-speed bike, is the founder of Bikepacking Scotland.

He said: “Bikepacking is a form of exploring the backcountry on your bike, fully self-sufficient. That can be on roads or anything you find to ride your bike on.

“The best way to do that is using ultra-light bags that attach directly to frame, fork, handlebars and seat post, taking food and equipment to spend one or many nights outside.

“With the new West Island Trail, bikepackers can enjoy an achievable bikepacking route amid great scenery and with the ease of overnight stays in cosy youth hostels.

“At 330km, it is a great week on the bike for less experienced riders and the ideal extended weekend for experienced bikepackers.”

West Island Trail route

The West Island Trail starts at Oban Youth Hostel and visits Lochranza Youth Hostel on the Isle of Arran, Port Charlotte Youth Hostel on the Isle of Islay and Tobermory Youth Hostel on the Isle of Mull.

The ride is on a mix of surfaces, ranging from singletrack to road and even includes a very short sand section on Islay.

The islands are linked by six CalMac ferry journeys and bikes are free with foot passengers.

The West Island Trail is suitable for intermediate to experienced cyclists, with sections that require good bike handling and competent navigation skills and wider tyres.

A mountain bike is the best choice, while there are alternative sections highlighted for a gravel or cross bike.

It is a flexible route and has been planned to incorporate easier routes and short cuts for the less experienced.

There are downloadable maps for each section of the trail. See www.bikepackingscotland.com/routes/westislandtrail/

There is no pressure to complete it in a specific time and some bikepackers might like to stay additional nights at any of the youth hostels so they can further explore the islands.

Markus said: “It’s not about riding distance in a specified time, it’s much more about the enjoying the experience of the journey.”

The West Island Trail also provides a culinary journey through a wild part of Scotland, featuring pubs and restaurants serving sea food, craft breweries and distilleries.

What bikepacking kit do I need?

This is a bikepacking route, so specialist bikepacks rather than panniers are recommended. A dynamo hub on the front of the bike enables riders to charge electronic devices during the day and power lights for longer rides.

A GPS device for navigation is a good idea but you are advised to carry a paper OS map too in case the GPS unit fails.

When your adventures take you beyond mobile phone reception, which is often the case in Scotland, a satellite tracker such as the SPOT Gen3 lets family and friends know you’re okay.

Markus said: “The most important advice for bikepacking is to only carry the essentials you really need, so you should aim to pack light and think twice.

“Because you will be staying in youth hostels there is no need to carry cooking and camping equipment and supplies.”

Contacts for West Island Trail

Thanks to Bikepacking Scotland for the photos.

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