The ten best beaches in Scotland

Sandwood Bay, Northwest Sutherland. Picture: Daniel Start

Sandwood Bay, Northwest Sutherland. Picture: Daniel Start

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David Cooper and Kimberley Grant, co-authors of the Wild Guide to Scotland, share their top ten favourite beaches

Aquamarine water with pure white sands backed by lush forests and picturesque mountains? Unspoiled beauty? The whole beach to yourself? You don’t need to fly to the Caribbean to enjoy these delights.

Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris. Picture: Daniel Start

Luskentyre Beach on the Isle of Harris. Picture: Daniel Start

1) Luskentyre/Losgaintir Beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

Often rated as the UK’s most beautiful beach, a photo of Luskentyre was once mistakenly used in a Thai tourist brochure. The northern part, Tràigh Rosamol, is dune-backed with a long stretch of white sand sweeping down to turquoise waters from a mountainous backdrop. To the south is an expanse of estuarine sands overlooking the Isle of Taransay. There’s also good swimming to be had on the other side of the estuary, two miles along the coast road at Sheileboist and Niosaboist. This is a great place to spot birdlife, with common and velvet scoters, red breasted merganser and great northern divers.

On the A859 heading south, take the turn signed for Losgaintir, and park at the car park at the end of the road after HS3 3HL. Walk through the dunes to the north shore.

2) Camasudarach Beach, Morar, Lochaber

Part of a string of sandy beaches known as the Silver Sands of Morar, Camasudarach is one of the most famous bays on the west coast, location for the beach scenes in Local Hero and a popular wild swimming spot. Here you can walk for miles along the wonderful luminescent sand and enjoy panoramic views of the Isles of Rum and Eigg. Even on the most overcast of days the acres of white sand seem to glow under the turquoise shallows. The delightful Invercaimbe beach campsite is a couple of miles south towards Arisaig, set within a working croft. Pitch or park up here and watch the sun go down with a campfire on the beach.

On the B8008 in Glenancross, the beach car park is signed just to the north. There is a footpath down to 
the beach.

3) Sandwood Bay, Northwest Sutherland

The iconic Sandwood Bay is a wild and remote beach on the most north-western edge of mainland Scotland. This magnificent stretch of pink-hued sand is bounded by the Am Buachaille sea stack and backed by a broad belt of rolling dunes, where it’s possible to find shelter for wild camping. In a melancholy touch, receding waves often uncover the remains of a Spitfire engine in the sands, the last relic of a 1941 crash landing. Rip currents can develop here so be careful if you decide to go for a swim.

From the turning for Oldshoremore, follow the road ½ mile beyond the turning to Polin, to Blairmore and the John Muir Trust car park on the left. The well-marked track to Sandwood leading across moorland begins over the gate opposite. After 3 miles, turn left at the end of the second loch.

4) Oldshoremore & Phollain, Kinlochbervie, Sutherland

This beach comprises two connected white sand bays, Am Meallan and Bagh a’ Phòllain, with a small island, ledges and rock pools between. The large outcrop between them is known as Eilean na h-Aiteig (either ‘isle of the shy girl’ or ‘juniper isle’). Around 200 species of flowering plant grow in the Sheigra-Oldshoremore machair, including mountain avens, not found on other Scottish machair.

Leave the B801 at Kinlochbervie, in the direction of Oldshoremore. After 2 miles turn left, signed for ‘Oldshoremore/WC/parking’. Follow to the road end for the beach car park. Quieter Phollain beach is next left.

5) Achmelvich, Assynt, Sutherland

The Achmelvich coast is a paradise of small coves with bright turquoise water and pure white sands, nestled in rocky bays. Follow the coast south from the beach to find the curious Hermit’s Castle, reputedly the smallest castle in Europe, built as a folly by an architect in the 1950s. The popular Shore Caravan Site welcomes tents, campervans and caravans.

From the A837 just north of Lochinver, take the B869 north-west, then turn left after 1½ miles signed Achmelvich. Park at the road end next to the beach.

6) Gruniard Bay, Gairloch, Wester Ross

Limpid, aquamarine waters, a pristine sandy beach and a dramatic mountainous backdrop make Gruinard Bay one of the natural wonders of Scotland. The bay is a gorgeous place to wild camp or swim. It’s popular with wildlife; you might spot seals basking on the rocks, eider ducks bobbing in the water and, if you’re lucky, an otter or two feeding near the shore. The small uninhabited Gruniard Island situated in the bay was once used as a test site for anthrax and subsequently quarantined until deemed safe in the 1990s.

From Little Gruinard beach car park on the A832 cross the road and descend the wooden steps.

7) Smirisary White Sands, Glenuig, Moidart

A walk downhill through a deserted village leads to two small beaches at Port Achadh an Aonaich. With the wild and rugged hills on Eilean Shona to the south, on a good day there are great views of the Small Isles and the opportunity for a bracing dip in the beautifully clear waters.

From Smirisary Township, turn right at the end of the field towards a white cottage, then turn left at a small sign. Follow the path uphill along a ridge, passing a ruined house on the left. Continue along the coast until the path drops down to reach the two beaches.

8) Fidden Bay, Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides

On a sunny day the bay at Fidden could be easily mistaken for the Caribbean. Facing west over an archipelago of skerries and small islands towards Iona and beyond, the sunsets are spectacular. Pink granite outcrops give the water an ethereal hue and this is a perfect place for kayaking and fishing. If you fail to catch anything, head to Creel Seafood Bar at the nearby ferry terminal in Fionnphort and tuck into some delicious shellfish. Fidden Farm campsite has simple facilities and beachside pitches.

Turn left in Fionnphort before the ferry, signed for Fidden and Knockvologan, and continue for 1¼ miles following signs for Fidden Farm until you reach the small car park by the farm and campsite.

9) Vatersay Beach, Vatersay, Outer Hebrides

Vatersay is a small and peaceful island with one of the highest sunshine rates on the west coast. On a calm summer’s day come here to barbecue or picnic below the dunes. There is a monument standing over the bay which commemorates the victims of the tragic Annie Jane shipwreck in 1853.

Cross the causeway from south of Barra. Follow the minor road south for approximately 3 miles. There is informal parking on the grass to the left opposite the passing place and signed path to the shipwreck monument.

10) Tràigh an Iar Beach, North Uist, Outer Hebrides

Enjoy views of this sweeping bay from the high sand dunes as you approach. The sand here sweeps in on the gulf stream currents and is made up of ground shells and coral, including fragments of the bleached skeletons of the red algae, Lithothamnium calcareum. Continue on from the beach for more impressive views at the Àird a’ Mhòrain, the ‘headland of the bent-grass’.

Take the A865 north-west from Lochmaddy for 8½ miles, turn right at a red phone box into the small village of Grenitote. Continue to a small picnic area and car park, then head along the track and onto the sandy bay at right. To reach Àird a’ Mhòrain, follow the grassy headland at the far end of the beach.

Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, David Cooper and Richard Gaston is published by Wild Things Publishing at £16.99. For a 20 per cent discount and free P&P enter coupon code ‘ScotsmanBeaches’ at checkout, www.wildthings publishing.com

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