The ghosts said to haunt Sandwood Bay

IN the North West Highlands of Scotland, near Cape Wrath in Sutherland, sits the hauntingly beautiful Sandwood Bay.

The beautiful and haunting Sandwood Bay

An isolated spot - a four mile trek from the nearest car park - its beach is often described by visitors as one of the most stunning Scotland has to offer.

But despite its beauty and tranquil surroundings, the beach is also said to be home to a group of doomed ghostly sailors, shipwrecked long before a lighthouse was built in the early 19th century.

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Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, on the beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, with members of the John Muir Trust, September 1993.

Sandwood Bay has been known to humans for a long time.

In fact, the coast here is believed to be one of the earliest inhabited areas of what came to be known as Scotland.

There is evidence of a Pictish settlement, and it is believed the Vikings, sailing south past Cape Wrath, would land here and drag their longships over the beach and into Sandwood Loch.

The beach was never especially hospitable terrain. The first maps of the area were made in the 17th century and describe the land as an “extreme wilderness” through which wolves roamed.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, on the beach at Sandwood Bay, Sutherland, with members of the John Muir Trust, September 1993.

Since 1993, a 4,600-hectare estate, including Sandwood Bay, has been managed by the John Muir Trust. There are only about 100 people currently living in all that space, including eight working crofters.

Many of the tenants of Sandwood were evicted in 1847 as part of the devastating Highland Clearances, and the stones from the abandoned clachan used for building projects elsewhere.

The result of this unhappy period is that if you visit now, you have over a mile of beach more or less to yourself.

Little wonder that ghost stories and legends attach themselves, limpet-like, to Sandwood Bay.

Mermaids, ghosts and other legends

There have long been tales of mermaids.

Crofter Sandy Gunn told the folklorist R MacDonald Robertson that, in January 1900, he had seen a beautiful mermaid, seven feet long, sunning herself on a ledge.

More common, though, are accounts of hauntings, in particular by a bearded sailor with brass buttons and a peaked cap.

In the early 1940s, this spectre is said to have appeared to two crofters collecting driftwood and bellowed: “All on this beach is mine, begone!”

Sandwood Bay has seen its share of shipwrecks. Long before the lighthouse at Cape Wrath was established in 1828, there were many wrecks, giving the area a reputation as a ‘shipwreck graveyard’

With the debris and bodies coming ashore on the beach, legend has it the splintered remnants of Viking longships are hidden deep beneath the sand.

The treasure from a Spanish galleon is also said to be buried here.

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Sandwood Bay Cottage

Ruined Sandwood Bay Cottage, which is sandwiched between the beach and Loch Sandwood, is the main site for many of the ghost sightings.

Stories go that on stormy nights, inhabitants of the cottage would be woken by a ghostly sailor knocking on their window.

In one instance an old fisherman had just nodded off when he was awoken by his dog barking and heard footsteps approach the cottage.

He claims to have seen the face of a bearded old sailor looking in, but when the fisherman went to see what was up, the sailor had gone.

The fisherman decided against staying in the cottage again after waking up another night to feel an ominous presence press down on him.

There are also stories of Wild Horse Ghosts, with two guests who stayed near to Sandwood Loch cottage claiming they were awoken to hear and feel the ruins of the cottage shake and vibrate. The sound accompanied by wild horse ghosts stamping.

In the 1960s, two tourists, who had travelled up from England, were looking out to sea at Cape Wrath when they spotted a strange, tall male standing by the cottage.

After deciding to investigate and walking to the cottage, the eery figure had vanished. Locals later told them that they had probably seen ‘the ghostie’.


The ghost stories that persist about Sandwood Bay could, though, have a prosaic explanation.

Some believe the sightings of the spectral bearded sailor were, in fact, sightings of local hermit James MacRory-Smith, known as Sandy, who lived near the beach for 32 years and was not keen on company unless there was the promise of a drink in it.

He died in 1999 at the age of 73.